Bucking trends in the consumer market, riders at this year's Tour de France are again almost exclusively rolling on traditional tubular tyres.
Why? Teams cite their lower weights, better ride quality, enhanced cornering capabilities and heightened safety (they can be ridden totally deflated mostly without fear of separating from the rim).
Ag2r-La Mondiale and Francais de Jeux are notable standouts, though, the former running standard tube-type clinchers and the latter on Hutchinson's Fusion 3 Road Tubeless tyres – mostly on spares in both cases, though.
Hutchinson's Fusion 3 Road Tubeless
We've seen clinchers at the Tour de France before but this is the first time we recall seeing Road Tubeless – whether on mains, spares, or otherwise – at road cycling's grandest stage. Whether or not it's a sign of things to come remains to be seen but it's a noteworthy occasion from a tech perspective nonetheless.
More on (the lack of) tyre sealant at Le Tour
Teams may not be using preventative tyre sealants at the Tour de France but it sounds like that isn't because they're not interested in it. Garmin-Transitions rider Steven Cozza himself sent BikeRadar's sister website Cyclingnews a message saying the squad have looked into the idea in the past.
One test session in particular involved the guys "smashing wheels trying to hit the largest potholes" they could. Cozza reports that the sealants they tried (both Stan's NoTubes and Effetto Mariposa Caffelatex, according to team mechanic Kris Withington when we followed up with him prior to Stage 7) both worked but not as quickly as they needed them to, particularly for more catastrophic failures like pinch flats.
According to Cozza – whose account was backed up by Withington – the slow self-repair was okay in terms of saving a tyre or being able to limp along for a while but not good enough to remove the need for a wheel change. The team did run several riders in Paris-Roubaix with sealant this year, but mostly support riders who weren't overly hindered by the extra 50g per tyre.
It sounds like the concept is hindered by the lack of a specific formula that addresses the particular needs of road racers. Stan's NoTubes already offer a blend with a shorter shelf life that caters to top-level mountain bike racers, and a similarly dedicated variant designed to work better on pinched high-pressure tubulars might just do the trick – maybe something with more plugging material?
HTC-Columbia ink bearing deal with Ceramicspeed
It's never too late for business, even at the Tour de France. HTC-Columbia mechanic Jan Lindberg tells us the team signed a formal sponsorship deal with Danish bearing company Ceramicspeed on the day of the opening prologue.
Since then, the entire fleet of team bikes has been equipped with low-friction ceramic bearings in the bottom bracket and hubs, while the derailleurs get complete ceramic-equipped alloy pulley wheels. Based on what we've seen before, we're guessing at least some team riders were already running ceramics but now it's official with decals and all.
Okay, now it's official: Ceramicspeed are providing ceramic bearings to HTC-Columbia
Star sprinter Mark Cavendish has returned to his winning ways with victories in Stages 5 and 6 but it's worth noting that both successes came aboard his old Scott Addict – not the new samurai-themed Project F01 aero bike that he started on at this year's Tour. According to team marketing and communications head Kristy Scrymgeour, the issue isn't with the bike itself (which is said to have tested even stiffer than the Addict) but rather the fit.
Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) used his old bike for both stage wins in this year's Tour
We noted in his Pro Bike feature that Cavendish moved his position further forward on the new bike but Scrymgeour says he has since reverted. Cavendish first tried subbing in a slightly shorter stem on his custom-painted machine but it sounds like the modest 5mm decrease wasn't quite enough. According to Scrymgeour, the team were waiting for a properly sized replacement to arrive and 'Cav' was expected to switch back then.
They're back! How many of these will Mark Cavendish rack up before the end of the Tour?
New brake track treatment on alloy-rimmed Mavic wheels
Spare aluminium-rimmed wheels mounted atop the Mavic neutral vehicles incorporate a new brake track that's unlike anything else we've seen. Instead of the typical circumferentially grooved machined finish, the new track is far more elaborately textured – apparently in an effort to gain more pad bite.
Mavic's new aluminium brake surface sports a fine texture – presumably for better pad bite
Moreover, the brake track is black, not silver, and we couldn’t find a smidgeon of pad wear on any samples we spotted. While it's possible that none of them had yet seen any use, we find it more likely that it's some sort of extra-hard surface treatment to combat wear, though the fine machined-looking pattern suggests to us that it's not a redo of Mavic's old ceramic technology.
Mavic's old brake track is silver in colour and less elaborately textured
Also on display throughout the Mavic-sponsored teams were new black reflective rim decals that lend a nice, stealthy appearance during the day but extra visibility in case you're caught at dusk. Mavic officials weren't available to comment at the time of writing this, but the company's official 2011 launch is coming up in a few weeks so we'll keep you posted.
Mavic's Cosmic Carbone 80 makes an appearance in official trim
More Berner-equipped SRAM rear derailleurs pop up at Le Tour
We spotted just a handful of Berner-equipped SRAM Red rear derailleurs early on in this year's Tour de France – mostly on time trial machines – but the unique-looking carbon fibre cages and hugely oversized 13T/15T upper/lower anodised aluminium pulley wheels have popped up on more road bikes as the race has wound its way around eastern France.
These special SRAM Red rear derailleurs are retrofitted with Berner pulleys and cages
Among the advocates are Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) – who has been using them since the start – but also Astana's Alberto Contador and Alexandre Vinokourov, and Lance Armstrong (Team Radioshack), all of whom made the switch sometime after Stage 2. The thinking behind Wolfgang Berner's oversized pulley layout is that it noticeably reduces drivetrain friction by reducing the angle by which each chain link has to bend as it makes its way up to the cogs.
The upper jockey wheel has 13 teeth and the lower one 15
SRAM road sports manager Alex Wassmann confirmed to us several days ago that the company were still determining whether or not that advantage was physical or mental. Given that all of SRAM's top GC hopefuls are using the setup, it's clear that the company are looking at the idea very seriously and we wouldn't be surprised to see it makes its way into production at some point.