There’s an interesting article on Velonews by their tech guru Leonard Zinn, brought to my attention by Twitter’s Velocentric. Zinn knows his stuff but this time I think he’s confusing correlation with causation. The piece boils down to this idea:
Armstrong was a major driving force behind the rapid adoption of molded carbon fiber bikes. His winning of the Tour on a stock frame in 1999 was unheard of in the postwar era.
I believe both Pantani and Ullrich had used stock frames from Bianchi and Pinarello respectively. Yes Miguel Indurain’s Pinarello was at times actually built by Dario Pegoretti, the same builder had earlier made the Carrera frames for Pantani too.
By 1999 and 2000 frame building was ceasing to be the preserve of artisan builders and welders, it was heading down the route of mass production. It wasn’t just Trek. Scott created the lightweight “Team Issue” road frame and arguably it was Giant that lead the way with mass-produced carbon fibre; there were others too. Armstrong’s performances certainly helped Trek’s sales but to say he changed anything is pushing it.
No, I think Armstrong’s wins coincided with the arrival of mass manufacturing in Asia and the mastery of composite technology. Carbon fibre became more available as the technology slowly became adopted beyond specialist military use. At the same time the rise of the “Asian Tiger” economies as manufacturing shops for the West started in the 1990s and then the growth of Chinese manufacturing took off soon after.
Simply put the business of building bikes changed enormously and Armstrong’s wins were coincidental with the changing patterns of global trade.