Six tech trends from the 2023 Tour de France | 1x drivetrains, all-rounder road bikes, divergent tyre philosophies and more

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Having gorged ourselves on bike tech and pintxos at the Grand Depart of the 2023 Tour de France, the BikeRadar team is now back home and digesting everything we learned.

As always, there was lots to see, and the archetypal Tour de France bike has evolved significantly since last year’s start in Copenhagen, Denmark.

From lightweight, aero all-rounder bikes and 1x drivetrains, to supersized tyres and ultra-expensive parts, this year’s Tour certainly has its own special flavour.

With that in mind, let’s dive into six of the key tech trends dominating the peloton at the sport’s biggest race.

1x is back

1x SRAM Red eTap AXS drivetrain on Jonas Vingegaard’s Cervelo S5 at the 2023 Tour de France Grand Depart
1x SRAM Red eTap AXS drivetrain on Jonas Vingegaard’s Cervélo S5 at the 2023 Tour de France Grand Depart – George Scott / Our Media

After a stunted start to life in the pro peloton, 1x drivetrains for road bikes are back in the conversation.

At the time of writing, we’ve seen two riders using 1x SRAM Red eTap AXS drivetrains so far at this year’s Tour.

Do two riders make a trend, though? Well, they do when it’s last year’s yellow and green jersey winners, Jonas Vingegaard and Wout Van Aert.

Wout Van Aert and Dylan Van Baarle of Team Jumbo-Visma compete during the stage one of the 110th Tour de France 2023.
Wout Van Aert and his teammate, Jonas Vingegaard, are using 1x drivetrains for certain stages at this year’s Tour. – Tim de Waele/Getty Images

As for why these two are choosing to run 1x instead of 2x, it’s hard to say.

On the right parcours (Van Aert used a 1x drivetrain for this year’s Milan-San Remo, for example), it’s possible to eke out a few marginal gains with a 1x setup, such as an improved chainline, marginally reduced aerodynamic drag and, of course, a simpler shifting setup with less risk of chain drops.

On the other hand, with only one chainring available, riders must choose between having lots of gear range but larger jumps between the gears, or less overall range and a tighter cassette, so there are compromises to it as well.

Jonas Vingegaard's Cervélo S5
Wide range cassettes help increase the range of a 1x drivetrain, but they also mean larger jumps between gears. – Simon von Bromley / Our Media

Could it be pressure from the team performance directors or sponsors? SRAM has, after all, pushed 1x for road and gravel much more than Shimano, who sponsor the majority of teams in the peloton.

We don’t know, of course, though we are sure neither Vingegaard or Van Aert would run it on their bikes if they thought it was a significant disadvantage.

Mark Cavendish's Wilier Filante SLR
All of the Shimano-sponsored bikes we saw at this year’s Tour were equipped with 2x drivetrains. – Simon von Bromley / Our Media

Like the changes from rim to disc brakes, tubular to tubeless tyres and lightweight to aero road bikes in recent years, pro riders can sometimes be cautious about tech innovations, so we don’t expect the rest of the peloton to be jumping ship to 1x anytime soon.

We can still be sure other riders and teams will be paying attention, though, and if Jumbo-Visma does have success on 1x then we may see more of it at the Tour going forward.

Divergent tyre choices

Continental GP5000 S TR tyre on Egan Bernal's Pinarello Dogma F
The Continental GP5000 S TR remains a popular choice at the Tour. – Simon von Bromley / Our Media

Just when we thought things were calming down in terms of tyre choices, we actually saw a wide variety of types and widths at this year’s Tour.

As has been happening for a number of years, we’re seeing an ever-increasing amount of tubeless wheels and tyres and far fewer tubular options.

Caleb Ewan's prototype Ridley
Caleb Ewan’s prototype Ridley was sporting a 26c Vittoria Corsa Pro TLR tyre up front and a 28c at the rear, on a DT Swiss ARC 1100 wheelset. – Simon von Bromley / Our Media

Interestingly, though, it appears teams haven’t simply settled on 28c tubeless tyres across the board.

Instead, each team appears to have optimised its tyre setup for the specific bike and wheel combinations it uses.

