“It’s becoming Formula 1”: the material has become so important in modern cycling that some riders now look at the brand of the bike before the salary offer when signing a new contract.
In the Paris-Nice peloton which starts on Sunday, the riders will, as for each event at the start of the season, spend part of their day watching their rivals and sometimes complaining about not playing on equal terms against neighbors equipped with a more efficient machine.
“Everyone now talks about the bike. It goes so fast that the slightest difference becomes super important. In the peloton, you see the guy who goes at the same speed as you while he presses less on the pedals “, underlines Axel Laurance, who changed his universe this winter by joining the Alpecin team where his new bike “advances on its own” compared to the one he had at B&B Hotels.
Seen from a distance, one might think that the teams offer riders roughly equivalent gear. “In appearance, a bike remains a bike, it has wheels, handlebars and that’s it. In reality, it’s much more complicated. There are huge differences”, insists the AG2R-Citroën puncher Benoît Cosnefroy .
A trend which, according to all the runners and managers interviewed by AFP, has accelerated sharply in recent years.
– “From hairdresser to rocket” –
“Before, they all had almost the same bikes. Today, there are big differences. The frame, the wheels, the tires… everything added together you go from a hairdresser’s thing to a rocket. In fact, cycling has become Formula 1,” explains Cofidis rider Anthony Perez.
“We are getting closer,” confirms Thomas Damuseau, a former professional racer now head of the equipment division of the AG2R-Citroën team, whose equipment supplier BMC “works with Red Bull and the same engineers who develop F1 cars. “.
“The bikes have become so efficient that that explains the increase in the averages in the race. Before, we only looked at the weight (blocked for safety at a minimum of 6.8 kg, editor’s note). Now it’s first aerodynamics, but also the rolling resistance of the tires as well as the rigidity and geometry of the frame, or the cockpit”, he explains.
This goes for time trial bikes. To break the hour record in October, Italian Filippo Ganna rode a custom-made machine with a 3D-printed frame using biomimicry with reliefs inspired by the tubercles found on whale fins.
But also for road bikes where the quality of the material is not far from creating, as doping has been able to do, a two-speed cycle between the best teams and the others less richly endowed.
– “Number one priority” –
“Obviously, the rider is still the horse. But between a bike fully developed by a brand that has put the means and another more limited, it’s day and night. The riders have understood it, they talk about it between them in the peloton. And when they have to choose their future team, they look at the bike before the contract”, underlines Damuseau.
“In terms of recruitment, in all the discussions we have, the first question that comes up is the bike”, confirms Julien Jurdié, sports director at AG2R.
In his team, Benoît Cosnefroy confirms: “I will be out of contract this season and for the years to come the bike is my number one priority.”
Because in fact, “it’s an investment. If you have results with a good bike, your salary will follow”, explains the Czech rider Zdenek Stybar.
Sometimes highly rated riders come in with their own outfitter, like Peter Sagan at TotalEnergies. “Without his bike, he was not going there. He only rode on Formula 1, he does not know what a cart is”, supports Anthony Perez.
For brands, the issue is decisive, especially since the models used by professional riders must be marketed, according to the regulations of the International Cycling Union (UCI).
And between the teams, “it’s the war to recover the contract of the good brand which is going well”, underlines Julien Jurdié. With a simple rule: “Those who have the stars also have the best bikes.”