interview: Dino Cento of Campagnolo

it’s not the most comfortable of situations these days for Campagnolo. once the foremost supplier of groupsets and wheels to the very best cycling teams in the world, Campagnolo saw its market share guzzled away first by the arrival of Shimano’s top-end groupsets in the 70s and then by the blitzkrieg unleashed by the new kids on the block, Sram.

the unexpected bike boom in the US in the mid-70s could be pinpointed as the moment when Campy left the door a little too ajar – with the European manufacturers stuggling to keep up with demand, in stepped Shimano and Suntour, ready and more than willing to fill the void. whilst Suntour kinda screwed the pooch, the top brass at Shimano focused on taming the beast, and now, some 30 years later, over 50% of the global bike component market belongs to the Japanese company.

on into the 80s and Shimano kept on keepin’ on, bringing in lower-end gruppos, MTB groupsets and index shifting (SIS) and Campagnolo were suddenly losing the top pro teams too. it might be urban myth (and this story would have to be mid 90s anyway) but there’s a tale that says Frank Vandenbroucke refused to agree to shift from Campy to Shimano when his team changed groupset suppliers – until the mechanics one day presented him with a Shimano-equipped bike, and that was that. one ride and he was a convert.

the legendary Frank Vandenbroucke

as if all this wasn’t enough to cause hysteria in the manner of the Italian stereotype, along came a bunch of grunts in short trousers, covered in sparkles and with their keyboard stuck on caps – that’s right, SRAM. a mere ten years or so after its inception, Sram managed to get their stuff into the Euro peloton and then proceeded (thanks to everyone’s favorite meat muncher, Alberto Contador), win both the Giro and the Vuelta in 2008, followed by the Tour de France in 2009. its Red gruppo was the first under 2kg, looked kinda funky and was all wrapped up with some very aggressive marketing.

Campy was getting spanked. yet Campagnolo will always have its adherents, those that love its Italianness, its history and its sense of style. the company sits uneasily though in a kind of philosophical neutral zone. if they push on and alter the nature of their product and name too much, they risk alienating those that are currently loyal to their brand. however if they rest on their laurels any longer, they’ll be sat on nothing but dry, brittle leaves.

it’s harsh to say but Campagnolo’s current image is much akin to a well-coiffured elder statesman who, though once virile and lusty, is now rather wrinkled, rheumy and in need of Viagra to get anywhere above a 30 degree elevation.  they may wish to appeal to the younger market, but how to do that whilst relying so heavily on history? lest we forget, we live in a world where many under 30 consider the film Titanic to be old. anything before ’95 is positively decrepit…

I caught up with Dino Cento, Campagnolo’s global sales director at the recent Taichung Bike Week to find out more about Campagnolo 2013 and about the direction of the company.

cp: we’re just looking here at the new triathlon-specific Campy groupsets. is that a new thing for Campagnolo?

Dino Cento: yes. we were definitely weak in the triathlon world and now we are gaining confidence by working for example with a brand like Cervelo, also Felt. we are really close now to the biggest players in the market in terms of frame builders. in the future triathlon will be more and more important for Campagnolo. we also have now the three electronic gruppos, Super Record, Record and Athena, and we believe in the electronic groupset.

Camagnolo’s top tri-specific crankset

in the next 2 or 3 years we believe the majority of top bikes will be electronic. we also have some new entry-level wheels coming next year and are investing a lot here in Taiwan, with 4 wheelsets available here. the interest in Taiwan in Campagnolo is increasing a lot.

cp: what is your focus on the Asian market? which is the most successful market in Asia for Campagnolo?

DC: Japan. in the last two years Japan has grown incredibly for us, this not as much but still it is good. in the last 3 years we have doubled sales in Japan.

the very affable Dino Cento

cp: why is that?

