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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.
Ag2R La Mondiale riders will all be on 25mm-wide Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL 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.
That team will only be running tubeless up front, though, purely due to limitations in available equipment. Ag2R bikes are fitted with Mavic Comete Pro Carbon SL carbon clinchers, but Mavic doesn’t currently offer a tubeless-compatible rear disc. However, several other teams that don’t have that limitation were spotted running Vittoria Corsa tubeless tires front and rear for the team time trial of Stage 2.
Tube-type clinchers are also proving to be the setup of choice for several other teams.
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.
Meanwhile, like Ag2R, Movistar is running a staggered setup, with tubular rear tires – again, due to product limitations – and tubed Continental Grand Prix TT clinchers mounted to Campagnolo Bora WTO 77 deep-section wheels.
The motivation for all of this is simple: speed. And more specifically, rolling resistance.
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.
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.
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.