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Giro d'Italia

VeloNews Mailbag: Proper tires and air pressure for the Giro d’Italia’s gravel stage

What tires and pressure will the riders choose for Wednesday's strade bianche stage at the Giro d'Italia? We asked the experts.

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You have questions about the Giro d’Italia and we have answers! Well, we have educated opinions and access to people who have answers. Got a burning question on your mind? Email us at mailbag@velonews.com and we will pose your inquiry to pro riders, WorldTour mechanics, and other insiders. Today, we’re talking about proper tire choice for Wednesday’s stage 11 of the Giro d’Italia, which features long stretches of strade bianche gravel roads. 

Gravel is great! Grr, no more gravel!

The debate over gravel’s inclusion in grand tours rages on today, as the Giro d’Italia peloton licks its wounds from Sunday’s gravel summit while preparing for Wednesday’s stage over the strade bianche. I tuned into the GCN+ telecast early this morning and heard the umpteenth debate about the merits of gravel in grand tours. Like all debates in the modern age, there seems to be two strong and opposing opinions, with no room for ground in the middle. Gravel is either a gimmick that creates unneeded danger for the GC stars, or a cool element that takes cycling back to the good ol’ days of unpaved roads, single speed bicycles, and strychnine cocktails.

Personally, I think gravel is cool when it is dosed out in small and contained distances, like Sunday’s summit finish on the dirt. How cool was it to see Egan Bernal’s back wheel skidding and spinning wildly as he chugged uphill in his big ring?

Gravel delivers excitement and unpredictability, and it crowns a champion who has impeccable handling skills, as well as legs and lungs. Plus, it places extreme pressures on the mechanics and bike tire brands to make the correct gear choice for the stage. Should they run tubeless or clincher? Should the tires have tread? And, what’s the best tire width for the surface? These are questions that most of us ask ourselves before heading out onto gravel rides. So, the fact that WorldTour teams must ask these questions as well is appealing to me.

And gravel and the proper tire choice is the focus of today’s mailbag, as we received multiple questions over the last few days about the Wednesday’s stage 11, and the proper tire choice for that day.

What tire setups are the pros using for the gravel sector (strade bianche) and what standard size tires for the rest of the tour are being used and their pressures.

The Cannondale SuperSix Evo Disc SRAM Red eTap AXS does well on hard-packed dirt and light gravel with its stock 26mm Vittoria tires. Photo: Greg Kaplan

—Mark Hagen

Mark, you’ve asked the question of the Giro. And, to be fair, we got this question in from several other readers, but I’m going to use Mark’s for today.

In our asking around, it sounds like some teams plan to give their riders the choice of which race bike they want to use for the stage. Most big racing brands these days have a climbing bike and an aero bike, and some others like Specialized and Trek, also have a comfort or quasi-gravel/cobblestone bike as well — think the Roubaix and Emoda models. Trek-Segafredo told us that the riders will be able to choose between the lithe climber Emonda model, or the more aerodynamic Madone for the stage.

As for tires, expect to see riders using wider rubber that day. Trek plans to give riders the option of 28mm or even 30 mm tires, since today’s racing bikes are built to accommodate wider rubber.

I also posed this question to Larry Warbasse, who is doing the regular Giro d’Italia video diaries (check them out!)

Here’s what Larry had to say.

“I’ll probably ride my climbing bike, which I’ve been running tubeless the last two days. I’m also nearly sure I’ll run tubeless on the gravel day. I’ve been running 26mm tires, so if we have 28mm tires I’ll probably put those on as well. I think it will be pretty similar for the other guys in the peloton. I think a lot of guys will run tubeless with maybe a beefier tire. I’ll ride the tires that I’ve been riding because they are good in terms of puncture resistance — they’re not too fragile. And if I have 28mm tires I’ll run them that day.”

And we also posed a litany of tire questions to Mauro Adobati, the Trek-Segafredo mechanic, and you can see his video response here. As it turns out, Trek-Segafredo riders have adopted tubeless technology from the team’s tire sponsor, Pirelli, and many of the riders now specifically ask for road tubeless tires during races. Earlier this year Jasper Stuyven won Milano-Sanremo on tubeless tires.

The pressure that each rider chooses for regular stages, as well as the strade bianche stage, depends on the rider and his preference. Here’s what Adobati had to say about pressure:

“In the race normally the pressure with a tubular is around 7-8.5 bars (100-123 psi.) depending on the weight of the rider and the conditions. On a normal ride with a tubular, we are around 7-8 bar in the front and 8 in the rear. For classics and strade bianche we go lower, around 6 to 6.5 bars (87-94 psi) depending on the ride.” 

So, there you have it. Tire pressure, like many things in cycling, is part art and part science, as teams and tire brands also invest heavily on testing how the rubber rolls over various surfaces, but they also listen to what the riders want. So, when you see the stars bouncing over the rocks and dirt on Wednesday, remember the art that went into choosing the right tire, right pressure, and right width of rubber.