Tubeless tires gaining ground in road and TT stages at the Tour de France

Fans of tubeless road tires have been eagerly awaiting the adoption of the technology at the upper echelon of the sport, and only recently have there been glimmers of hope. Those fires will burn a little brighter yet this year, as tubeless is clearly being used by more riders and teams at this year’s Tour de France — but only in certain conditions, and only when there’s a clear performance advantage to be gained.

Movistar and Ag2R La Mondiale riders will all be on 25mm-wide Continental tubeless tires as they set out to tackle the team time trial of Stage 2, with team officials acknowledging that the tubeless setup is measurably faster than tubulars in terms of rolling resistance and overall finish times. Ag2R bikes are fitted with seemingly off-the-shelf Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL tires, but Movistar’s front wheels are wrapped with slick-treaded Continental Grand Prix TT tires, which the company doesn’t currently offer.

Both teams will only be running tubeless up front, purely due to limitations in available equipment. Ag2R bikes are fitted with Mavic Comete Pro Carbon SL carbon clinchers, while Movistar is on the Campagnolo Bora WTO 77; neither supplier currently offers a tubeless-compatible rear disc wheel.

Nothing says ‘look at me!’ like black Sharpie.

Meanwhile, Deceuninck-Quick Step riders will abandon tubulars altogether during the team time trial. Their new Specialized S-Works Shiv TT Disc bikes are fitted with cotton clinchers and latex inner tubes front and rear, both mounted to tubeless-compatible Roval carbon disc rear wheels and deep-section front wheels. And as with Movistar and Ag2R, the switch is motivated by the same reason: speed.

Other teams may very well be moving away from tubulars during the time trial as well; I unfortunately wasn’t able to get to check out every team’s bikes before they were shuffled away.

The fact that tubeless (and even tube-type) clinchers can save time relative to tubulars is no longer a topic of debate; it’s a fact that has been proven for several years now thanks to continual improvements in tubeless (and clincher) casing technology, plus the fact that both traditional clinchers and tubeless tires are often more round, once mounted, than even the best handmade tubulars. The technology has also been proven several times in competition, notably with Tony Martin’s historic win on front and rear Specialized S-Works tubeless tires at the 2016 time trial world championships. Martin has even preferred clinchers for time trials as early as 2011.

Specialized has been singing the praises of tubeless and tube-type clinchers for quite a long time now, with lab data to prove its superior rolling resistance performance relative to tubulars. Several sponsored teams and riders have enjoyed success on tube-type and/or tubeless tires recently, too, so it’s not a big surprise to see that the entire Deceuninck-Quick Step team will use latex inner tubes and Specialized S-Works Turbo Cotton clinchers on all of its time trial bikes.

Alexander Kristoff also won this year’s Gent-Wevelgem on a pair of Vittoria Corsa Graphene 2.0 25mm tubeless tires, and also placed third just days later at the Tour of Flanders on the same setup, while Fabio Jakobsen won stage 4 of this year’s Tour of California on a prototype set of 26mm-wide Specialized S-Works tubeless tires. And according to VeloNews technical editor Dan Cavallari, Mitchelton-Scott rider Simon Yates is considering running clinchers for some road stages as well.

Yates didn’t end up starting Stage 1 on tubeless clinchers — he was on tubulars, as usual — but the entire UAE-Emirates squad did, running 25mm-wide Vittoria Corsas front and rear, mounted to Campagnolo Bora WTO carbon wheels.

Continental doesn’t current offer this tire in a tubeless format, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t coming in the near future.

That said, tubulars are still very much the standard when it comes to road stages. In that setting, teams and riders still place more value in the security and safety that tubulars provide in the event of a puncture. After all, a well-glued tubular will reliably stay on the rim when flat, even at higher speeds, but the same can’t be said of many tubeless setups right now.

Back in April, Silca owner Josh Poertner (who was also formerly the technical director of Zipp) told CyclingTips that tubeless tires would become the norm within five years. The way things are looking, it might be even sooner than that.

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