Tire pressure – 21 Days of Tour Tech

How much air pressure pros use at the Tour de France

Asking a pro mechanic what the perfect tire pressure is for racing is like asking a physiologist what the ideal weight is for a racer. The answer is, well, it depends.


Variables that affect tire pressure include tire width, tire type (mostly tubular, but occasionally clincher for time trials), wet or dry conditions, road surface, rider weight and rider preference.

In the Tour de France caravan, there is a mix of science (Astana head mechanic Gabriele Tossello studies charts on rolling resistance), tradition (‘just pump it up to 8 bar’) and even gut feel. We watched one rider walk off his team bus and let out a bit of air in both tires without so much as pressing on the tires, much less using a gauge.

There are some areas of general consensus. For example, mechanics agree that bumpy roads call for wider tires with less pressure than normal. But there is also a range of thought on what to do for the rain. Some mechanics leave pressure as it is for the dry; others lower it.

Taking a page out of its auto-racing heritage, Michelin has a rain clincher tire with siping on the tread. While some may think this is to channel water away, the actual reason is to reduce the surface area of the tire, thereby increasing the pressure on the road — and hopefully the grip — of the remainder. Michelin does not have a dedicated rain tubular that we are aware of, “but the physics are the same,” said former ProTour mechanic and current Michelin spokesman Nick Legan. “A narrower tire, with a slightly crowned profile will help to increase the contact pressure, therefore displacing water and increasing traction. ‘Elephant on high heels’ is my preferred mental visual cue.”

Further, for rainy days, it is good to have a tire with good puncture resistance, as water acts as a lubricant, allowing debris to cut through more easily.

In terms of tire width, we have seen everything from 21mm all the way up to 30mm for the ‘Paris-Roubaix’-like stage 5 that tackled numerous stretches of cobblestone roads.

For this Tour, tire pressures have ranged everywhere from 4 bar / 58psi on the cobbles up to an expected 10 bar / 145psi for certain riders for the stage 20 time trial. The highest pressure we have heard used? That would be 15 bar, as put in by Tinkoff-Saxo Bank mechanic Rune Kristensen, for a large rider for a road stage (though not at this Tour).

Here are examples of the air-pressure ranges for two teams at this year’s Tour de France, as provided as approximations by their mechanics.


Dry Wet Cobbles Time Trial
Astana 7.5-8 bar  7-7.5 bar 6 bar 7.5-8.5 bar
109-116psi 102-109psi 87psi 109-123psi
Cofidis 7-7.5 bar 7-7.5 bar 6 bar 10 bar
102-109psi 102-109psi 87psi 145psi