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Tour de France tech trends - the rise of tubeless and clinchers, but are tubulars dead?

Have tubulars tyres finally had their day in the pro peloton?
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First, it was Alexander Kristoff on stage one, then Alaphilippe on stage two. But before clincher tyres made it three in a row, good old Caleb Ewan stole a goal back for tubulars and then Roglic levelled the scores with a summit finish win. The fact is, though, tube-type and tubeless clincher tyres have rocked up to the Tour de France and rather spoilt the tubular’s party. Are tubulars no longer the hostess with the mostest?

The benefits of tubeless tyres have been known for some time. They can have their drawbacks, but those are mainly dealt with prior to your ride when you have a team of mechanics preparing your bike for you.

Here's a very brief rundown of the pros and cons of tubeless tyres.

Pros:
  • Stops you from puncturing...most of the time
  • Lower rolling resistance for racers
  • Lower pressures are comfy
Cons:
  • Setup can be a right pain
  • Tyres can be rigid 
  • Sealant won't plug all punctures

So why the slow change?

continental pro ltd tyre2.JPG

Tubeless has been tiptoeing its way into the pro peloton for a few years now, but the pros are notoriously resistant to change, not just in their bike tech, but in their training, diet, recovery and essentially anything involved with pedalling a bicycle.

Back when 25mm tyres were becoming a thing, one French team asked its tyre sponsor to label all the new 25mm tyres as 23mm. The mechanics knew that the wider tyres were faster, but also knew that the riders wouldn’t like the change. The pros trust what they know, so you’ll just have to forgive them for resistance to change.

Tubeless tyres: the hidden pitfalls that you try to avoid

We have seen tubeless used in the biggest races before. Kristoff seems to be a fan, having used them for Paris-Roubaix in the past (though he did puncture quite a few times that day). But tube-type clincher tyres, their history at the top level isn’t as notable. There have been a few wins here and there, but Alaphilippe’s win into Nice is the biggest for inner tubes in years.

The pros still like tubular tyres because of the safety they offer in the event of a puncture. As the tyre is glued to the rim, it should stay there when deflated, allowing the rider to continue rolling along at the back of the peloton until their team car comes up to change the wheel. This gives the rider a shorter chase back to the bunch.

Can the TdF opening weekend be trusted?

Never is the world’s cycling and general media more focused on bike racing than the opening stages of the Tour de France. As a result, the brands that pay the riders to use their latest and greatest kit want it used. Preferably, their star rider will use it to win, and then sing its praises to the waiting media.

Our rolling list of the bikes that have won each stage of the 2020 Tour de France

It wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to think that Specialized and Roval had high hopes of Irish sprinter Sam Bennett winning stage one and taking yellow on its new tube-type clincher wheels. Specialized has been one of the companies leading the charge for tubeless technology, yet Roval's latest wheelsets have shunned tubeless, going backwards in time to a tube-type clincher design.

In the end, Bennett got beaten by Kristoff, riding Campagnolo Bora WTO 45 tubeless wheels with Vittoria Corsa tubeless tyres.

Specialized’s saviour came in the form of Julian Alaphilippe, who pinched stage two and the race lead with the Roval Alpinist CLX wheelset shod with Specialized Turbo Cotton tyres and almost certainly using latex inner tubes.

Caleb Ewan wins 2020 Tour de France Stage 3 © CorVos/SWpix.com_

Stage three again went the way of the sprinters, with Bennett again missing out on the victory and tubulars got back to winning thanks to some amazing sprinting by Caleb Ewan.

Alaphilippe is one that has hopped back over to his tubulars, but some of those riders that have enjoyed success away from tubs may well stick with their choice, especially if they get through a week without punctures or feel that they have more grip.

Nizzolo MSR. Credit GettyImages-2

Look out for Giacomo Nizzolo on the sprint stages. He won both the Italian National Championships and European Championships in the week leading up to the Tour. He took those races using Enve SES tubeless wheels and Vittoria Corsa tyes. Given the Italian’s current form, we could well see a win for that setup.

How will the rest of the Tour shape up for clinchers, tubeless and tubular tyres? If yesterday’s mountain-top finish is anything to go by then we can probably expect the climbers to stick to their tubulars as weight still reigns supreme when the road goes up. But this year, more than ever before, tubeless seems to be getting a foothold in the pro peloton.

Son of a Marathon runner, Nephew of a National 24hr Champion, the racing genetics have completely passed him by. After joining the road.cc staff in 2016 as a reviewer, Liam quickly started writing feature articles and news pieces. After a little time living in Canada, where he spent most of his time eating poutine, Liam returned with the launch of DealClincher, taking over the Editor role at the start of 2018. At the weekend, Liam can be found racing on the road both in the UK and abroad, though he prefers the muddy fields of cyclocross. To date, his biggest race win is to the front of the cafe queue.

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