Safe and reliable equipment is a must for a successful Tour de France. And that applies not only for the riders but also their support crews – the soigneurs, medics and team directors who rely on car tires from Continental. Andreas Schlenke developed the PremiumContact 6, which literally keeps the wheels turning on the annual dash around France.
Mr. Schlenke, all the official vehicles in the Tour de France use the PremiumContact 6 tire from Continental. As the person who developed the tire, that must be a special feeling.
Andreas: Yes, that makes me feel very proud. It’s a special accolade for our tires to be given a major role in such an important sporting event. Of course, the main spotlight is on the riders, but it’s also essential the support crews can rely one hundred percent on their vehicles – and therefore on the tires they’re fitted with.
Your product will be pounding the roads of France for three weeks in front of a worldwide audience. As the tire developer, aren’t you concerned there’ll be a puncture live on TV?
Andreas: No, that’s not something I worry about. After all, I know how solid and reliable our product is. That’s one of the reasons the race organizers have decided to go with the PremiumContact 6.
The Tour de France is a very special challenge. In 2019 the riders – and all their support crews – had to contend with gale-force winds, desert heat, hail storms, icy roads and even mudslides. How can a single tire master such extreme conditions?
Andreas: We use highly sophisticated testing procedures to check our technologies are up to the job. The rubber compound and tire construction must be able to withstand high and low temperatures and deal with the most varied road conditions. We act out every type of conditions a tire might possibly encounter.
Did you take into account the conditions at the Tour de France in the development of the tire? After all, the PremiumContact 6 is actually a tire for everyday use, which countless drivers around the world have fitted on their cars.
Andreas: No, the tire was developed not for the Tour specifically, but – as you say – for everyday applications. However, this is exactly what allows the PremiumContact 6 to take all the challenges thrown up by the Tour de France in its stride. It is a master of the extreme. During the development phase it showed it could even handle significantly more taxing situations. In dry handling tests at the Nürburgring or our own test facility, the Contidrom, a tire encounters conditions – e.g. lateral forces – that are many times more extreme than they face in everyday use.
So there isn’t a “Tour de France” edition of the tire with a special compound for Pyrenean passes?
Andreas: No [he laughs]. The only difference from the standard tire is the fetching yellow Continental lettering on the sidewall. The Tour tire is otherwise identical to the model anyone can buy from a retailer.
Offering gradients of 20%, extreme hairpin corners and surprise outbreaks of winter weather, the Col du Grand Colombier pass in the Jura mountains is one of the highlights of the Tour. Can a standard summer tire survive here?
Andreas: Of course. The PremiumContact 6 is a tire that works across Europe. That means it can handle everything from the Pyrenees and Alps, including France’s Jura mountains, to the northern reaches of Scandinavia and the summer heat of Spain.
A modern tire is a high-tech product with integral sensors, e.g. for tire pressure monitoring systems. How important are functions like these for safety on the Tour?
Andreas: The tire knows things a driver does not and is the vehicle’s sole contact point with the road. Road conditions and the status of the tire itself – e.g. the air pressure and temperatures inside it – can be detected using these sensors. Such functions play a very important role at the Tour de France in helping all of the support vehicles to get to the finish safely and without problems.
Are you a Tour fan yourself?
Andreas: Yes absolutely. Bike racing has always fascinated me. I’ve been to the Tour de France several times – as a spectator, needless to say – and the atmosphere among the fans really is unique. So I was particularly pleased when Continental came on board as a partner of the Tour.
Do you also take part in cycle races, e.g. events open to the general public?
Andreas: My passion for cycling hasn’t stretched that far [he laughs]. I get out on the bike a lot in my spare time, though; on a very banal level, I cycle to work every morning, which is refreshing and gives me a daily hit of exercise.