“Conventional wisdom” is one of those phrases that can be deceptive. It could imply a well-considered course action based on a strong experiential database. But just as easily the phrase could imply an unwillingness to try new things, take some chances, and maybe dramatically expand upon that experiential database. When it comes to road racing’s fabled Spring Classics, “conventional wisdom” dictates that tubular tires are the only sane path to victory. Races are defined by long, hard days in the saddle in psychotic weather, the peloton hammering relentlessly across sectors filled with cobbles and square edged potholes. The “smooth” line is often a thin ribbon of dirt, gravel or mud that sits at the edge of the cobbled sectors.
This is pro racing in Belgium and France in springtime. Paris-Roubaix is deservedly nicknamed “the Hell of the North.” The courses are brutal on riders and equipment, and nowhere is that brutality more violently played out than upon the wheels of the peloton. For more than a century, conventional wisdom has determined that clincher tires have no place in this arena. Too fragile, too easy to pinch flat, and, as is often the case with traditional thinking, the perceived notion that the traditional method – in this case glued up tubular tires – is the key to higher performance.
When we introduced the new Rapide and Alpinist wheels last year, we committed to clinchers and tubes. From all the testing we had done, we were convinced that these wheels, with the right tires and tubes, could reliably deliver world beating performances. We believed, and still do believe, that we could deliver a combination of light weight, durability and ride quality that outperformed any other available options. Skeptics everywhere argued that this was folly. Julian Alaphilippe’s emphatic victory in Stage 2 of last year’s Tour De France was the first time in decades that a major road victory had been clinched with clinchers, and the skeptics' criticism decreased in volume to a muted grumble. “Fine, you may have won this fluke, but we dare you to try and campaign the Spring Classics with clinchers...”
At least, that’s what we thought we heard. So, this spring, with the rainbow jersey sitting proud on Alaphilippe’s shoulders, we committed to racing an entire campaign in this graveyard of wheels – from the fabled cobbled climbs of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad to the white dirt of Strade Bianchi to the longest of them all, Milan-San Remo, to that most venerable crusher of riders and bikes alike, Paris-Roubaix – on clincher tires. With tubes.
Things sure did start out well. Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was a beautiful redemption for us. The Deceuninck-Quickstep wolf pack rode smart and strong, resulting in a brave break move by the rainbow stripes, and a strong victory by Davide Ballerini. This was a validating and beautiful victory, and we feel like we can finally exhale the breath we had been holding nervously since the end of last season.
But still, these are the Spring Classics. The Monuments. Take nothing for granted. Just writing this post feels edgy, like it could possibly jinx us. These are spectacular and awesome races, and a huge part of their stature in the tapestry of bike racing is due to the variables that each of them presents; topography, terrain, the harshness of both and the toll that they exert upon equipment and riders alike. It’s like playing poker with a deck full of jokers. No way of guaranteeing a winning hand, no matter how strong or how well prepared you are. But we’ve done our homework, the riders are absolutely on fire this spring, and we are eager to see how our wheels perform. We didn’t come here to lose.