Tech wars turning cycling into Formula One

Cycling technology has become so important to elite racing teams that, in the words of one rider, the sport has “become like Formula 1”.

When the first significant stage race of the season, Paris-Nice, starts on Sunday, riders will watch their rivals and complain that others have better bikes.

“Now everyone is talking about the bike,” says French rider Axel Laurens.

“It’s so fast that the slightest difference becomes very important. In the peloton, you see a guy who rides at the same speed as you, even if he doesn’t push the pedals as hard.”

In Laurens’ new team, the Belgian team Alpecin, his bike “moves on its own” compared to what he had last season at B&Bs.

The cars may look the same, but they’re not.

“At first glance, a bicycle remains a bicycle. It has wheels, steering wheel and everything. In fact, everything is much more complicated. There are huge differences,” said French driver Benoît Cosnefroy of AG2R-Citroen.

This is a trend that, according to riders and team managers, has accelerated in recent years.

“Before, everyone had almost the same bikes. There are big differences today,” said French rider Anthony Pérez of Cofidis.

“Frame, wheels, tires… put it all together and you’re going from a two-wheeled salesman’s motorcycle to a rocket. Cycling has become like Formula 1.”

Thomas Damuseau, a former professional racing driver who heads the equipment department at AG2R, agrees.

“We’re getting closer to it,” he said, adding that equipment manufacturer AG2R BMC “is collaborating with Red Bull and the same engineers who develop F1 cars.”

When Italy’s Filippo Ganna broke the world hour record in October, he rode a custom-made time trial bike with a 3D-printed carbon fiber frame with aerodynamic ridges copied from the bony bumps on the humpback whale’s fins.

Last year Dane Jonas Wingegaard won the Tour de France with an average speed of 42.102 kilometers per hour, beating Lance Armstrong’s record of 41.654 kilometers per hour set in 2005 when he finished first.

The American was later stripped of seven Tour titles for doping.

“Bikes have become so efficient, which explains the increase in race averages,” Damuseau said.

The sport’s governing body, the UCI, has rules that require racers to ride production models available to the public, a market that manufacturers hope to capture with high-profile race victories.

– “Two-speed peloton” –

Technological progress has led to a grim mumbling in the peloton. After a rider was caught with a tiny hidden engine inside at the 2016 World Cyclocross Championships, the UCI stepped up the fight against “mechanical doping” by tightening penalties and rolling out X-ray machines and thermal imaging cameras to scan bikes. .

Equipment quality can lead to a two-speed peloton where rich teams have an advantage.

“Obviously, the rider is still a horse. But between fully developed bikes from manufacturers with the means and others that are more limited, it’s day and night.

“The riders understand this, they talk about it among themselves in the peloton. And when they have to choose their future team, they look at the bike before the contract,” Damuso said.

Riders agree that the bike is now number one.

“This is an investment. If you have results with a good bike, your salary will follow,” said Czech rider Zdeněk Stybar.

“My contract ends this season and for the coming years the bike will be my number one priority,” Kosnefroy said.

His boss at AG2R, Julien Jourdy, said the bikes attract big-name riders, who in turn play a key role in the “contract war with the right manufacturers.”

“When it comes to hiring, in all the discussions we have, the first question that comes up is the bike,” he said.

“The ones with the stars have the best bikes.”

Sometimes manufacturers go straight to star riders, like Slovak Peter Sagan, who brought his bike supplier with him when he joined TotalEnergies in 2022.

“Without his bike, he would not have signed the contract. He has only raced in Formula 1. He doesn’t know what karting is,” Perez said.



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