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75 Years of Vuelta a España: Technology Then & Now

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75 Years of Vuelta a España: Technology Then & Now

Cycling’s changed a lot over the years. New ways of training, new bikes, and of course, new riders. And with it being the 75th edition of the iconic Vuelta a España, we thought we’d take a look at just how different things are now compared to back then.

The Vuelta a España was started by Spanish newspaper Informaciones. Spain wanted in on the action that the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia was gathering, so they started their own Grand Tour. In 1935, 50 riders began the first Tour of Spain in Madrid. They raced atop heavy iron bikes and carried their own tools to fix mechanicals. Belgian rider Gustaaf Deloor took the first ever GC, crossing the finish line of the 22nd stage in a polo shirt, cap and goggles with what remains the longest ever winning time of 150:07:54. He went on to win the second edition of the Vuelta in 1936 too. 

Until as late as 1994 the race was held in April, but 1995 it moved to August or September, to avoid clashing with the Giro. And with that change of season came a new gruelling trait to the race – the weather. Some riders in the peloton now regard it as the hottest race in the world.

So which sort of rider tends to take the win? Well, with it being a shorter course than most Grand Tours, it opens up the field more than normal. Stages are varied, so rouleurs (all-rounders) tend to do well here. But there’s certainly no shortage of summit finishes, with 2019 having eight gruelling ascents to test the toughest riders in the world.

The Big Developments

Carbon frames:

First seen at the races in 1988, the super lightweight material changed the game in cycling. Long gone are the days of iron and steel frames, as carbon has slashed the weight of bikes over the years, making it easier to smash up those climbs. 

But it’s not just frames; other components like wheels, seat posts and cranks too. While it is of course incredibly light, stiff and strong, it is more susceptible to serious damage and fatigue.

Muc-Off Carbon Gripper was designed specifically to create friction between carbon fibre clamping areas to lower torque here which basically reduces fatigue, internal fractures and increases the longevity of component life. It also vastly reduces the chances of seatposts suddenly slipping under sudden force (e.g. hitting a pothole) which can cause severe carbon cracking and scratching. 

Muc-Off | Carbon Gripper Past

Inner tubes:

Believe it or not, back in the day, long before support cars were a thing, riders would wrap spare inner tubes over their torsos during races. Most professional racers are now running tubular tires which removes the need for an inner tube and are much lighter. If they puncture, their team car is on hand to swap the whole wheel. 

However, during the classics season, we're seeing most World Tour teams switching to tubeless. The chances of puncturing are high, as the roads at races like Paris Roubaix and Strada Bianchi are not exactly team car friendly. This can make it harder for riders to get a wheel change, resulting in them losing time. Team INEOS Grenadiers, Team Bahrain McLaren and Canyon//SRAM Racing all currently run Muc-Off No Puncture Hassle Tubeless Sealant at specific races and many riders will run it during their solo training rides.

As with the rise of disc brakes over the past few years, we're seeing more and more road teams and riders at World Tour level running tubeless, especially as wheel and tire manufacturers are more focused on the development of tubeless and so we're seeing better rolling resistance and decreased aerodynamic drag on the rim/tire interface which means they are often surpassing even tubular set ups in these areas. 

Canyon SRAM | Muc-Off | Tubeless Kit

 

Component materials:

The basics of bikes are still pretty much the same. You’ve still got wheels, brakes and gears. But the materials of these components have changed. In particular, drivetrains have been evolved to give faster, more precise shifting. But they do need to be maintained more than before, as we know that grime is the enemy for shifting gears. 

There's almost no information about what riders used to lube their chains during the very first edition of the Vuelta, but looking at what people generally used back then for lubricating moving parts it would have most likely been a very basic oil or wax. And because the riders were self-supported, it would have been unlikely that they would have had opportunity to re-lube their chains very often if at all during the 22 stages. 

Nowadays, the drivetrain is a huge focus area for World Tour Teams in saving precious watts and achieving marginal gains. Take a look at the Nanotube chain treatment process we use for prepping chains for our teams at Grand Tours including the Vuelta here.

We've also worked closely with Team INEOS Grenadiers (formally Team Sky) to make products like our Drivetrain Cleaner and Hydrodynamic All Weather Lube - aimed at cutting edge drivetrain optimisation. 

Muc-Off | Team INEOS | Hydrodynamic Lube

So what will be the big changes over the next 75 years of racing? We’re not entirely sure but excited to play a part of pushing new developments and technologies that help give riders advantage - from Grand Tour winners to weekend warriors out smashing their local KOMs!

 

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