THE RISE & FALL OF MAVIC
CYCLING WEEKLY|July 02, 2020
Since the late 1800s Mavic has grown into one of cycling’s most recognised brands, but now it is on the brink. Owen Rogers charts how the iconic French firm came to this
Owen Rogers

The shadow of the peloton is bright yellow. It emerges through the dust of another dry Paris-Roubaix; it glints in the sunshine of the Côte d’Azur at Paris-Nice, and fords through the crowds lining another torturous Tour de France mountain pass.

Mavic’s neutral service cars have become so ubiquitous at cycling’s biggest races, so tightly woven into the sport’s fabric, that to imagine it without them feels a little like trying to summon up the unnatural. And yet it is distinctly possible this will soon be the case.

The French giant’s famous service course has rescued countless champions, winners, and domestiques from certain doom over the last 40 years, but right now it is in dire need of help as it finds itself in a financial hole from which there may be no escape.

Just last month, the French courts put Mavic into receivership and under its supervision. Bernard Hinault – one of those to have benefited from Mavic’s service – is part of a group trying to help the company. Those close to attempts to save the company know there is a mountain to climb and, like the pros it helped on the roadside, it’s now or never if it’s to get back in the race.

But how did this happen? How did it go from a small family-owned business in the 19th century to global dominance to now knocking on the door of destitution? And is there any hope for the future?

Multiple innovations

Mavic’s signature yellow may make it a perfect fit for the Tour, but it has been around a lot longer than the association between the two. The first record of it is in 1923, but the company, now based in Annecy in the French Alps, dates back further to 1889 when two companies were brought together by their president, Henry Gormand.

Léon and Laurent Vielle ran a nickelplating company under the brand AVA, and joined forces with Charles Idoux and Lucien Chanel’s bicycle parts company, forming Manufacture d’Articles Vélocipédiques Idoux et Chanel – MAVIC.

There were pedal cars for kids and the apron mudguard, but it was their alloy wheels that made a real splash, launching Mavic’s reputation as a true cycling innovator.

In 1934, wooden hoops were de rigueur, but Mavic came up with an aluminium/copper alloy they called Duralumin, using it for their ‘Dura’ rim. Though they were two hours behind an Italian engineer to the patent office, the Dura was a huge success and alloy wheels became the only choice for many years. Painted to look like wood to divert attention, they carried Antonin Magne to his second Tour de France title that summer.

Over the ensuing 40 years, Mavic continued to establish its reputation for quality, but it was only after Gormand’s son, Bruno, took over that the company’s most visible innovation came about.

It was Bruno who had the idea for ​neutral service, when, at the 1972 Dauphiné Libéré, he lent his car to a team whose vehicle had broken down. The distinctive yellow cars first appeared at Paris-Nice the following year and have been with us ever since, the scheme expanding to include all ASO’s races, and other pro and amateur events.

The same year saw Mavic’s first foray into the world of wheel aerodynamics, producing fibreglass, lenticular disc wheel. That did not comply with the sport’s rules, so was never used in competition, but the die was cast and in 1985 the first iteration of the aero Comete carbon-fiber wheel was born.

Anodised rims, tri-spokes, clinchers, electronic groupsets (in the 1990s no less), and even drag-reducing integrated tyre systems have all been produced by Mavic, but perhaps it spread itself too thinly and the 21st century has seen the brand in decline as new movers entered the market.

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