It was just hours away from the start of Stage 2 at the 2011 Tour de France. The narrow road we were walking on was filled with the typical frenzied crowd of fans, riders, mechanics and team cars. Suddenly, there was a commotion over at the Team Garmin cars consisting of some loud arguing and hand gesturing between UCI officials, Mavic technicians and team mechanics. As I stood by the wayside, it soon became apparent that something was amiss with the wheels on Team Cervelo. More arguing and phone calls ensued. And then it all went down.
In an instant, the Mavic techs literally began stripping the wheels off some sort of liner that was wrapped at the inner face where the rim and tire met. Whatever plans Mavic had with the secret wheel technology was no more. Unfortunately, getting any answers to what was going on was impossible—nobody was talking (at least in English)!
A NIGHTMARE ANEW
Fast-forward a few months later and I was back in France suiting up to ride the very same wheels that had caused all the commotion the previous July. Apparently, just as many other brands make use of the publicity surrounding the Tour de France, Mavic had hoped to use La Grande Boucle as an unofficial launch for the new 80mm-deep aero wheels that used a special aero-enhancing feature dubbed the “CX01 Aero Link.” It was this feature alone that had forced the UCI’s bold action.
The Aero Link was a semi-elastic plastic strip that fit into a special channel filling the gap between the rim and tire wall. Mavic said they had computer data that showed the combination of all three—the CXR80 wheel, the Aero Link and their own Yksion tire—created enough of a unified airfoil to achieve substantial aero gains.
The production wheel was known as the Cosmic CXR80 wheel, and Mavic had assembled a fleet of Canyon aero bikes for a pack of journos to test. The wheels weighed in at 2170 grams (995 front/1175 rear) and sold for $2799. Before the ride began, the obvious question was raised: “What if the Aero Links somehow dislodged while riding?” In typical French fashion, Mavic engineers laughed the notion off before assuring us that the strips were designed to break before locking up a wheel. Of course, as was often the case at new-product launches, the nightmare scenario occurred when the Aero Links on two bikes became dislodged during the ride! True to form, the Aero Links did break apart, but as we watched the tech support untangle the mess, none of us could imagine how much worse a PR disaster it would’ve been if a similar mishap had occurred during a televised Tour stage! While the UCI is renowned for their ham-fisted technical rules, just maybe it was a good thing they had the strips pulled that day at the Tour!