We've written in years past about notable Tour TTs, but that's primarily been with more of a tech lens on. This year is notable from a sponsorship perspective. Much was made about the adventure to get MVDP some Princeton Carbon wheels to use in the quest to keep the yellow jersey. And there is the usual hubbub around new prototype and unreleased wheels. But the bigger note to me is that Shimano doesn't really seem to care if teams don't use their wheels in TTs. Why?
When you think about it, it's pretty amazing that every team's sponsor even has a TT bike. I would strongly suspect that some of them are open molds. The market for TT bikes is tiny. That tiny market also intersects with the fact that TT bikes are wildly development hungry beasts, because they're there to do one thing well - cheat the wind - above all else. You can make a million different cases for a road bike, its beautiful lines or its weight or stiffness or whatever else you want to say, but TT bikes that aren't aero AF are worthless.
It's easy for those of us who pay a lot of attention to these things to figure that the entire market is as aware of these things as we are. But though Princeton, thanks to their sometimes association with Ineos and now MVDP, and also their getting sued by SRAM for design infringement, has much better brand awareness than November does, they are FAR from a household name. In positioning-speak, if your story is entirely about being the fastest wheels and you want to sell any significant number of them, you'd better hope that the story of that leadership resonates well down the line into people whose response to that will be along the lines of "well I guess that means they must be pretty good" because the market of people who really care about that stuff is tiny. And a whole lot of those people use wheels that are given to them by their teams, or have purchase matrices strongly skewed by a sponsorship situation.
Add to this that there is no "best." After all the running around to get Princeton wheels, MVDP used a 90mm deep AeroCoach front wheel. There was probably some analysis of weather (wind) conditions overlaid on the route that showed that the prevalent or most critical yaw condition would be favorable to the AeroCoach wheel. It's hard to argue with any of it when the guy holds onto yellow by a fraction, which is a story that even my cold black heart warms to, but the tech story as a purchase influencer is probably nil.
Which brings me back to Shimano. They're notoriously intolerant of teams replacing any part of their drive train at all, yet they seemingly freely allow any team that wants to to replace their wheels in these tip of the spear cases. Which boils down to a few likely things to me. First, Shimano is a business that's in the business of making money. Resource hungry fringe things (funny to call the Tour a fringe thing, but here we are) are a poor ROI. The average person who's in the market to spend a chunk on good wheels isn't nearly so deep in the weeds on it that this stuff matters. And I think we're in an era of significant decline of the Tour's influence on purchasing. Unbound Gravel seems likely more resonant with where this year's consumer spend is than the Tour is. Bleeding edge road racing doesn't move the dial like it used to.
So it's some interesting tech, and it may influence future design trends in a marginal way, to perhaps some marginal benefit, but of itself it seems poor business. And that's probably why Shimano gives it the big shrug.