Spotted: Bora-Hansgrohe tests tubeless on formerly tube-only Roval wheels

Does Roval have a new tubeless tyre and wheelset in the works?

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As the dust settled on yesterday’s Clásica Jaén Paraíso Interior, aka the Spanish Strade, our Nerd Alert resident pro mechanic Zach Edwards mulled over our race gallery and something caught his eye. Not the olive groves or the white roads, but a darker sidewall on what otherwise appears to be Specialized’s Turbo Cotton Hell of the North clinchers. 

Closer investigation of other photos and footage from the event confirms this is not some once-off trick of the light. The sidewall of the tyres in question does appear much darker than the typically bright tan Turbo Cottons. Furthermore, this closer investigation has churned up some interesting findings. The photos of the tyres are of Lennard Kämna aboard his Tarmac SL7 with what appears to be Roval Rapide CLX wheels. I say “appears to be the Rapide CLX” as Roval’s flagship road wheels – which launched less than two years ago – famously bucked the trend in ditching tubeless compatibility.

Interestingly, however, the photos from yesterday’s race appear to show the Bora-Hansgrohe team running a tubeless valve stem and nut – not only hinting at a new tubeless tyre from Specialized, but a new officially tubeless compatible Rapide CLX wheelset.

As reported by CyclingTips’ own Dave Rome at the time of the launch of the Alpinist and Rapide CLX wheelsets, “Roval’s move to tube-only wheels is quite perplexing. And in many ways, the company has backflipped on its recent word.” At the time, Roval suggested that a tubeless setup would have required added material in the rim build to withstand the increased compression forces of a tubeless setup. Roval claimed this weight increase in such a high-end wheelset would have more outweighed the performance benefits of a tubeless tyre. 

Confusingly, though, the current Rapide CLX wheels certainly look tubeless compatible, and it is possible to at least mount and inflate a tubeless tyre on the new rims. Furthermore, pre-release marketing materials seemed to suggest the wheels were at some point intended to offer tubeless compatibility. Again, the tube type only CLX wheelset came after an intense stretch of road racing tubeless advocacy from Roval, and so the decision to offer a tube-type only wheel was met with some scepticism.

Roval-equipped teams have enjoyed staggering success on the clincher-only wheelset over the past two years, and as recently as last year sponsored teams claimed they were wholly committed to clinchers. Roval engineering manager Jeff Meyer, Deceuninck-QuickStep team technical director Ricardo Scheidecker, team coach Koen Pelgrim, and head mechanic Nicolas Coosemans suggested this commitment might even go as far as running clinchers for Paris-Roubaix on an episode of the Nerd Alert podcast. Ultimately – and somewhat surprisingly – the team did in fact run clinchers for Roubaix, a decision that perhaps cost the team a chance at taking another win at the Hell of the North as riders suffered multiple punctures on the rough cobbled roads.

We asked Specialized if the tyre and wheel combination spotted at Clásica Jaén Paraíso Interior was in fact a new tubeless road option in the making, to which the brand replied “Specialized relies on feedback from professional athletes in both developing and testing advanced pre-production products in real-world applications. With this top-level feedback, some of these design elements and products eventually show up in future retail product offerings. We call this Project Black.” I guess only time will tell definitively whether we are about to see a return to team road tubeless for Roval and a new set of tyres and/or wheels. 

We will bring you any developments on this story as we have them.

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