At the time of the 2015 Tour de France, the Sram Red eTap wireless gear system hadn’t even been officially announced but the system was being tested during the Tour by the top French team, AG2R. This team is managed by Vincent Lavenu and after Stage 20 had finished, he had dinner in the Le Farmer restaurant in Alpe d’Huez with a woman and 2 businessmen, who I believe were from the American groupset company, Sram. Myself and Noel were only sat beside Vincent and his guests for about 10 minutes and with the din in the restaurant could not hear what was being discussed, eventhough all the guests were talking in English. But at the end of the meeting, I clearly heard one of the businessmen say that they would “forward the contracts” to Vincent the following week. I believe the contract the businessman was referring to was for AG2R to use Sram Red eTap during the 2016 road cycling season. The Sram Red eTap wireless gear system would not be officially announced until over a month later at the 2015 Eurobike in Germany, where it caused a sensation and won award after award. The wireless Sram groupset is revolutionary and in my opinion, will prove to be the most significant breakthrough in cycling technology this decade. I believe that at the meeting in Le Farmer restaurant that Vincent Lavenu was meeting with representatives from Sram and agreed for his AG2R team to become the first professional cycling team ever to officially adopt the new wireless gear technology. So it is incredible to think that totally by chance, myself and Noel stumbled across one of the most significant business meetings in cycling history after what had been one of the most epic stages ever in the Tour de France.
Final stage of the 2015 Tour de France. After buying the papers, we went back to the hotel for a bite to eat. Noel wanted to go for a stroll around the historic town centre of Grenoble but I had too much to do to get my bike and gear ready for going touring again on Monday. So I stayed in the hotel while Noel went off sightseeing and we agreed to meet up later for dinner. While Noel was away, I put on the TV to see who would win the final stage of the Tour de France on the Champs Elysses. I was watching the screen out of the corner of my eye when French TV showed a recording of an interview with Vincent Lavenu, the manager of the top French cycling team AG2R.
I immediately recognized him from the previous evening as he had been at Le Farmer restaurant in Alpe d’Huez at the same time as us. He was there with an assistant, a tall, very slim lady with jet black hair and wearing glasses. The woman looked very like Vincent’s daughter Magalie but I can’t be 100% sure it was her as there are only a few photos of Magalie online and she is not wearing glasses in any of the photos. They were in the restaurant with 2 men, who were also dressed casually. At the time, I noticed that Vincent and Magalie were both wearing AG2R polo shirts but thought that they were just fans. It was only at the end of the meal when Magalie presented the businessmen with a AG2R cycling jersey with the signatures of all their cyclists that I realized what was happening. A lot of deals between teams and sponsors are agreed during the Tour de France and myself and Noel had stumbled across one such meeting, totally by chance..
AG2R official sponsors. Magalie is in charge of sponsorship at AG2R so you would expect her to be at a meeting with her father with potential sponsors. She is married to Samuel Dumoulin , the French cyclist and according to her Linked In page, is fluent in French, Spanish and English. Most of the conversation was in English and Magalie was doing most of the talking. Vincent said very little but perhaps, his English is not very good.
Le Farmer restaurant beside the Bergers car-park in Alpe d’Huez. Why Vincent and Magalie chose to have a meeting in a small restaurant on the outskirts of Alpe d’Huez, i have no idea. Perhaps, they were staying in a nearby hotel perhaps they were getting a flight the next day to Paris from the airport which was only 500m from the restaurant. Perhaps they didn’t want anyone to see them having a meeting with a new sponsor and picked an out of town venue to have dinner. Le Farmer actually have a bigger restaurant in the centre of Alpe d’Huez but maybe their smaller restaurant was more convenient. They had arrived at the restaurant about 7 when we were outside. Just before 8, we went inside as it got very cold outside when the sun went down, so we were only sat at a table beside them for about 10 mins before they left. With the noise in the restaurant, you couldn’t hear what they were discussing and it was only at the end of the meeting, I heard one of the businessmen say that they would “forward the contracts” to the AG2R office the following week. “Forward the contracts” is an American expression but the businessmen didn’t sound American. They didn’t sound as if they were from England or Europe either; perhaps they were from Canada. While myself and Noel, at the time, hadn’t a clue who was sat at the table beside us, I am sure there would have been other people in the restaurant, who recognized Monsieur Lavenu but there was little or no reaction from the other diners when Vincent and his guests got up to leave the restaurant at about 8.10 pm.
