There was a whole host of new tech on display at this year's Tour Down Under, with new helmets, shoes, and even unreleased bikes making their first appearances. However, among the shiny new technology, was the use of something which to the racing world at least, is becoming more and more nostalgic - inner tubes.
Bora-Hansgrohe and Soudal Quick-Step, who are both Specialized sponsored, were the only teams in the WorldTour who seemed to still be opting for inner tubes over tubless setups that are widely considered to be faster.
But as two of the more successful teams in the UCI WorldTour last year, it got us thinking - are tubes still fast, or, is there more going on?
"It's still required from Specialized," Soudal Quick-Step mechanic Guido Scheeren told Cycling Weekly at the Tour Down Under. "I don't want to say we had trouble, but they went backwards. We still have a fast tire, the [Turbo] Cotton, the riders like them. Also Specialized still produce them and sell them, so it's also a reason that we're racing on them."
The inner tubes for both teams are used in conjunction with Specialized S-Works Turbo Cotton tires, in dry conditions at least.
From a marketing point of view, this does make sense. The Turbo Cotton is still Specialized's range-topping tire. However, the tone here does suggest the setup perhaps isn't ideal - which would explain Bora Hansgrohe's approach.
Bora told us that for wet weather, and races such as the cobbled classics, they opt for the S-works Turbo 2Bliss - but if the Turbo Cotton is fast and competent, why would they need to do this?
Well, the first thing to note here is that the S-works Turbo Cotton is not a tubeless-ready tire. It's also an incredibly supple race tire, which we praised it for when we tested it a couple of years ago. However, this does come with a downside. Inherently, despite manufacturers' best efforts to come up with durable and supple materials, softer compound race tires won't stand up to the punishment of tougher conditions, and so with race tires, usually comes an increased chance of punctures.
Couple this with a fragile latex inner tube to keep the tires rolling fast, and you end up with undoubtedly a great handling and fast setup, but one that won't offer the same reliability as a more durable tire.
Tubeless, when set up correctly and well maintained, is more reliable than inner tubes from a puncture perspective. The tubeless tire in question, the Specialized S-Works Turbo 2Bliss Ready T2/T5 would also be able to bet setup with lower tire pressure for wet stages without the risk of pinch flats.
We asked Specialized if there was any reason for the dual setups being run by Bora-Hansgrohe, however they declined to comment.
Clearly changing tires between stages isnt the easiest job in the world, but Bora-Hansgrohe mechanic Marek Bajfus explains it doesn't phase the team.
"It's just work, it's what has to be done," Bajfus said. "We have this opportunity to still ride clincher tires, like the Turbo Cotton tyres with a latex inner tube. The weather is good, so when it's good we can still ride Turbo Cottons, and only in the rain with the tubeless, the wet tire. It's still fast."
But there are also hints that a new setup could be on the way from the US bike giant, coming soon to the WorldTour, Scheeren told us. "We asked for other things, and they will be coming," he said, rather vaguely, adding: "but we are also waiting for other things from Specialized, so they are coming all together."
And this would certainly make sense. The Turbo Cotton has been out for years now, and it seems the pro teams don't currently have one setup that can cater for all weathers - be that down to rider preference, or performance.
Our guess? The brand didn't offer us a comment, so we're dusting off the crystal ball here, but but we suspect that Specialized may be working on a new setup, to replace the Turbo Cotton. Tubeless technology has come an awfully long way over the last 5 years, so its entirely possible that the brand is working on a new tire casing designed to bring tubeless technology to its most supple dry weather race tire. We'll certainly be keeping our eyes peeled.
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