DC: they recognise the name of course, and the wheels are very high quality. the Japanese buy a lot of high end products such as Bora wheels, and then you have the popularity in Japan of the Italian bike builders such as De Rosa and Colnago.

cp: i lived in Japan for ten years, and despite the rise elsewhere of Cervelo, in Japan i saw very few, yet they love the Italian ‘homemade’ brands – despite the fact they may actually be made outside Europe…

DC: well as you know, Colnago in Japan is a legend. also De Rosa, they sell a lot with our Veloce group, we’ve seen a 20% increase this year. also in Indonesia and Thailand we are growing, but we need more growth in Australia. i want to see a specific strategy for us there and that is something i’m working on.

cp: can you tell me a bit about the Campagnolo marketing strategy? in Italy of course you probably don’t need one, but how about elsewhere? when planning do you think consider Sram and Shimano? or just follow the Campagnolo way?

DC: well, Sram is of course very strong on marketing. everyone recognises us to be strong on the product. we need to improve our marketing in general. of course the other two are bigger than us, but we are more linked with product than with advertising. it’s not our style to say ‘we are the best!’ we are more in the field.

on the other hand, we do need to build better connections with young people, i think that this is something that we have to improve. i think that, especially as we don’t have an MTB groupset, we need this connection to be strengthened. but, we do have a top quality product, and i think that our triathlon gruppos will help us be closer to the modern generation. remember next year is the 80th anniversary of Campoagnolo.

cp: all the Italian brands, clothing, cars, bikes, the sense is that these are companies that make things for grown ups. a nice suit, a Ferrari, they’re adult things. whereas Japanese companies can borrow that sort of funkiness, the connotation of dynamism – whether actually true or not – and with America it’s that sort on in-you-face aggression that has caught on around the world.

DC: yes, it’s true.

cp: how about the pro cycling teams – are they very important to your strategy?

DC: yes, next year we will increase our support of pro teams and you’ll see more riders on Campagnolo. we saw a reduction in our presence in the pro peloton thanks to the coming of Sram, but thanks to our electronic gruppos we are winning some back. it is much easier to get teams. next year we will have Ag2r and a couple more teams, and that’s thanks to electronic. about 75% of our riders will be on electronic.

cp: do you ride a bike?

DC: yes, yes i do.

cp: how long have you been riding?

DC: more than 30 years! about 20 years go i did 20-30 triathlons in one season, all over the world, Canada, all over Europe. i love riding but with the kids and the job, time is not easy to grab hold of.

cp: what’s your favorite ride in the world?

DC: the world?

cp: yep.

DC: my favorite? well i loved this ride in Turin, into the mountains. i had a house close to Sestriere, and there are many of the famous climbs of the Tour de France close by, and the ride up the Iozard is my favorite, it was just amazing. also, the roads on the Cote d’Azur, just beautiful.

the Col d’Iozard

cp: great, thanks Dino, very interesting and good luck!

DC: thank you.

8 comments

  1. Andrew

    I never thought I’d like Campy. Now, with two years of it after too many struggles with Shimano, I can’t imagine anything else. Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo all have excellent systems that do exactly what they are supposed to do.

    It really depends on generating demand through marketing and getting the groups on the bikes ridden by winning teams. A cyclist’s job is to attract consumers to products. Campy was caught napping in this regard and, as you pointed out, sought to leverage its tradition as a marketing tool. Consumers have short memories and want whatever the pros are using. Tradition means squat.

    The name that shall not be spoken played an integral role in introducing SRAM to the market. The first generations of SRAM road groups were less refined and had some niggling engineering issues that made them arguably inferior to both Shimano and Campagnolo, but they grabbed some serious marketshare for being light and especially with the endorsements from some of the biggest names in cycling. Winning the imagination of the consumer makes all the difference.

    For me, I prefer Campy for the ergo hoods and easy shifting for my short fingers. I have more shifting options from more places on the bars. Lots of people may also like these attributes, but until Campy starts winning more big races, fewer riders will be willing to look less pro.

