Alejandro Valverde’s World Championship-winning bike took pride of place on Campagnolo’s stand at the Rouleur Classic – the Italian firm’s first rainbow-clad rider since Rui Costa stood atop the podium in 2013.
The Rouleur Classic offers a chance for the sport to look back on the year that’s been, and for Campagnolo that also meant the launch of the world’s first 12-speed road groupset.
But, against a backdrop of ever-increasing competition between the ‘big three’ groupset manufacturers, it’s not all been plain-sailing. We caught up with Campagnolo’s global marketing and communications director, Lorenzo Taxis, to reflect on 2018, and cast an eye to the future.
How would you summarise the past 12 months for Campagnolo?
It has been a very important year because there was big news; we have just launched the 12-speed Record and Super Record groupsets. Yes, we’ve added one more cog, but for us, it’s a completely new groupset. Some people may say it’s a technological gimmick to add another cog but our philosophy is to review the whole transmission and that is exactly what has happened.
For the time being, there’s only the mechanical groupset, rim brake and disc, but now we are working on EPS that will be joining the market early next year. We will deliver the first groupsets to our WorldTour teams at the end of this year ready for the Tour Down Under.
Together with the groupsets, we have also developed the new Bora wheels, Wind Tunnel Optimised, which is a new category, so all in all it has been a very challenging year but we work full speed every single day in order to provide the best weapons to our cycling fans. That is how it’s been for the last 85 years and how it will be in the future as well. The competition is tougher, as we know, but we have our market, our niche, our fans, and we want to work with them.
Was it important to be first to launch 12-speed?
It is better to be first, it has become our tradition. We were first when we launched ten-speed, we were first in launching 11-speed, so it was nice to be first with 12-speed. It shows we are always looking forward. We never stop and look at what the others are doing. We try to do our own race, trying to be ahead of times.
I remember when we launched 11-speed we were always asked, ‘Do we really need 11-speed?’ and after a while all the competition followed us. I believe 11 was better than ten and 12 is better than 11, but an extra cog is just one element in the evolution of the entire drivetrain.
What are the benefits of the groupset beyond an extra sprocket?
The ergonomics have improved again but the best feedback we’ve had from almost everybody is that this mechanical drivetrain is the closest to the electronic groupset in terms of performance. The way you change gear is really smooth and the precision of the mechanism is at the very top level. Of course, you also have 24 [gear] opportunities, so there are no big gaps from one cog to another.
We are standing next to Alejandro Valverde’s bike from the World Championships – how pleased were you to see a Campagnolo rider win in Innsbruck?
From the competition side, 2018 was not our most successful but in the last race, the World Championships, we’ve been able to take the best result with a fantastic guy in Alejandro, so we are extremely happy, especially after trying for so many years.
It’s part of the tradition of the company to keep long-term contacts. We have long-term employees, who have almost been with us for life, and the same goes for sponsoring teams. Movistar is a 30-year old team and with Lotto-Soudal it’s almost ten years. Our philosophy is everything.
We demonstrated it when we first launched EPS. Movistar had the groupset one year before we launched to the market, which is not a normal situation. Even the UCI wasn’t pleased, but since it was a main development they allowed Movistar to race with a groupset that was not yet on the market. It has always been part of our philosophy to share our technology first with our professional teams and this will always stay the same in the future.
Campagnolo is a company with a colourful history and proud heritage, but what are the challenges it faces in future?
The cycling business has grown a lot and if you are a mass market company then you get the first benefit, as you are working on volumes. Our two competitors, Shimano and SRAM, share the same business concept – they are mass market – but we are a niche manufacturer working only in road racing.
We need to be seen, by riders and dealers, as an opportunity to create a distinctive bike. We are the oldest company in the peloton and we have substantial know-how, but it’s not easy because at every level of market customers are buying complete bikes, so for us not to be specced is a problem. We need to climb the mountain and do our utmost to push bike brands into having a distinctive offering with Campagnolo.
In today’s Internet wave, having a distinctive product can also help protect the margin for dealers, as it’s not exactly the same as what can be bought everywhere else. The big challenge is to pass the message through the whole distribution chain, with the final intention to convince the biggest brands to use Campagnolo as a business opportunity.
Of course, we do not want to – and should not – compete directly with the other two brands. They are already established, they are mass market and that is not Campagnolo, but that’s the main challenge for us, particularly in the middle of the market where every brand should be represented. We are really well placed with wheels – Bora has become a brand in itself – but we need to recover the groupset situation, where we are suffering a little bit. We don’t need big volumes, but we need volume.
There are some markets that have been extremely successful in the last 5-7 years, like the UK, and we are confident that if we are consistent with our work and the products we present, then the market will respond. We are confident that the future will be bright enough.