While top-level racing is a hotbed of new technology and fresh ideas in mountain biking, that doesn't tend to be the case in professional road cycling. A combination of UCI rules, traditions and riders fearing the price of failure of an experimental setup, it's a slow-moving world. Comparing the mountain bikes of 20 years ago to today would make you think you're looking at a different sport, whereas in road cycling you'd probably just notice the seatstays now meet the downtube a bit lower.
It's also a fairly secretive world with mechanics in the pro peloton reluctant to give away any information about the working of their bikes, in order to keep other teams from benefiting, so it can be hard to spot the new tech when it does arrive. That being said, we've definitely noticed mountain biking's influence on road cycling in recent years, so we thought we'd take a look at what's happening in the peloton this year that can be traced back to the MTB world.XTR rotors
Despite the fact that the rim brakes of the Jumbo Visma team are currently in pole position in the race, disc brakes on peloton bikes are more common than ever before. This is a technology that has been adopted and adapted for road bikes over the course of the last decade but even this year we're seeing some tech plucked directly from mountain bikes and placed on Tour bikes.
The Mitchelton-Scott and Deceuninck-Quick-Step teams are running full Dura Ace Di2 groupsets apart from one component, the brake rotors, where they're running XTR. XTR goes down to 140mm so fitting them is a simple swap over, but the question is, why? We've read a number of theories from cycling websites, but the truth is, nobody seems to know for sure.
The primary theory comes down to weight. The 140mm XTR rotor is 11 grams lighter than its Dura Ace equivalent, which may not sound like much but don't forget we're in the realm of marginal gains and it's rotational weight as well. Other theories are that the larger cooling fins of the Dura Ace will be more affected by crosswinds or that the XTR will have greater braking perormance, especially in the wet, thanks to the larger holes drilled into the braking surface of the rim.
Whatever the case, it seems to be working for the DQS team with two stage wins under their belt and Sam Bennet poised to clinch the Green Jersey in Paris on Sunday.Dropper Posts
Mavic neutral support cars hang behind the peloton and are there to offer support to riders on any team when their team cars can’t reach them.
Each Mavic car can carry six bikes but that has previously left them unable to provide a perfectly fitting bike for the riders they are trying to fit.
To remedy that, the brand has been using dropper posts to help riders with their roadside bike fits since 2017. This year, as reported by Velo News
, Mavic commissioned KS to design custom 27.2mm droppers that have 65mm of travel and levers located under the seat.
Mavic will apparently complete the bike swap at the roadside and then a Mavic staff member will instruct the rider on how to use the seat from the car after the rider sets off.Tubeless set ups
As the saying goes in the road cycling world, "tubeless for amateurs, tubulars for pros". While the benefits of tubeless tires are well proven, pro cyclists tend to stick to tubulars for their familiarity and the greater security if they do get a puncture in the middle of a big group of riders. An important distinction here is that we're talking about tubulars, not inner tubes here - tubulars are a tire and tube in one that is glued on to a flatter rim, which means even with a puncture you'll continue riding on rubber, not on the rim.
Tubeless didn't make their debut at this year's tour as they've been on certain riders' time trial bikes, but it's the first time that we think we've seen a number of riders using tubeless set ups on their regular bikes. Team UAE Emirates announced in February they would be riding tubeless tires all year and picked up the opening stage win thanks to Alexander Kristoff riding Campagnolo Bora WTO 45 tubeless wheels with Vittoria Corsa tubeless tires. Kristoff has been one of the strongest advocates of tubeless in the peloton and last year won Gent-Wevelgem and finished third at the Tour of Flanders using tubeless tires. Elsewhere, Italian and European champion Giacomo Nizzolo is reported to be using
Vittoria Corsa G2.0 TLR tubeless tires on Enve 5.6 tubeless wheels on certain stages. Inserts
Where tubeless wheels go, inserts can't be far behind. As reported by CyclingTips
following a recent episode of The Cycling Podcast
, not only are the Education First team experimenting on running tubeless with no sealant (like some XC racers
) but they also seem to be using a type of foam in its tires to help if a riders flats in the middle of a stage.
Jac-Johann Steyn, one of the team's mechanics, said, "We have, I call it like a sponge inside. I can’t go into detail about it because it’s always a secret to other teams, but yeah, that’s basically our safety and you can still ride it... it almost feels like you’ve got like two bars (approx 30psi) in your tires so you can still ride with it wherever you need to go... It’s to help you get to some point where you can get a new wheel. And it’s also a safety thing, if you don’t use that foam insert and the tire’s deflated, and it comes off, you may crash.”
There's no word on what 'sponge' the team is using although we suspect it's something custom as we're not aware of any brand that currently makes inserts for road tires... Plus, how hard can it be to design your own version of a closed foam hoop? We're not even sure if the foam made it to the Tour in the end, but it's clearly another example of road cycling looking to mountain biking for its tech.Other TrendsWider tires
As mountain bike tires have got wider so have road bike tires too. While 23mm was previously king, with some riders going down to 21mm or narrower, riders have begun to realize the extra comfort of going a bit wider doesn't equal a cost of great rolling resistance. Because of that, we've seen most riders in the peloton go out to 25mm or even wider to 28mm in some cases. Off-road skills
Ok, so this one might be a bit spurious, but the three breakout riders from this year's Tour, Wout Van Aert, Sep Kuss and Marc Hirschi, all have one thing in common, an off-road background. Van Aert is 3x Cyclocross World Champion and Kuss and Hirschi both started out mountain biking in their youth, with Kuss winning races at the Collegiate Nationals while at the University of Colorado. Maybe it's the superior bike handling or an extra dose of explosive power, but there's clearly something that off road riding can bring to the skillset of a road cyclist to help them excel at the sport.