OK, so French rider Julian Alaphilippe just took a stage 2 win yesterday at the 2020 Tour de France riding clincher tires with inner tubes inside. I am a bit confused. I thought we had settled on tubeless as being the tech that was going to replace tubulars in the pro peloton, not the revolutionary tech of… latex inner tubes. Sure, he had a fast new Tarmac SL7, superlight Roval Alpinist CLX wheels, and supple S-Works Turbo Cotton tires, but with tubes? That’s still surprising.
First Tour de France stage win on standard clincher tires & inner tubes?
Specialized calls is a historic feat “the first ever Tour de France road stage win on clincher and tubes”.
Update: Both some attentive readers in the comments and some industry friends chimed in to remind of some additional facts from around 30 years ago, or so. Apparently, back at the 1992 Tour de France, Claudio Chiappucci won stage 13 on Michelin Hi-Lite clinchers with tubes. Thierry Marie is also thought to have won a stage on Michelin clinchers, too. Following the Grand Tour & tubes trend, Gianni Bugno seems to have taken his ’91 or ’92 World Championships win and ’90 Giro d’Italia win on the same and the Michelin Hi-Lites clinchers.
It has clearly been a while since clinchers & tubes have won on the biggest pro road racing stage, though!
Last year Deceuninck-Quick-Step was one of the first pro teams to start to seriously ditch tubulars, with Dutchman Fabio Jakobsen sprinting for a Tour of California. stage win on prototype Specialized Project Black tubeless tires – claiming he was “done with tubulars”. If you would have asked me last week about pros ditching tubulars for improved road feel and decreased rolling resistance, I would have been sure we were talking about road tubeless. But, here we are.
Alaphilippe is racing the all-new Tarmac SL7, which makes big claims about being as fast as the Venge, just lighter. No doubt that doesn’t hurt. His Roval Alpinist CLX wheels are also crazy light at a claimed 1248g. To be honest, when I saw the 33mm deep, 21mm internal width carbon clincher wheels debut back in June, I pretty much dismissed them outright because they are NOT tubeless-ready. Apparently, the pros know something. Especially in a sprint finish at the end of a mountainous day at le Tour.
Don’t hang up your clincher tires.
Basically it all comes back to the idea that a supple tire, and a maybe a slightly wider tire (thanks to the 21mm internal that Roval says adds 2mm to what a tire’s hot stamp) is the fastest tire. With a latex inner tube inside, a supple handmade cotton clincher tire like the S-Works Turbo Cotton is going to give a fast ride to rival any comparable tubular. It is after all the same setup we saw back on Christoph Strasser’s 24 hour Record Bike in 2015. It seems that the light, wide carbon wheels are what has caught up.
Interestingly, the pre-race handout photos Specialized put together of Julian Alaphilippe’s Tarmac SL7 ahead of the Tour show his bike fitted with the black-wall RapidAir tubeless version of the Turbo tire, albeit still with tubes inside. What he raced on, and won on though were telltale tanwalls of the cotton, non-tubeless version.
“We’ve known how fast Turbo Cotton clinchers are, winning many time trials with them, thanks to their low rolling resistance. Since our camp in June we’ve been testing the new Tarmac SL7 with Turbo Cotton clinchers and the new Roval Rapide CLX wheels and our riders loved the speed and feel of this combination more than tubulars. Today Julian proved just how fast this combination is on the open road“, said Deceuninck-Quick-Step Technical & Development Director Ricardo Scheidecker.
I guess inner tubes aren’t dead after all. They were just waiting for some old supple tires, and some fancy new carbon wheels.