  2. crankpunk

    thanks for the comment Andrew, much appreciated! yeah it’s been over 20 years since i rode Campy but i’m keen to give it another go – it was awesome back then. Sram played a smart game, bringing that little bit of rock ‘n roll to a very staid market. having said that though, i’d say most experienced riders i know feel that Shimano is better, day by day. the advent of electronics could be interesting though in this regards, because very quickly you can see/feel the flaws/benefits of different systems. already Shimano’s Di2 looks more compact battery-wise than Campy’s, which is a critical point for many. IF though Campy can nail the shifting and compete on price, could be intriguing to see what happens. what is interesting though is that Campy themselves see their brand as ‘niche’. maybe they have to get past that way of thinking to truly become a major player again…

  3. Arthur Monty

    After twenty years on Campy, I’m now switching to Sram, I’m not interested in electronic shifting, or moving to 11 speeds, ten is fine, and I love the crisp shifting of Sram, plus Campy has gotten way too expensive since the dollar/euro exchange is so poor.

  4. crankpunk

    yeah they don’t do themselves many favors on pricing. Sram does have that crispiness to it, though after racing on it for a season i’ve found the shifters can get a little ‘tight’ – RD needs maintaining more than Shimano in my experience too. the Force group is great value for money though i think, better than Ultegra on a few points. personally i prefer the shimano smoothness and have found their FD is the most reliable too. gonna try to get my hands on a Campy set though… be interested to hear what you think of Sram, Arthur, let us know

    • Arthur Monty

      Will let you know what I think after at least a partial season, I was sad to leave Campy, but price did have something to do with it, and I’m not a fan of Shimano, regardless of how well it performs, I also needed a cassette that gave me a better choice of gears, I’ve been riding a 13/28, and found that the 13 wasn’t large enough, and I had a tendency to spin it out on descending , but, need the 28 to climb the cols in southern France where I spend half the year.

  5. crankpunk

    the cols in Southern France eh, sounds like a tough life you have! good luck with the Sram, you should also feel the weight benefit too – the only drawback being you now have no excuses – crank on Arthur!

  6. zhwang

    I think a major problem with Campagnolo is the downgrading of their lower end groupsets and thinking only of putting more and more carbon fibre or titanium bits on their higher groupsets.

    Their Veloce groupset has lost more and more features since 2008-9 that were standard before that – the move to PowerTorque cranks (which are a nightmare for a home mechanic compared to any other external cup BB or square taper BB, just google the park tool tutorial to see), the loss of UltraShift – the thumbshift button on anything below a Chorus groupset only lets you shift to smaller cog one at a time, rather like the mechanical Shimano small shift paddle.

    Compare this to a 2010 Veloce where you could upshift 5 cogs at a time with one full thumb shifter press. Again, compare this to a 2002 Veloce groupset which you could shift 8-9 cogs; the entire range of the cassette, with one full press of the shifter. Contrast this to Shimano/Sram where their mechanical groupsets are all functionally identical across their range.

    Whereas Shimano and SRAM are allowing trickle-down technology to occur with their groups, Campagnolo are actively crippling and downgrading their lower end groupsets. Especially for the meat of the market – the lower end – their prices for components are far too high. Veloce/Centaur rear derailleurs, cassettes and cranksets are usually twice the price of equivalent Tiagra/105/Apex/Rival components.

    Centaur/Athena have all of the functional disadvantages associated with Veloce, except with the option of carbon fibre (their carbon fibre shifters are heavier than their alloy ones FYI). Athena mechanical has the additional disadvantage of needing a €130 Chorus-11 cassette. Ultegra and Force cassettes are less than half this price.

    Unless you go big (Chorus-11 or Athena-11 EPS or higher) there’s no point as you’re just buying functionally and purposefully crippled gear with expensive replacement parts. While I understand they need to diversify and separate their product lines, downgrading functionality is a really dirty move that they cant really justify by any means. I can easily see why Campagnolo is looked at as a snobby groupset; the company isn’t even trying to be competitive in anything except the high end market of Chorus or higher, and at that it’s doing a bad job.

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