Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s Fabio Jakobsen won stage four of the Tour of California on a brand new set of prototype Specialized Project Black tubeless tyres, apparently even suffering a puncture which the liquid latex sealed.
Tubeless tyres have for many a year now been touted as a potential replacement for the tubular tyres favoured by professional racing cyclists, but despite wheel and tyre advances, they’ve failed to make the leap to becoming a common sight on pro bikes.
There have been successes on the road with tubeless. Specialized has seen its riders win time trials on its tubeless tyres, and most recently Alexander Kristoff won Gent-Wevelgem and 3rd in Ronde van Vlaanderen with Vittoria’s new tubeless tyres, before having a mare of a time in Paris-Roubaix with multiple punctures and blaming the tubeless tyres.
Specialized has quietly been testing prototype tubeless tyres with the Deceuninck – Quick-Step team. Earlier this year Zdenek Stybar was spotted testing new 28mm wide Specialized tubeless tyres with the team actively engaged in testing in select races.
It's clear then that Specialized is keen on the benefits of tubeless tyres and this week its development tyres clinched a stage victory in the Tour of California, a home race for the US brand based in Morgan Hill. A Specialized employee filmed this short exchange above after the stage, and no surprises they only had positive things to say about the tyres. Here’s why they said anyway.
“I’m really in love with them because they take the bumps better in the corners,” says Fabio Jakobsen, Deceuninck – Quick-Step. “I feel more confidence for sure, especially when you’re going quite sideways and high speed, and when braking, I feel I have more connection to the road. From now on, if the team allows me, I will reach for them all the time.”
“Also I feel the resistance is much less, so I feel much faster,” adds Michael Mørkøv, Deceuninck – Quick-Step. “I also feel I have really good grip with them. I ride right now 26mm but even on the very difficult downhills today I had no problems. The grip is good and I’m really confident on the tyres, and rolling really well.”
Obviously Specialized is being very tight-lipped about the new tyres, only saying this: “We have no further information to provide on this product other than to say Specialized firmly believes the future of road tire technology, both racing at the highest level and for every rider, is tubeless. The speed, handling, comfort and flat protection of tubeless tires is a benefit for every rider and something our athletes believe in as much as we do.”
Tubeless potentially offers many benefits to pro racers. Rolling resistance has been shown in some studies to be lower than tubulars because there’s less energy loss in the interface between the tub and rim, and there’s obviously the puncture benefits with sealant replacing the inner tube and able to seal small holes, although it’s not impervious as Kristoff found out to his cost.
There’s also the issue of a common standard to ensure compatibility between all the different tyre and wheel brands that exist. At the moment it’s a real mix from easy to nightmare installations depending on what combination you go for, and there are just too many possible combinations for anybody to reasonably catalogue them.
There is light at the end of this messy tunnel as the bicycle industry is finally getting its act together and collaborating on one agreed standard and updating the relevant ISO rim and ETRTO tyre standards that govern the dimensions of the tyres and rims. It’s looking like Mavic’s UST Road standard could be the path to a future of easy tubeless installations, which would be nice.
Perhaps the one big issue concerning professionals, and really the single reason they still favour tubular tyres, is that in the event of a puncture the flat tyre can still be ridden until a replacement wheel or bike arrives from the team car or neutral support. At the moment it’s not possible to do that with tubeless as the seal between the rim and tyre is dependent on sufficient air pushing the tyre bead against the inside of the rim.
If a tyre brand can nail the issues and get it right there's a decent chance tubeless might give a team a bit of an advantage other rival teams, and Specialized is clearly a company engaged in developing products it feels help the riders it sponsors. Just look at the rollout of disc brakes this year with Deceuninck – Quick-Step and Bora-Hansgrohe.
We don't have an ounce of info about the tyres at this stage, being as we're in sunny Bath and not in California to be able to get up close to the tyres ourselves. But we'll keep our ears to the ground for more info. Stay tuned.
(The pictured tyre at the top of the article is just for illustrative purposes, we don't have a picture of the new proto tyre I'm afraid.)
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.