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by Dave Rome
May 17, 2019
Photography by Cor Vos
It was just a couple of months ago that Josh Poertner, owner of Silca, made the bold prediction that tubeless tires will be the norm in professional racing within five years. And now, in the wake of Fabio Jakobsen’s win on Stage 4 of the Amgen Tour of California, Specialized has announced that it holds a similar belief.
“Specialized firmly believes the future of road tyre technology, both racing at the highest level and for every rider, is tubeless,” a company statement said. “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.”
On Wednesday’s stage 4 in California, Jakobsen and Michael Mørkøv of the Deceuninck–Quick-Step team were racing on Specialized’s Project Black Tubeless 26mm tires, part of the American company’s product development collection. Specialized has remained tight-lipped about these new tires but in a post-race interview, Jakobsen seemed genuinely impressed.
“I’m really in love with them, because they take the bumps better in the corners,”Jakobsen said. “I feel more confident for sure … when braking I feel I have more connection to the road with tubeless. From now on, if the team allows me, I [will] race with them all the time.”
Apparently Jakobsen punctured during the stage but the liquid tubeless sealant did its job and allowed the Dutchman to keep rolling without the need for a wheel change.
Mørkøv, meanwhile, was impressed with the speed of the tires. “I feel really clearly the resistance is much less,” he said. “I feel much faster on these wheels than the old tubulars.”
Perhaps Mørkøv has been reading BicycleRollingResistance.com, which currently has two tubeless tires sitting at the top of its charts. We wouldn’t be surprised if these prototypes from Specialized proved to offer remarkably low rolling resistance figures, too.
Both Deceuninck–Quick-Step and Bora-Hansgrohe mechanics were seen setting up tubeless wheels prior to the 2019 Santos Tour Down Under, but they barely saw race action that week.
Tubeless road tires are nothing new; they’ve been around for more than a decade. Teams have tested out racing tubeless during that span, but rarely have we seen pro riders use them at important moments.
That changed this year with Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) winning Gent-Wevelgem on a pair of Vittoria Corsa Graphene 2.0 25mm tubeless tires, and then placing third at the Tour of Flanders on the same setup. However, Kristoff took the same narrow tires into Paris-Roubaix, and suffered three punctures, ruling him out of contention, and certainly not helping the case for tubeless.
With the support of the WorldTour’s most dominant team, though, perhaps we’re starting to see the tipping point for tubeless on the road. Maybe Poertner’s prediction wasn’t so bold after all?