Over recent years, Continental has become synonymous with success in the Tour de France. The winners of the last three editions of the race have crossed the finish line on tyres hand-made at the Continental plant in Korbach.
What do Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal have in common? They are all pro cycle racers, they have all won the Tour de France and they have all worn the yellow jersey across the finish line in Paris on bikes fitted with Continental tyres. Bernal in 2019, Thomas in 2018 and Froome in 2017 – three times in a row the German company has kitted out the Tour victor. And eight out of 10 Tours in the last decade have been won on Continental tyres.
So, Continental is not only one of the Main Partners of the Tour de France until 2022, but is also one of the most successful equipment suppliers. For this year’s 107th edition, which started in Nice on 29 August 2020, and covers almost 3 500 km en route to the finish on 20 September at the famous Champs-Élysées in Paris, Continental is supplying six of the top teams with its proven race-winning tyres: Sunweb, Groupama-FDJ, Bahrain McLaren, Arkéa-Samsic, the INEOS team of last year’s winner Egan Bernal, and Movistar which won the teams’ classification in 2019.
As well as the racers themselves, of course, credit here goes to the experts at Continental’s plant in Korbach, Germany. This is where the international manufacturer’s bike tyres are developed and produced – by hand.
The development of a high-tech race tyre presents myriad challenges. After all, it has to be up to the rigours of race action in the mountains and on the flat, and deliver optimum performance on grit, cobblestones and smooth asphalt. It will be pushed to the limits during time trials and high-speed descents alike. So just how do you develop a pro tyre capable of carrying an elite rider to the podium in Paris?
Jan-Niklas Jünger is product manager for Continental’s racing tyres. “Talking to the riders is always part of creating new racing tyres,” explains the Continental expert. “A variety of other factors also play a role in how we define the precise use profile. How fast should the tyre be? How wide? How light? What requirements does it have to fulfil?” Only when those questions have been answered can the team set about developing a prototype, which will then be put through its paces – largely by pro riders – over thousands of kilometres.
Before a tyre can go into series production, it also has to complete a further testing phase: the pilot run. “The pro riders are often using prototypes which are still in the advanced development phase,” explains Jünger. Series production for the end customers only begins once the tyre has proven itself in extreme use. Amateur cyclists will not be familiar with the tyres used by the pros; tubular racing tyres are glued to the rim rather than hooked on.
Six pro teams are using Continental tyres this year. And it seems they’re doing so to good effect once again, given the “altogether very positive” reaction from the riders that Jünger reports: “The tyres the professional racers use are hand-made in Germany and contain BlackChili, a highly complex rubber compound which stands out clearly from its competitors in terms of wet grip and rolling resistance,” he adds. “The pro teams also tell us that the puncture protection offered by our tyres is better than that of rival products, and it seems the teams we supply suffer fewer tyre problems than others during the Tour de France.”
Continental also has another ace up its sleeve: the knowledge transfer between the bike and car tyre departments in the development process. “As a bike tyre department, this means we have expertise and materials at our disposal that a normal bike tyre manufacturer wouldn’t have access to,” highlights Jünger.
A good example here is the use of dandelion. “With dandelion, Continental in Germany has found a locally cultivatable plant which offers an alternative to sourcing latex from rubber trees,” says Jünger. Around two years ago, a new research laboratory was set up in Germany where teams working with experts from the Fraunhofer Institute explore the industrialisation of latex from dandelion roots.
“As a result, we in bike tyre development are also in the fortunate position of being able to use this material for our series-produced tyres,” he adds. The Urban Taraxagum tyre using sustainable dandelion rubber was recently presented with two prizes: the Red Dot Design Award for the design of the tread and the E Bike Design & Innovation Award from Focus E-Bike magazine in the Sustainability & Green category.
There’s an additional link between the bike and car tyre divisions, and the success of the Tour de France. As a Main Partner of the Tour de France since 2019, all official Tour vehicles, including those for team support crews, the race directors and medics, are fitted with Continental’s multiple award-winning PremiumContact 6 tyres.