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Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Italian Job: Can Campagnolo survive? | Bicycling Magazine

This is a fable about emotion, but it starts as a business story. For the past half century the Italian component maker Campagnolo and its chief competitor, the Japanese conglomerate Shimano, have gone toe-to-toe in one of the great rivalries not just of the cycling world but of the entire business world. The elements intrigue those who study such things: Despite their near-comic contrast in size—Shimano's bicycle-division sales were $2.1 billion last year, Campagnolo's around $150 million—the companies have considered each the other's greatest foe. Over the years, the spirit of that rivalry infected their customers. Road cyclists can be passionate about their choice of components, but none are more notoriously passionate than Campy freaks. They wax eloquently about the curves and swooping lines of new components, create personal museums of old parts, can be stunned into silence and immobility by the sight of a complete boxed Campy tool set.

Campagnolo traditionally had been seen as owning the top 1 percent of the cycling market, the high-end professional and custom-build customer, while Shimano was considered to dominate OEM (original equipment manufacturer)—its components, ubiquitous on mass-production bikes made by major players, at times have been found on as many as 70 percent of all bikes made.

Campagnolo was also traditionally acknowledged as the choice of champions. Eddy Merckx rode only Campy. Bernard Hinault rode Campy to all five of his Tour de France victories. So did Miguel Indurain. Of course the Italian champions Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi rode Campy. But the last Tour winner to ride a Campagnolo gruppo under the Arc de Triumph was Italy's Marco Pantani in 1998. (The inevitable asterisk of modern sports: Oscar Pereiro, who was declared the 2006 winner after a failed drug test negated Floyd Landis's victory, rode Campagnolo.) Lance Armstrong won seven yellow jerseys on Shimano gear. When he retired in 2005, many insiders assumed Campagnolo would do whatever it took to make sure the next winner was on its componentry. But Shimano won in 2007 and 2008. Then things became really bleak for Campy: The upstart SRAM stole the crown. A Chicago company that found its first success by selling handlebar shifters for mountain bikes in the 1980s, SRAM didn't put out its first road-bike group until 2005. But just four years later, in 2009, Spain's Alberto Contador won the Tour on the company's top groupset, Red. Contador and SRAM won again in 2010, before Shimano took over again in 2011, under Cadel Evans.

[Keep reading at Bicycling Magazine]

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