Since the inception of the team now known as Ineos, the wheel supplier has been Shimano. That is changing as part of a two-pronged approach that now also includes Lightweight wheels.
Back in the 1990s, there was a time when most riders on a team would ride one brand of wheels but the designated leader may find themselves with an upgrade.
If we hark back to the days of the Deutsche Telekom team, we find one example from 1997. Jan Ullrich, in the yellow jersey, switching Bora wheels with what was seen as the highest form of carbon-fibre cycling exotica: Lightweight wheels.
Ooh, aero. Wow, light. And look at that, bladed carbon-fibre spokes. Back then it seemed ludicrously cool. And to many, nothing has changed in 22 years.
These hand-crafted wheels were made in Germany and were rare as hen’s teeth; so much so that not even others on Telekom were afforded the same luxury. Just Ullrich. And probably Bjarne Riis too… but this tale isn’t so much about cycling history, so we’ll make that passing reference about the Dane and cut to the chase…
Today, lined up outside the Team Ineos bus in Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, for the start of stage five, was a vast collection of Lightweight wheels. And, surprisingly, even if the technology has changed since the Ullrich days, the aesthetic of this product remains very much the same in 2019.
Gary Blem (at top) checks tyre pressure on the bikes before stage five.
Above and below are some shots of the Lightweight wheels used by Team Ineos on stage five.
While waiting to see if the mechanic, Gary Blem, could offer an explanation of the differing tyre pressures used by each rider, I found myself chatting with the team’s PR officer. “When did the team start using Lightweight?”
Oh. Ah… and the relationship with Shimano? “That’s still in place,” said George Solomon, quick to reassure me that there was no issue with the existing product supply arrangement. “But we are going to be using a mix of Lightweight and Shimano.”
I took a few photos, asked Solomon if I could talk to Blem about it and, although we’ve often published features in which the South African explains a lot of detail about the products used by the team, the answer was no. It’s best that we wait for the official release to be sent before saying too much more.
Photos: Rob Arnold
Still, I had the photos, so I asked Solomon if he could offer a quick summary and pushed the red button on my iPhone.
“I’m with George from Sky,” I said by way of introduction. (Yes, old habits linger… and I’ll soon get used to saying Ineos.) “He’s going to give me the official line of why it’s no longer Shimano and it’s all Lightweight.”
He laughed and then offered his explanation. “It’s going to be a mix of wheels. We’re just going to use the Lightweight on certain days.
“Shimano remain a really valued member of the team. We have our partnerships and Shimano will be our main wheel supplier but we’ll be using Lightweight on certain days during the Tour.”
Can you give an explanation of why?
“Aah, to be honest, we’re trying this. It’s quite exciting for the guys. It’s something new.
“I just think, for certain stages, they might give us a slight advantage.”
Okay. So there you have it. In the coming days, we’ll be sure to check with riders and find out if they have anything to say about the switch.
Upon arrival in the press room, RIDE Media contacted the team to seek a more formal statement which they sent minutes later. It reads as follows:
“We can confirm we will use wheels from two brands during this year’s Tour. Shimano remains our main supplier and they are a valued partner for Team INEOS.”
– By Rob Arnold