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by James Huang
July 23, 2019
Photography by James Huang
When it comes to tires at the Tour de France, Continental and Vittoria utterly dominate the landscape, with the former still enjoying a slight advantage in terms of the number of teams and riders that trust their results — and their safety — to the German brand.
However, keen-eyed fans will have noticed that the Continental tubulars typically used at the Tour de France aren’t quite the same as what’s available to consumers off the shelf at retailers. So what exactly are these Competition Pro Limited tires, and what makes them special?
“Teams this year are riding on Competition II ProLTD tires at the Tour de France,” explained Continental product manager Jan-Niklas Jünger. “This new generation has a 200TPI [nylon] carcass and is about 10% lighter than Generation I, and is now the new standard go-to [tire] for the pro teams.”
Continental has long used three-letter codes for the tubular tires provided to professional teams. “ALX” denotes “allround”; “ALX RS” stands for “Allround RaceSport”; and “TTX” is for “Time Trial”. The “X” indicates a latex inner tube inside.
According to Jünger, teams have reported that the new casings provide a supple ride not unlike cotton or silk tubulars, but with the additional durability and toughness that comes with nylon construction.
From there, Continental wraps the casing with one of three different tread designs. The ALX is what’s used most commonly, and features an all-purpose diamond tread pattern and dual compound rubber with a faster-rolling center and grippier shoulder formulation.
Most teams are on the versatile ALX diamond-tread pattern, but several – including Ineos – choose the faster-rolling ALX RS profile with its slick center.
The ALX RS (RaceSport) variant is similar to the ALX, but with a slick center tread that Jünger says is good for a watt of rolling resistance savings. Jünger claims the tread pattern offers measurably improved aero performance compared to the ALX, too, along with more stable handling in crosswinds. This version is the road tire of choice for team Ineos.
Finally, there’s the TTX, built specifically for time trials with a paper-thin tread cap and higher-rebound rubber to reduce rolling resistance when speed is more important than durability or traction.
All three tires are equipped with latex inner tubes.
Continental intends the Competition ProLTD TTX tires to be used primarily for time trials, but some teams and riders apparently find the additional speed so enticing that they’re willing to run a greater risk of punctures on certain road stages, too.
Naturally, there are plenty of everyday riders and amateur racers who might be interested in picking up some of these fancy Continental tubulars for themselves, and according to the UCI’s technical guidelines, they should be available … somewhere.
“Equipment shall be of a type that is sold for use by anyone practicing cycling as a sport,” reads UCI rule 1.3.006. “The requirement of commercial availability shall be understood as equipment having to be available through a publicly available order system (whether with manufacturer, distributor or retailer). Upon an order being placed, the order shall be confirmed within 30 days and the relevant equipment shall be made available for delivery within a further 90-day deadline.
“In addition, the retail price of the equipment shall be publicly advertised, shall not render the equipment de facto unavailable to the general public and shall not unreasonably exceed the market value for equipment of a similar standard.”
Continental is often so highly sought-after in the peloton that teams and riders will willingly shun official sponsors in favor of blacked-out logos that are still all-too-easy to spot.
A quick search online reveals no easy sources, nor are the tires listed on Continental’s consumer web site. However, Jünger insists that the Competition ProLTD tubulars being used at this year’s Tour de France really are available to the public — albeit with a bit of work.
“Tires are available for purchase,” he said, “but only in limited quantities, and only after special checking up.”
Continental says there are more developments to come on the clincher and tubeless front when it comes to top-level competition, too. If you see a colored stripe on a Continental tire, that’s a strong sign that something special is being tested there.