Saturday, March 15, 2008

Tubeless win a Classic!

I'm sure that Bryan has read this. If not it came from

After racing the final 22 kilometers alone, off the front, Francaise des Jeux rider Philippe Gilbert crossed the finish of Omloop Het Volk last week in victory. It was the second Het Volk win for the Belgian; his first came in 2006. The 2008 win was special to two of his sponsors and was a milestone for road technology, because Gilbert crossed the line on a tubeless wheel and tire.

Over four years ago prototype tubeless road tires started popping up in the pro peloton, but it wasn’t until two years ago that Shimano and Hutchinson presented their tubeless system to the public. The technology is well received and should considered by those looking for a happy medium between tubulars and clinchers, including both Lennard Zinn and me here at VeloNews. The technology hasn’t exactly been wholeheartedly embraced, in part because the only manufacturers pushing it are Shimano and Hutchinson.

Het had the perfect roads — cobblestones, wet surfaces and short steep climbs — to capitalize on the advantages the tubeless system offers: Grip and puncture resistance. The week before the race Gilbert and his FDJ teammates reconnoitered the crux sections using the system. After the test Gilbert and three teammates chose to race the system, which is comprised of Shimano’s new WH-7850-SL scandium-rimmed wheels and Hutchinson’s Fusion 2 tires.

The FDJ riders have been training with the wheels since January. But a new sealant clinched the deal. With it, the team was confident the system is even less flat-prone than tubulars, said Frederic Vanoli, chief of technical affairs for Francaise des Jeux.

Even so, Gilbert did suffer a rear flat during the race, which is more likely attributed to chance than a fault of the system. The Belgian’s rear flat didn’t seem to dampen the team’s enthusiasm for continued use of the system through out this spring’s races.

Puncture protection was key, especially considering the rather high pressures Gilbert used (7 bar or 102 psi in the front and 7.5 bar or 109 psi in the rear). Het Volk has only 16km of cobbles, but on rougher course, the system’s ability to run lower pressures would be an advantage.

Despite the successes of the tubeless system on the battlefields of the spring classics and semi-classics, FDJ has no plan to bring the technology to the Grand Tours. There the lightweight of carbon wheels and tubulars outweigh the advantages of the tubeless system’s durability.

“In team Francaise des Jeux [we only use tubeless] in Belgium and the north of France with cobblestones,” said Vanoli, “not in stage races.”

For the rest of us, not racing at the head of a ProTour peloton, the advantages of comfort, grip and puncture resistance make road tubeless a viable technology that’s still worth a look.


bryan said...

Yes, I most definitely did read that. I wish the technology was more widely available, though. I think it would gain a pretty big following if the choice wasn't so narrow. I got my Dura-Ace wheels on the cheap, but retail is $1,000. If the Ultegra-level wheel had a tubeless option, plus the support of other companies, it could turn into a steady seller.

Grumpy said...

2009 tubeless in Ultegra. Or at least that's what I hear through the grape- vine.

Sean said...

Though, to be a party pooper here: even though tubeless is lauded for its puncture resistance, Gilbert did blow a tire. And did replace it with a tubular rather than a tubeless. Also, this story appeared on VeloNews FOUR DAYS after Het Volk. What's the deal with that?

bryan said...

sean -- to be a pain in the ass, it should be noted Gilbert got a neutral-service wheel. so shut up.

Peter said...

Tubeless is great!...for mountain biking. I'm just being a bitchass. Tires don't matter. People will agree that clinchers and tubies (and now tubeless) are both great the day Walter rolls on Shabbos.

Sean said...

I stand corrected. I apologize.

bryan said...

and I apologize for telling you to shut up. Let's be friends again.