The Tour of Flanders was won on tubed clinchers
There are going to be quite a few clincher firsts this year if things go to plan for Deceuninck-Quickstep. The winningest team of 2020 is riding clinchers – with tubes in them – almost exclusively this season. Sunday’s Tour of Flanders was, as far as we can tell, the technology’s first Flanders win.
Kasper Asgreen and the rest of his DQS team were on Roval’s latest wheels, mostly the deeper Rapide CLX, matched with Specialized Turbo Cotton Hell of the North tires in a 28mm. Inside those tires were latex tubes.
Though Roval’s Rapide and shallower Alpinist rims have most of the hallmarks of road tubeless setups, they are not approved for tubeless use. (We remain confused by this.)
When the wheels first came out last year, the team swapped back and forth between the newer, much wider, and more aerodynamic Rapide and Alpinist wheels and the tubular CLX50 that came before it. Julian Alaphilippe, for example, won the 2nd stage of last year’s Tour de France on Turbo Cotton clinchers paired with Alpinist wheels before swapping back to tubulars for most of the rest of the Tour de France.
This season, Quickstep’s tubulars have mostly stayed at the service course, and the team has used this Rapide/latex tube/Turbo Cotton combination in almost every race. Most races see the regular Turbo Cotton used; those with cobbles often get the slightly more robust Turbo Cotton Hell of the North.
The regular Turbo Cotton and the Hell of the North version look nearly identical. The tread on the Hell of the North extends a bit further down the sidewall for additional cut protection and the tread has some extra puncture protection, but the construction is otherwise very similar, based around a supple cotton casing and Specialized’s Gripton tread compound.
The optimal clincher setup generally tests faster than tubulars in rolling resistance tests, but for years pro teams worried about the inability to ride a clincher flat, an issue when a rider flats and the team car is a ways off. Tubeless tires ran into similar resistance, but are gaining acceptance.
Specialized-sponsored teams are unique at the moment in their experimentation with the lowly clincher (in road race events), the type of tire and tube system used by the vast majority of amateurs that until a few years ago was rarely seen in the pro ranks. We recently had a deep dive conversation with members of the Deceuninck-Quickstep team and Roval engineering about these decisions.
They aren’t the first, though. In 1992, Claudio Chiappucci rode Michellin Hi-Lite clinchers victory in stage 13 of the Tour de France. These tires won a pair of time trials in 1993, under Miguel Indurain, and Laurent Fignon rode them one some stages of the ’89, too.
As covered previously, Specialized and Roval have gone all-in with a move away from tubular technology.