Vittora Corsa Pro tubular tyre on Reserve 34 wheel
Jonas Vingegaard’s Cervélo S5 had 24.4mm-wide Vittoria Corsa Pro tubular tyres on Reserve 34|37 rims when we saw it prior to the race start. – Simon von Bromley / Our Media

For example, when we saw Jonas Vingegaard’s Cervélo S5 at the Jumbo-Visma team hotel, it was equipped with 24mm-wide Vittoria Corsa Pro tubular tyres.

That’s quite narrow by modern standards, but given they were mounted to a set of Reserve 34|37 wheels, I suspect this was a lightweight combination intended to help get his bike weight down as much as possible for the lumpy opening stages.

We wouldn’t be surprised if Jonas switched this wheelset for something more aero, perhaps with tubeless tyres, for the flatter or more rolling stages of this year’s Tour.

Tadej Pogačar's Colnago V4Rs
Tadej Pogačar’s Colnago V4Rs – Simon von Bromley / Our Media

Over at the UAE Team Emirates hotel, Tadej Pogačar’s bike had Continental GP5000 TT TR tubeless tyres mounted on ENVE SES 4.5 wheels.

These were nominally a size 28c, but on the ENVE rims – which have a super wide, 25mm internal rim width – these tyres were actually measuring up at a whopping 31.3mm at the front and 32.2mm at the rear.

32.2mm Continental GP5000 TT TR tyre on Tadej Pogačar's Colnago V4Rs before the 2023 Tour de France Grand Depart
Pogačar’s rear tyre was ballooning up to a massive 32.2mm wide on his ENVE SES 4.5 rims. – George Scott / Our Media

As with Jumbo-Visma, we don’t know if this is what Pogačar will run for every stage. He might switch over to narrower, lighter wheels and tyres for the mountain stages, for example.

But it’s pretty wild to see tyres this wide being used for standard road stages at the Tour de France, and we suspect other teams will again be paying close attention to how they get on.

One bike to rule them all?

Simon Clarke's Factor O2 VAM
Simon Clarke’s new Factor O2 VAM – which weighed a feathery 6.925kg – was one of many lightweight-aero all-rounders we saw at this year’s Tour Grand Depart. – Simon von Bromley / Our Media

While we saw a smorgasbord of heavyweight aero road bikes at last year’s Grand Depart, this year it was all about the lightweight-aero all-rounders.

Of course, that’s perhaps unsurprising given this year’s opening stages around Bilbao, Spain, were significantly hillier than those around Copenhagen, Denmark, where last year’s race started.

Caleb Ewan's prototype Ridley
Caleb Ewan was also riding a prototype Ridley, which, at 7.5kg, was around 300g lighter than the Ridley Noah Fast he used last year. – Simon von Bromley / Our Media

The influx of a number of new bikes in this niche, such as the new Factor O2 VAM, a new prototype Ridley and the Look 795 Blade RS shows that many riders at the pointy end of the sport are still chasing those last few hundreds of grams.

Of course, we also know – thanks to the frequent comments we receive on the topic – that many outside of the pro peloton care a lot about bike weight too.

Ben O'Connor's prototype BMC aero road bike
Ben O’Connor’s prototype BMC aero road bike looked fairly hefty but was, at 7.345kg, surprisingly light. – Simon von Bromley / Our Media

Is this just bike brands waking up to consumer demand then? Possibly – bike brands do exist to sell bikes, after all.

We might also wonder if many brands are looking at the popularity and success of bikes such as the Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 – arguably the archetypal lightweight-aero all-rounder road bike from the last few years – and thinking they’d like some of that success for themselves.

Simon von Bromley weighing Mathieu van der Poel’s Canyon Aeroad CFR before the 2023 Tour de France
At 7.945kg, Mathieu van der Poel’s custom Canyon Aeroad CFR was the heaviest bike we weighed at the Tour’s Grand Depart. – George Scott / Our Media

In terms of how much bikes actually weighed at this year’s Tour, we saw a real range – from just over 6.9kg for Simon Clarke’s new Factor O2 VAM, all the way up to 7.945kg for Mathieu van der Poel’s Canyon Aeroad CFR.

Interestingly, looks were fairly deceiving in this department.

