How Cervélo developed from an underfunded uni project into one of the highest profile bike brands in the world

Anna Dopico, wife of Cervélo co-founder Phil White, has told the story of the brand in her award winning book To Make Riders Faster

(Image credit: Andrew Sydenham)

Nowadays, no brand is without its aero road bike and endurance bikes are increasingly adding aero features. That’s largely thanks to the industry-disrupting role of Cervélo Cycles.

Now Anna Dopico has written a book telling the story of Cervélo. It follows the company’s development from its founding by her husband Phil White and Gerard Vroomen in 1995, through its Tour de France win in 2008 to its financial and organisational struggles as its success boomed in the 2010s.

We met up with Dopico and White at Look Mum No Hands (opens in new tab) last week, ahead of her talk there as part of a speaking tour of the UK to promote To Make Riders Faster.

Dopico says that she never expected to write a book, until she and White were with 70 other riders on a group bike tour taking in Mont Ventoux. When their fellow riders found out that she and White were behind Cervélo, the questions didn’t stop and she realised that the story of the brand would make a great book.

Anna Dopico had an inside seat to write the story of Cervélo

To Make Riders Faster starts when White and Vroomen met up as students at the composites lab at McGill University in 1995, with both interested in time trial bike aerodynamics. With the growth of triathlon, Cervélo’s slippery bikes were quickly taken up by triathletes, eager to gain a competitive advantage.

>>> Cervélo bikes 2019: ultimate guide

Cracking the road bike market was more difficult, with one Italian marque telling them that its pros would always ride Italian round steel tubed bikes, full stop.

Signing up CSC to ride Cervélo’s bikes

Things changed when they signed a sponsorship agreement with Bjarne Riis at CSC. The team were 14th in the rankings, but on Cervélo’s bikes they started to win, with climber Laurent Jalabert’s second place to Lance Armstrong in the 2002 Tour de France Prologue on a rebadged P3 and Tyler Hamilton’s 2003 win at Liege-Bastogne-Liege on a Soloist making people sit up and take notice. CSC were the number one ranked team for three of the six years that they rode Cervélo.

Julien Dean riding a Cervélo Soloist for CSC. Credit Graham Watson

When CSC and Cervélo parted ways, White and Vroomen set up the Cervélo TestTeam to continue the brand’s involvement in racing. At the same time, the demands of its global expansion meant that the brand’s finances became increasingly strained. Dopico has been ruthlessly honest in describing Cervélo’s struggles and their effects on the relationships between its key personnel.

Eventually, in 2012, the brand was bought by Dutch firm Pon Holdings, with White serving as Pon’s Chief Innovation Officer until 2017.

To Make Riders Faster by Anna Dopico is published by A Dopico Consulting Inc and is available from the book’s website (opens in new tab) priced at CAD69.95, as well from Sigma Sports (opens in new tab), priced at £39.

Dopico has peppered the book with anecdotes from her time at Cervélo. Her favourite is when the CFO decided to take a prototype for a spin down the hall. Half way along, he discovered that the brakes hadn’t been cabled up. There was a loud crash as he collided with a desk.

Johan Van Summeren on his way to winning Paris-Roubaix on a Cervélo in 2011 Photo :Sunada
(Image credit: Yuzuru SUNADA)

Above all she recalls the atmosphere and the strong culture they built amongst the staff at Cervélo: “They were incredibly passionate, incredibly caring and dedicated,” she says.

And White comments: “I don’t think we realized as we were going through it what we were doing and how we were building something that was actually pretty special.

“In some ways we transformed the industry – when we started they were all racing round tubed steel bikes, 15 years later they were all riding aero bikes.”

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Paul Norman

Paul started writing for Cycling Weekly in 2015, covering cycling tech, new bikes and product testing. Since then, he’s reviewed hundreds of bikes and thousands of other pieces of cycling equipment for the magazine and the Cycling Weekly website.

He’s been cycling for a lot longer than that though and his travels by bike have taken him all around Europe and to California. He’s been riding gravel since before gravel bikes existed too, riding a cyclocross bike through the Chilterns and along the South Downs.