Tweet from Vincent Lavenu of last 3 winners on Alpe d’Huez. Vincent is onTwitter and later that evening, he re-tweeted this picture of the last 3 winners on Alpe d’Huez; Pierre Rolland (2011), Christophe Riblon (2013) and Thibaut Pinot (2015). The time-stamp on the tweet is Dublin time so in France it was 9.29 pm.
Tweet from Magalie about 6 hours after meeting in the Le Farmer restaurant. Magalie also tweeted that evening though much later at 3.26 on Sunday morning. My French is not great but I think her tweet translates as “Arrived back at hotel at 2 but had to change rooms at 3 in the morning due to bed bugs. Alarm set for 7. It is tough, really tough but I will survive. Can’t wait to arrive in Paris.”
Re-tweet from Magalie on the Monday morning after the meeting. But what is more interesting about her Twitter is a re-tweet she sent on Monday 27th July from SRAM congratulating Romain Bardet on winning the Super Combativity prize at the Tour. I didn’t even know there was a Super Combativity prize at the Tour but what is important is that this was her only sponsor related re-tweet that week. Were they meeting with representatives from SRAM at Le Farmer restaurant to discuss using SRAM components again next year?.
AG2R used Campagnolo in 2014 but switched to SRAM for 2015. 3 WorldTour teams used SRAM in 2014 but AG2R were the only WorldTour team to use them in 2015. AG2R were mostly using the mechanical SRAM Red groupset but they were also secretly testing a wireless gear system throughout the year. Full details of the eTap Red wireles system were not officially announced until a month later on August 26 at Eurobike in Friedrichshafen in Germany. SRAM have been working on eTap for 5 years and AG2R was just one of a number of teams who had been testing the new gear system during actual races. But AG2R were by far the most high profile of the test teams and on the stage in the Tour de France that Alexis Vuillermoz won on the Mur de Bretagne for AG2R, his bike was equipped with a prototype eTap system which, by all accounts, performed perfectly
Re-tweet from SRAM after Alexis Vuillermoz won using their prototype wireless groupset. It is hard not to understate just how important eTap Red is for SRAM. Neither Shimano or Campagnolo have a wireless groupset available so eTap gives SRAM a chance to leapfrog the 2 biggest component companies in cycling. The eTap is potentially as important for SRAM as the iPod was for Apple back in 2001. Back then, Apple was near bankruptcy but the success of the iPod propelled them on their way to now being the biggest electronic company in the world. SRAM have been trying to IPO or launch on the stock market for the last 5 years. They are hoping to raise $300m by doing so but for one reason or another have had to keep postponing the launch. eTap is due to become available next year and its success may be the catalyst for SRAM to become a public company. Unlike Apple in 2001, SRAM are nowhere near bankruptcy but the future of the company is inextricably linked to eTap. It is arguably their most important product launch ever.
SRAM Red eTap wireless gears. The eTap will be the sixth generation of gears in cycling. The first deraillers were introduced in the 40’s by Simplex and Campagnolo, the 2nd generation by Suntour in the 60’s before 3rd generation index gears were launched by Shimano in 1986. Shimano also developed the 4th generation STI (Shimano Total Integration) gears in the late 90’s and the 5th generation electronic Di2 system in 2009.
Award after award for SRAM eTap. Reaction to the eTap system so far has been overwhelmingly positive and it has won award after award at both Eurobike and Interbike. The success of any cycling product though depends on how quickly it is adopted by the pro teams and if AG2R announce that they will be using eTap Red in 2016, it will give the new groupset a huge boost. The SRAM wireless system is expensive but over time will get cheaper and in 5 years could be standard on all road bikes just like STI gears are nowadays. In cycling tech, the 80’s are remembered for clipless pedals, the 90’s for STI gears, the 2000’s for carbon frames and power meters. Well in the future, the 2010’s may well be remembered for wireless gearing.