Simon von Bromley weighing Tadej Pogačar's Colnago V4Rs before the 2023 Tour de France
Tadej Pogačar’s Colnago V4Rs had every weight saving part available, but was still 400g above the UCI’s minimum weight limit. – George Scott / Our Media

Despite Pogačar’s Colnago V4Rs being adorned with an array of super expensive, weight weenie parts, including carbon chainrings and those TT tyres, it was – at 7.245kg – only 100 grams lighter than Ben O’Connor’s new prototype BMC aero road bike (which weighed 7.345kg, according to our scales).

If you want to see how much every bike we saw at this year’s Tour weighed, though, check out our videos from this year’s Grand Depart on our YouTube channel.

Time trial tech for road stages

Continental GP5000 TT TR on ENVE SES 4.5 wheel on Tadej Pogačar's Colnago V4Rs
Despite the increased risk of punctures, time trial-specific tyres are now being used for standard road stages by some teams and riders. – Simon von Bromley / Our Media

Time trials typically see riders go all-in on speed, eschewing any worries about comfort and durability.

Increasingly, though, we’re seeing time trial-specific kit being used in road stages of the Tour de France too.

EF Education-EasyPost rider wearing aero socks at the 2023 Tour de France
Aero socks and other aerodynamic pieces of clothing are no de rigueur for WorldTour pros. – George Scott / Our Media

Aero helmets, skinsuits and aero socks, for example, are now almost ubiquitous throughout the Tour peloton.

Tadej Pogačar has also been wearing Rule 28’s Aero Base Layer – a base layer with ridged sleeves designed to reduce a rider’s aerodynamic drag – underneath the young rider classification leader’s white jersey.

AMOREBIETA-ETXANO, SPAIN - JULY 03: (L-R) Adam Yates of United Kingdom - Yellow Leader Jersey and Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia and UAE Team Emirates - White best young jersey prior to the stage three of the 110th Tour de France 2023 a 193.5km stage from Amorebieta-Etxano to Bayonne / #UCIWT / on July 03, 2023 in Amorebieta-Etxano, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Tadej Pogačar (right) wore Rule 28’s Aero Base Layer underneath his jersey for stage 3 of the 2023 Tour de France, while Adam Yates (left) wore a skinsuit version of the yellow jersey. – David Ramos/Getty Images

The main cost for using these instead of standard versions is comfort, but some teams are going further and risking more punctures for marginal gains in rolling resistance.

So far, we’ve seen riders from UAE Team Emirates, Ineos-Grenadiers and Bahrain Victorious all using time trial-specific Continental GP5000 TT TR tyres for road stages.

NOGARO, FRANCE - JULY 04: Wout Van Aert of Belgium and Team Jumbo-Visma competes during the stage four of the 110th Tour de France 2023 a 181.8km stage from Dax to Nogaro / #UCIWT / on July 04, 2023 in Nogaro, France. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Wout Van Aert used Vittoria Corsa Speed tubeless tyres for stage 4. – David Ramos/Getty Images

Wout Van Aert also used Vittoria Corsa Speed G2.0 TLR tyres (Vittoria’s time trial-specific tubeless tyre) for stage 4, while we saw a Team Jayco-AlUla Giant Propel Advanced SL 0 equipped with the same tyres in the days before the race start.

It’s notable that the riders and teams doing this seem to be ones using tubeless wheels and tyres.

We suspect the fact that tubeless sealant can potentially help seal any untimely punctures is encouraging some teams to take their chances.

Vittoria Corsa Speed G2.0 TLR on a Cadex Ultra 50 carbon wheel
At least one rider from Team Jayco-AlUla had their bike setup with Vittoria Corsa Speed G2.0 TLR time trial tyres before the race start. – Simon von Bromley / Our Media

Of course, there’s still the reduced wear life of the thinner treads to contend with on these kinds of tyres, but, when you’re not paying for your equipment, and have a small army of mechanics at your disposal, that’s less of an issue.

Handlebars are getting narrower

Simon Clarke's Factor O2 VAM
Super long stems and narrow handlebars are helping Tour riders achieve super-aero positions on their bikes. – Simon von Bromley / Our Media

As most of us are aware, it doesn’t matter how aero your bike is if you don’t adopt an aerodynamic riding position.

