Tubed clinchers just won their first Tour de France road stage since 1992

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UPDATE: An eagle-eyed reader sent over this photo, which shows a Michellin Hi-Lite that Claudio Chiappucci appears to have ridden to victory in stage 13 of the 1992 Tour de France. We knew these tires won a pair of time trials in 1993, under Miguel Indurain, and Laurent Fignon rode them one some stages of the ’89 but we were unable to find photos him winning on them. We had missed the Chiappucci win. That makes poor Alaphilippe only the second in history to win a Tour road stage on clinchers. Sorry, Julian.

Julian Alaphilippe’s late attack and early yellow jersey may bring a bit of déjà vu, but something else about his win was novel, at least in modern times. Alaphilippe crossed the line on a set of clincher tires, the first road stage victory for clinchers with tubes in almost 30 years.

The vast majority (all but a small handful) of Tour stages have been won on tubular tires, all the way back to the earliest days of the race. In recent years, tubeless has begun to snag a stage here and there, but the majority of riders, and thus the majority of wins, still come on tubulars.

Clinchers in use. Photo VK/PN/Cor Vos © 2020

Why clinchers?

Specialized, which sponsors Deceuninck-Quickstep with frames and Roval wheels, recently rolled out its new Roval Rapide and Alpinist CLX wheels. Surprisingly, the super-wide carbon clinchers are not officially tubeless compatible. Specialized and Roval have pushed road tubeless for some time, and Alaphilippe used a tubeless setup for stages of last year’s Tour, but the lack of tubeless compatibility means that the new Rapide CLX rims need to be run with tubes.

Most racers still prefer tubulars for the ability to ride them while flat, and the security that glue provides if they go flat in a high-speed situation. They are also much more difficult to pinch flat than a tubed clincher.

Clinchers, matched with latex inner tubes, can ofter lower rolling resistance compared to tubulars. This is why some teams run them. It’s all about marginal rolling resistance gains.

Alaphilippe’s wheel/tire setup

Specialized makes a very good tube-type clincher racing tire, the S-Works Turbo Cotton. It’s tested well in independent rolling resistance tests and is known to be a fast overall setup with good cornering grip and wet-weather performance.

On Sunday, Alaphilippe matched those tires with Roval’s new Alpinist CLX wheels. The Alpinist CLX is the shallower of the two options. As Dave Rome wrote when they were first launched:

The Alpinist CLX shares much with the Rapide CLX: it’s for disc brakes and tubed clinchers only, and it shares the same hubs, spokes, weight limit, warranty and pricing. But the new Alpinist is shallower, lighter and less wind-obsessed than its aero-minded sibling.

As Roval’s lightest clincher wheelset to date, the Alpinist weighs an actual 1,248 g for the pair (562 g front, 686 g rear), including rim tape. That’s almost exactly 100 g lighter than the CLX 32 Disc it replaces.

Unlike the new Rapide, the Alpinist uses the same-profile 33 mm deep and 26.3 mm wide carbon rim front and rear. While the internal shape features the same hooked 21 mm measurements as the Rapide, that shallower and lighter rim sees the spoke count bumped to 21 spokes on the front and 24 at the rear.

Deceuninck-Quickstep has proven its willingness to try new things on the tire front for years. Specialized has been more successful than most brands at pushing its riders toward faster-rolling tire setups all the way back to Tony Martin’s ill-fated escapade on clincher TT tires at the start of the 2012 Tour de France.

In fact, it looks like Bora-Hansgrohe is on the same clincher setups. A couple photos from before the race are in the gallery below and clearly show both Rapide and Alpinist clinchers.

However, exactly what tubes are inside the wheels of Deceuninck-QuickStep (and, perhaps, Bora-Hansgrohe) isn’t entirely clear. Specialized makes excellent high-performance butyl rubber inner tubes, but not a latex one – and this sort of equipment choice only makes sense from a rolling resistance perspective if the riders are running latex. Whether Specialized has a latex tube pending for the general public or the team is using another brand is a question that remains to be answered.

What’s also somewhat confounding is that, in a race scenario, there is no benefit to a tubed clincher over a tubeless tire. They are no faster and lack the self-healing sealant of a tubeless setup. We still find it odd that the new Roval wheels aren’t tubeless, and we haven’t yet heard a satisfactory explanation.

So the first-ever Tour win on tubed clinchers comes off the back of a strange product decision, but traditional clincher fans can rejoice nonetheless. Our tires are capable of winning at the Tour, even if we aren’t.


Photo: @Cyclingimages, courtesy Specialized

Both the Alpinist and Rapide wheels are in use.

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