Out of all the tech on show at the Tour Down Under, the absence of valves on the wheels of Intermarché-Wanty is intriguing. At first glance, one might wonder how the tire is filled with air, with just a small cap on the wheel - where the valve hole usually is - the only suggestion of an inflation method.
On closer inspection, and with the help of Intermarché mechanic Aloïs Gevaert, it becomes clear that there is a valve there - it's just hidden in the rim of the Newmen Advanced SL R42 wheels.
"It's a Schrader valve, like you have on cars," Gevaert explained. "It's not a usual Presta. We have them also for doing the Classics, but for 80% of the races we use the aero version of the valves."
To pump the tires up, an extended head is inserted into the rim to locate the valve, and then the machine gets to work. Obviously, professional cyclists don't need their tires re-inflated while on the go, so it doesn't really matter how convoluted the process is - on the road, they'll just swap a wheel. However, this probably isn't a bit of tech for ordinary cyclists.
Gevaert told Cycling Weekly that there were some teething issues to begin with, as the team got used to their new toys, but that now it is pretty straightforward, and seems like second nature.
"Last year, it was something new from Newmen too," he said. "If you have something new, there will always be some little problems, like this was tricky to pump up [to start with].
"But now it's on point, we have also improved with the sealant, we searched for the best [tubeless] sealant for it to work. It's easy to use, and it's nice to inflate also."
Of course, the reason behind the lack of valves is all about watts. Intermarché say that the absence saves each rider a couple of watts. This might not seem like a lot, but a couple of watts saved here and there across a bike might make for a winning machine; that's the theory anyway.
"It's just a couple of watts less, but everything in the WorldTour counts," Gevaert said "The wax and the oil really matters too, [chain] wax is better for the watts. I think it's between three and five watts, and if you have ten things that are improving the watts like that, it's 50 watts. It's going to be a great thing. We worked with Effetto Mariposa for the sealant and the tubular rims too."
If other wheel manufacturers and teams follow suit, then we will know that Intermarché are onto something. As it is, the Belgian squad are currently on their own in the new, valve-less world.
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