With that in mind, most of the bikes we saw at this year’s Tour were fitted with long stems and narrow handlebars, to help the riders get stretched out and lower their frontal area.

36cm Deda handlebar on Caleb Ewan's prototype Ridley before the 2023 Tour de France
Caleb Ewan’s cockpit is about as long and narrow as they come. – George Scott / Our Media

Caleb Ewan, for example, had a Deda integrated handlebar on his new Ridley with an enormous 14cm stem and a super-narrow 36cm handlebar – perfect for helping the diminutive sprinter squeeze through tight spaces in the bunch.

While seeing the narrowest bar widths on the bikes of smaller riders isn’t a surprise, even taller riders are using skinny bars at the Tour these days too.

36cm handlebar on Ben O'Connor's prototype BMC aero road bike before the 2023 Tour de France
Even taller riders, such as Ben O’Connor, are using narrow bars these days. – George Scott / Our Media

AG2R-Citroen’s Ben O’Connor, for example, is reportedly 188cm tall, but had a 36cm wide handlebar (also paired with a 14cm stem) on his prototype BMC aero bike.

Even climbers, such as Richard Carapaz (EF Education-EasyPost) and Jonas Vingegaard, are using relatively narrow 38cm handlebars – presumably they don’t mind giving up a little leverage for the potential aero gain.

38cm-wide Vision ACR integrated handlebar on Richard Carapaz's Cannondale SuperSix Evo before the 2023 Tour de France
Richard Carapaz had a 38cm wide bar on his Cannondale SuperSix Evo. – George Scott / Our Media

The widest bars we saw in Bilbao were just 40 centimetres wide – on Mathieu van der Poel’s Canyon Aeroad and Mark Cavendish’s Wilier Filante SLR, although, like many, van der Poel turns his brake hoods in, which effectively gives him a narrower position hand.

Of course, there likely are some riders in the bunch still on 42 or 44cm wide handlebars, but it’s certainly a dwindling number.

Haves and have-nots

Tadej Pogačar's Colnago V4Rs
Tadej Pogačar’s Colnago V4Rs was dripping with expensive aftermarket upgrades, such as these Carbon Ti chainrings. – Simon von Bromley / Our Media

There’s no budget cap in professional cycling and a race like the Tour de France can painfully expose the differences between teams even at the top of the sport.

Some UAE Team Emirates riders, for example, appeared to have every piece of bling available – from the time trial-specific GP5000 TT TR tyres already mentioned, to ENVE wheels and components, weight weenie parts such as Carbon Ti chainrings and brake rotors, and ultra-light custom carbon seat posts.

Tadej Pogačar's Colnago V4Rs
Pogačar’s Carbon Ti brake rotors have a claimed weight of 98g and a price of €220 per rotor. – Simon von Bromley / Our Media

In contrast, though, Peter Sagan and his Total Energies teammates are still running the previous generation Dura-Ace Di2 R9100 groupset and Specialized Turbo Cotton clincher tyres that were launched nearly 10 years ago.

There’s nothing wrong with 11-speed Dura-Ace, of course – just because there’s something new available, doesn’t mean the old stuff is suddenly rubbish – and the Turbo Cotton tyres are still regarded as some of the fastest clinchers ever made.

French Valentin Ferron of Total Energies pictured in action during the second stage of the Tour de France
The Total Energies team are still using the previous generation Dura-Ace groupsets at this year’s Tour. – DIRK WAEM/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images

However, it’s hard to ignore the obvious disparities between one of the best-funded teams in the peloton and one which perhaps isn’t quite as flush with cash.

That said, it’s fair to question how much of a difference all of this makes.

It doesn’t matter how posh the bike is – the rider still has to turn the pedals, after all.

Tadej Pogačar's Colnago V4Rs
Tadej Pogačar’s Colnago V4Rs was also sporting what appeared to be an unbranded Darimo carbon seatpost – a €319 upgrade. – Simon von Bromley / Our Media

But considering the margins between winning and losing can be so small at this level, these small differences can add up, especially over the course of a three-week Grand Tour.

Maybe it’s time to introduce budget caps in cycling and level the playing field a bit? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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