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How pirelli tubeless technology won the Paris-Roubaix

Having starred at the 2021 cycling world championships, the tubeless P Zero tyre went on to conquer one of the best-known road races of them all

Home race How pirelli tubeless technology won the Paris-Roubaix
How pirelli tubeless technology won the Paris-Roubaix

For cycling enthusiasts, the images of athletes braving wind, rain and muddy cobblestones will bring just one race to mind: the epic Paris-Roubaix, which is back after a year off due to the Covid-19 pandemic. On a race as demanding as this one, having the right equipment makes the difference between success and failure. This year, Pirelli supported a number of top teams such as Trek-Segafredo, Team Bike Exchange and the AG2R Citroen Team. The cyclists were on top form, but they also had the right rubber underneath them: the new tubeless Pirelli P Zero for racing bikes.

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NORTHERN HELL

Paris-Roubaix has always been considered a classic; known also as the ‘Hell of the North’, or (for those more charitably inclined) ‘the Queen of the Classics’. Racing up towards the border with Belgium, it covers a total distance of 260 kilometres, 55 kilometres of which are on cobblestones. The race is also renowned for taking no prisoners: French cobblestones are bigger and more uneven than their Belgian counterparts, only adding to the difficulty. As a result, there’s a lot of equipment that’s designed especially for this race, which is often held in bad weather.

The tyres are perhaps the most important element of the bike on the Paris-Roubaix. The stress that the whole bike is put through at top speed over the cobbles requires a special package of technologies and solutions to deliver maximum grip and reliability. Pirelli made two types of tyre available to riders and teams this year, catering for all requirements: the tubeless P Zero Race TLR 700x30c and tubular P Zero Velo TUB 4S 30-28.

TUBELESS REVOLUTION

About 70% of the Pirelli riders chose the tubeless set-up and only 30% opted for the tubular: showing a marked preference for tubeless. Up until the last Paris-Roubaix, which took place in 2019, tubeless tires were still viewed with a certain degree of scepticism, with most riders favouring a larger classic tubular tyre with a reinforced carcass. Even though these were considered the standard set-up, the risk of running into punctures was always high, so it was entirely normal to stop to change tyres two or three times.

The introduction of tubeless technology brought a clear improvement in performance over the cobblestones: first of all, the absence of the air chamber reduces the risk of punctures due to impacts with stones, thanks to the possibility of reducing the inflation pressure without the risk of "pinching". Lower pressures also lead to an improvement in terms of grip, stability and comfort, but most importantly of all tubeless technology is faster than tubular technology. This is crucial, given the length of the race and the need to keep up high average speeds throughout.

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THE FIRST FEMALE PARIS-ROUBAIX RACE IN HISTORY

This year, after 118 races reserved exclusively for men, the first female Paris-Roubaix race in history was held on Saturday 2 October, with Britain’s Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo), winning ahead of Marianne Vos and Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo). The winning tyre was the P Zero tubeless. Deignan said: “Having the best equipment can really make a difference. It's good to have a partner like Pirelli, who works closely with us to make sure we have the best understanding of the product and h the perfect set up, even in the toughest races like this one. Having tested extensively, we soon realised that the best solution was the P Zero tubeless tyre.”

In preparation for the season, Pirelli’s test campaign focussed on finding the right performance over muddy cobblestones: a fundamental aspect to the Paris-Roubaix race, which was first run back in 1896.

TUBELESS TYRES AT THE 2021 CYCLING WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

Riders have favoured tubeless tyres at the recent cycling world championships too, resulting in plenty of success. The only exception has been the men and women’s inline race, where tubular tyres are generally still the norm.

Apart from that, the P Zero Race TLR SL 26mm was chosen by Ellen Van Djik, winner of the women’s elite, and by Bauke Mollema and Elisa Longoborghini, who took silver and bronze in the time trial mixed relay category (also riding for Trek-Segafredo). The P Zero Race TLR 26mm helped Filippo Baroncini obtain the gold medal in the men’s Under 23 road race, a result that represents a real record for Pirelli and tubeless technology.

The Colpack Ballan rider, in fact, won the first world championship inline race jersey with a tubeless tire. On the extremely tough course in Leuven, Baroncini was able to capitalise on the smoothness and comfort of the P Zero tubeless tyre, but also its road holding in wet and dry conditions.

The main advantage is that the absence of the inner tube greatly reduces the risk of punctures, which makes this tyre a lot more reliable. That’s why we can expect to see a lot more of it in future in cycling competitions all over the world.

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