The event was attended by Giro d’Italia star Simon Yates, who later presented Lewis Hamilton with an award for posting the fastest lap in qualifying.
Mitchelton-Scott has been testing with Pirelli products since the turn of the year, totting up thousands of kilometres in racing and in training with the team set to use the PZero Velo range on a full-scale level at July’s Tour, where Adam Yates will lead their GC chances.
Pirelli supplies all Formula One teams with tyres, but Saturday’s announcement marks their first venture into cycling’s WorldTour. They currently supply Aqua Blue Sports at Pro Continental level and launched their cycling road range in 2017. There are no current plans for Pirelli to work with other leading WorldTour teams, or to step up and become a title sponsor, but news of their arrival on the WorldTour stage is certainly a positive step with cycling with several teams, including BMC Racing, struggling to attract top-level investment.
“With Mitchelton, there are a lot of opportunities and they share the same approach,” Antonella Lauriola, COO of Pirelli Business Unit Velo at Pirelli, told Cyclingnews at the event.
“We started with our product but we wanted to test in a race environment and improve the product and move forward together. This is another stage in the development. We had an agreement with Aqua Blue, so it’s a matter of going step-by-step. That’s why we launched our road race range last year, and why we launched the Cintuarto, our first tubeless tyre. We use competition and racing to help innovate our products. We are quick to develop, as we are in F1, but Mitchelton can help us and we can help them.”
We’re like a start-up
Pirelli has a global workforce of around 26,000, and while the cycling branch of the company is able to tap into the resources surrounding research and development, they are still just a small piece of the company’s footprint. That said, the 20 or so full-timers on cycling, have already made a significant impression.
“The tyre is arguably the most important piece of equipment available to a professional road cyclist. There’s an incredible amount of trust that goes into a very small contact patch to the road,” Mitchelton-SCOTT High-Performance Manager Kevin Tabotta explained.
“We have been really happy with the development of the tyres. Pirelli has been excellent in the way they’ve communicated with our athletes and taken on board their feedback. We have ended up with a fantastic fast, grippy, comfortable tyre that handles incredibly well.”
For Lauriola, who works out of the company’s Italian base in Milan, the chance to work with Mitchelton was a unique opportunity, but she also added that while the cycling division of Pirelli was still relatively young, it is making important strides. For example, the collaboration between the Italian tyre manufacturer took several months to pull together and involved Pirelli’s own testers spending significant time with the team and their riders in modifying and improving the product.
“We started from scratch from within the company,” she told Cyclingnews. “We started in June last year and came from within the company. We approached it like a start-up as well. That meant that we did things step-by-step and grew from there.
Given the fragility within the cycling world, and that several teams including Mitchelton-Scott are looking for long-term investment, the inevitable question for Pirelli is whether they see this as a test for future collaborations with other teams, or the chance to see if a title or sub-title sponsorship of a squad is desirable.
“Who knows? I can’t say yes or no but never say never,” Lauriola said with a smile.
“We are really strong with brand awareness and for us, it’s important to be represented with credibility in technology and product. So, we made this choice to focus on a technical partnership. That’s what we’ll maintain the relationship with this step. Pirelli is a well-known brand but the opportunity now is to show that we are strong in cycling and develop. This project helps us with credibility in cycling.”
When Yates was called upon to show off his Scott Addict to the press and photographers he was introduced by Piero Misani, Pirelli’s R&D, and Industrial Director. The Italian later explained there were challenges in delivering a product to a new market but that satisfying the rider was a paramount aim.
“We tried to benefit from the different synergies that we have across the business and these apply to when you get to research and development. It’s true that a bicycle tyre is totally different from a motorcycle one, even though some of the construction is similar, but the biggest experience for us comes through materials. The needs are always the same. You need to give the riders confidence and safety, while also having the lowest rolling resistance. It’s not just about sponsorship. The key is to develop together. It’s a partnership.”
Lauriola added that Pirelli’s added ambition was to complete the circle for prospective customers, before hinting that future partnerships and development could be around the corner.
“This is a big opportunity because the passion of Pirelli is in line with the passion that’s in cycling. There’s a high-end target and we want to complete the circle for the customer who might be buying car tyres, motorcycle tyres and now ones for the bike. It’s also a challenge for us from a product point of view but we see cycling as a growing market. You can also look at the growth of electronic bikes but we want to be there for the customers of the future and we know that the cycling market is growing. We’ve started with the performance world but new mobility and the electric market are also areas."