Tour de France Femmes gravel stage throws up a tyre choice conundrum for team mechanics

Tubeless, tubular, tubed or tire insert: the much-anticipated gravel stage was a mechanics’ conundrum

Tires used in the Tour de France Femmes gravel stage
(Image credit: Anne-Marije Rook)

Stage 5 of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift was arguably the most anticipated stage before the Tour heads into the mountains. After four days of racing, the undulated profile with plenty of sharp, steep climbs alone would put a sting in anyone’s legs. But, adding to the difficulty of the stage were technical, narrow roads on old and rough tarmac as well as four gravel sections. Nearly 13 kilometers were held on the white roads of France’s stunning champagne region, making the day a puzzle for the team mechanics. 

The gravel sectors made up a relatively small amount of the race — only 13 kilometers in total —but with the risk of punctures, crashes and straight-up bad luck, equipment places a crucial role. 

The tyre needed to survive the rocky gravel yet the bike needed to remain as light and fast as possible for the steep and stinging uphills. The mechanics’ quests therefore was to find the  perfect balance between puncture-resistance, comfort and speed. 

From standard tubes or tubulars to tubeless or tyre insert set-ups, each team seemed to take their own approach. We roamed the team buses to find out about the various setups and why one might up it.

Tyre options in WorldTour cycling today

Tubed:

The old consumer standard: a clincher tyre with an inner tube. Many teams have moved away from standard butyl tubes, however, and are now using latex or plastic tubes like Tubolito, Pirelli SmarTUBE or Schwalbe Aerothan. These featherweight tubes are said to have a nicer ride feel and better puncture resistance due to their flexibility. 

While set up and flat fixes are easy, the downside of tubes are rapid air loss when punctured, risk of pinch flats and the fact that lighter, faster rolling setups are now available.

Tubeless:

As the name suggest, a tubeless rim and tyre allow you to attach the tire to the wheels and trap the air in the tire with the use of a sealant instead of a tube. 

A commonplace usage across dirt and road setups now, tubeless is praised for its low rolling resistance, ability to run low tire pressures and seal punctures. The downside is that tubeless can be tricky and messy to set up, they can be heavier than tubular tyres, and in rough conditions, the tire could come off the rim when flatted. 

Tubeless with inserts:

Rather than trapping just air in the tyres, tyre inserts add an extra level of security to tubeless system by inserting a solid foam pipe inside the tire. It allows you to ride on longer if you puncture, adding an extra level of security when it comes to puncturing. 

Tubular:

Lightweight and fast, in a tubular setup, the tyre is glued to the rim. Still a favourite among pro (men) riders for its low weight and low rolling resistance, tubulars also allow riders to continue riding on the them if even after suffering a flattering, thereby offering them a chance to ride to the team car or teammate.

Shopping for tyres? Check out our Buyer's Guide for the best road tires for the 2022 summer.

Tubes or no tubes? Tyre system options at the Tour de France Femmes 'gravel stage'

EF Education - Tibco-SVB - Vittoria Tubulars - 30mm

Any punctures: Yes, several

EF-Education-Tibco-SVB) used tubeless 8-mm ties, the same they used at Paris-Roubaiz. 


(Image credit: Anne-Marije Rook)

Wahoo Le Col Continental: Grand Prix 5000 Tubeless - 28mm

Any punctures: Yes, including climber Lizzie Holden.

(Image credit: Anne-Marije Rook)

Movistar: Continental Competition Pro LTD tubulars - 28mm

Any punctures: Yes, most notably GC favorite Annemiek van Vleuten

Tires of the TdFF gravel stage

(Image credit: Anne-Marije Rook)

Trek-Segafredo: Pirelli P Zero tubeless - 28mm

Any punctures: Yes, including GC hopeful Elisa Longo-Borghini

(Image credit: Anne-Marije Rook)

Canyon-SRAM: Schwalbe Pro One Tubeless 30mm

Any punctures: Yes, including GC hopeful Kasie Niewiadoma.

(Image credit: Anne-Marije Rook)

Team DSM: Vittoria 30mm, tubed

Any punctures: Yes, including sprinter Lorena Wiebes.

Tires used in the Tour de France Femmes gravel stage

(Image credit: Anne-Marije Rook)

Human Powered-Health: 30mm Goodyear tyres with inserts

Any punctures: Yes

Tires used in the Tour de France Femmes gravel stage

(Image credit: Anne-Marije Rook)

AG Insurance - Nxtg Team: S-Works Turbo 28mm, tubeless

Any punctures: Yes

Tires used in the Tour de France Femmes gravel stage

(Image credit: Anne-Marije Rook)

St Michel: Michelin Power Competition tubeless - 28mm

Any punctures: Unknown

Michelin Power Road Tires

(Image credit: Anne-Marije Rook)

Jumbo-Visma: Victoria Corsa Graphine - 28mm tubeless

Any punctures: Unknown

Tires used in the Tour de France Femmes gravel stage

(Image credit: Anne-Marije Rook)

Cofidis Women Team: Michelin Power Cup Tubulars - 28mm

Any punctures: Unknown

The Cofidis women's team ran Michelin Michelin power cup tubulars in 28mm

(Image credit: Cofidis)

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