Close-up of the SRAM eTap rear derailleur. AG2R signed a multi-year deal with SRAM in January so will definitely be using SRAM next year. SRAM supply not just their Red groupset but also Zipp wheels and Quarg power meters. SRAM almost certainly supply all the equipment to AG2R for free or at most a small fee in return for the publicity. According to INRG, AG2R’s budget was €13.6m last year but the company accounts do not say how much suppliers contribute towards the team budget. AG2R had used SRAM between 2010 and 2012 but switched to Campagnolo for 2013 and 2014. So AG2R would have been in a good position to negotiate a sweet deal especially in return for agreeing to test eTap. However, the extent to which AG2R use eTap next year might make or break the product. So far, the omens are good and in the Vuelta that has just finished up, most of the AG2R bikes were fitted with eTap and Alexis Gougeard became the first rider to officially win a Grand Tour stage with a wireless groupset.
First official Grand Tour victory for SRAM Red eTap. In January 2015, Tinkoff-Saxo, Etixx-Quickstep and MTN Quebeka all switched from SRAM to Shimano because at that time Shimano had an electronic groupset and SRAM didn’t. But now that SRAM will be offering a wireless groupset next year, it will be interesting if any other teams switch from either Shimano or Campagnolo to SRAM next year.
SRAM Red eTap wireless groupset. Anyway to summarize, I believe the most significant development in cycle racing in the next 10 years will be wireless gear systems much more so than disc brakes. At the moment, SRAM are at the forefront of wireless technology and almost certainly were meeting with Vincent Lavenu at Alpe d’Huez to discuss future adoption of eTap Red by AG2R for rest of 2015 and in 2016. The partnership between SRAM and AG2R could turn out to be the most significant development in cycling technology this decade and it is incredible to think that myself and Noel may have been in the same restaurant when an historic agreement was reached for a professional cycling team to officially use a wireless groupset for the first time ever on their bikes.
SRAM website for eTap features a photo of JC Peraud of AG2R. Of course, this is all speculation on my part as I cannot be sure Vincent Lavenu was meeting with SRAM and I am not even sure Magolie was with him, But one thing I am sure off is that the AG2R boss and his guests were partly to blame for why we had to wait so long for our pizza that evening in the Le Farmer restaurant. Vincent Lavenu along with Bernard Hinault is Mr. Cycling in France and has been in charge of a professional team since 1992 (that year again) and AG2R since 2000. Having Vincent Lavenu come to your restaurant is a bit like having Martin O’Neill or Jim McGuinness show up at a restaurant in Ireland. France is renowned for the expression “Liberte, egalite, fraternite” but when someone as famous as Vincent Lavenu walks in the door, equality goes out the window in France just like anywhere else.
Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. It didn’t matter that we had ordered one hour before Vincent and his entourage showed up, they got No.1 priority status. For the best part of an hour, they had the full attention of the restaurant staff while everybody else was made to wait their turn. Indeed, it was only after Vincent left that we got an apology from the restaurant owner ( who looked a bit like Google founder, Sergey Brin) and a promise that we would eventually be served. Before that, Noel was told that our order had gone missing and he kept getting the “Gallic shrug”. That is why I tweeted that waiting for the pizza was a bit like Waiting for Godot as we weren’t sure we were ever going to be served. The staff obviously didn’t want a scene while Vincent Lavenu was present so that is why we kept getting shrugged off. Had the staff explained that guests who reserved get priority, we would have had no problem waiting especially as in hindsight, it was obvious the poor chef was snowed under with the amount of orders he was getting in a short space of time. But because for almost 2 hours we could get no explanation, we felt a bit like Vladimir and Estrogen in Waiting for Godot and you could only laugh at the absurdity of the situation we found ourselves in.