Tubeless tyres just won Roubaix: Is today the day tubulars died?

Bye bye tubular tyres. Is this the end for tubulars now that tubeless has a Roubaix win?

by Ronan Mc Laughlin

photography by Ronan Mc Laughlin

Don McLean sang about the day the music died in his 1971 hit “American Pie”. Sit outside the Trek-Segafredo team hotel tonight and you might hear a rehash of that song … “I knew they were out of luck, The day the tubular died”

As Lizzie Deignan crossed the line to take an incredible 80km solo breakaway victory in the first Paris-Roubaix Femmes, tubeless tyres simultaneously took their first victory in the Hell of the North.

Tubeless tyres were everywhere this week. Seemingly en masse, men’s and women’s teams have switched to tubeless setups for Paris-Roubaix. Often trend changes start small and grow. This week, the tubeless takeover has come like a tidal wave. Team after team showed up on the recon days with tubeless setups and race day was no different. Almost all the teams with a racing tubeless option had taken that option. The entire Trek-Segafredo, Movistar, Ceratizit-WMT, and Canyon-SRAM teams all ran tubeless, while individuals from LIV Racing, FDJ Noivelle Aquitaine Futuroscope and others also opted for tubeless setups. If recon rides are anything to go by, the men’s peloton will make a similar shift.

So what? I hear you ask. Well, Paris-Roubaix was the final stronghold for tubular tyres. In a time when clincher and tubeless tyres are increasingly popular, tubular tyres have ruled the roost in Roubaix forever. The extra pinch flat protection and run-flat option the tubular provides, and just good old tradition, make the shift to tubeless at Paris-Roubaix of all places even more surprising.

The benefits of tubeless are not breaking news. For years, teams, riders, and time trial/tech nerds have known of tubeless’ decreased rolling resistance benefits, and the option to run lower pressures than clinchers. However, pros have almost always erred on the perceived side of caution and opted for a traditional tubular setup.

Pirelli’s P-Zero and Continental’s new, still-unannounced, GP5000 S TR, lead the way with countless riders on tyres from these two brands. Interestingly, the Vittoria-equipped teams in the women’s race today all opted for the brand’s tubular tyres. However, I have it from the UAE – Emirates team mechanic that the Tour de France winning squad will opt for 30mm tubeless tyres for Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix. That despite Alexandre Kristoff’s nightmare Roubaix two years ago when he called tubeless tyres a “big risk”. The issue back then was perhaps tyre width rather than tyre type, as Kristoff had opted for 25mm tubeless tyres.

Fast forward two years and the teams running tubeless at Roubaix are riding 30 and 32mm setups. Some teams are adamant tyre inserts complete the tubeless package, including Saturday’s winners Trek-Segafredo, whereas others such as Movistar and UAE are neglecting the inserts and opting for sealant only.

Regardless of what’s inside the tubeless tyres, as the name suggests, none have tubes inside. In the pro world, where tubulars have often been the choice of 100% of the peloton, this week’s Paris-Roubaix seems like a monumental shift.

Yes, that increased width is a major factor at Roubaix, but from what I hear on the ground the tyre manufacturers are adamant tubeless is best for all races. Now that all the manufacturers have a Roubaix win in the team tubeless corner for this battle, team tube inside is on the backfoot.

Is this the end for tubular? Probably not. But the world of professional cycling is incredibly fickle, and with that tubeless Roubaix win in the bank, the flood gates will surely open. I’m calling it: if tubeless can take two spots on the podium at Paris-Roubaix, tubeless will be the dominant tyre setup in all pro racing by next season.

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