Icons of cycling: Campagnolo Shamal wheels

This aero wheelset changed road racing

Calling a bike or a piece of cycling equipment a ‘weapon’ has become cliché. However, there’s no better way to describe the Campagnolo Shamal.

Between the dropouts of the Gewiss team’s De Rosas, the glinting silver rim became a cutlass with which the Italian team would slice its way to a series of incredible victories in 1994.

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OK, everybody now knows that the Italian team’s dominance that year wasn’t just down to its new aerodynamic wheel, but the Campagnolo Shamal was much more than a decoy for the first systematic EPO-doping programme in professional cycling.

Perhaps, as with US Postal between 1999 and 2005, equipment technology and performance-enhancing drugs converged at a point unreachable by other teams.

Gewiss had the Campagnolo Shamal; US Postal had the Trek Madone and Equinox plus custom Giro helmets for its leader. Both teams had Dr Michele Ferrari.

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Before the Shamal, aerodynamic wheels were solely for time trialling. So Campagnolo in 1993 introduced what it called the “forefather of a new generation of wheels aimed at all categories of user”.

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Campagnolo claimed to be the first cycling manufacturer to use NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) research to create not just a rim profile but an entire wheel whose component parts worked together to penetrate the air more efficiently than anything else available at the time. Hence the Shamal can justifiably claim to be the first factory-built aero wheelset.

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The recessed spoke nipples were hidden inside the rim. The spokes themselves — also designed using NACA curve research — were lenticular in cross section and there were just 16 per wheel in the first-generation Shamal, an impossibly low number for the time.

Campagnolo claimed 1,885g for the tubular Shamal wheelset, which was very respectable for an all-metal construction but certainly not climbing-wheel light. That didn’t stop Gewiss from using them for all their road races.

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The most famous and devastating victory for Gewiss on their Shamals was the 1994 Flèche Wallonne one-two-three.

Moreno Argentin, Giorgio Furlan and Evgeni Berzin simply rode away from a world-class field, cruised up the Mur de Huy twice more and finished over a minute clear of Gianni Bugno in fourth, with Berzin just behind Argentin and Furlan.

In the post-race press conference Ferrari gave nothing away about the team’s alleged EPO use, but he said, infamously, that the drug was no more dangerous than orange juice.

A year later Campagnolo’s carbon-fibre Bora superseded the Shamal, but the polished aluminium wheel remained a favourite among amateur British time triallists for years after its pro zenith.

It performed extremely well in the wind tunnel tests of 20 years ago, which were less sophisticated than those of today, and was cheap compared with the specialist carbon wheels from HED and Zipp.

The first-generation eight-speed Shamal is now rare, according to Nigel Scott of Campyoldy.com, the UK’s leading vintage Campagnolo expert. The Shamal name is still in use, but the modern version bears no resemblance to the original.