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There were many firsts as Ángel Madrazo (Burgos-BH) crested the final climb to win stage 5 of the Vuelta a España. It was the first Grand Tour win for the Spanish rider, the first Grand Tour stage win for the Pro-Continental squad – a stage in which they also took second place – and there was something unique on the tech front, too: it was the first men’s WorldTour win for Full Speed Ahead’s (FSA) K-Force WE groupset.
FSA’s wireless groupset has been a long time in the making and has been raced intermittently in both the men’s and women’s professional pelotons for many years. For example, we took a look at a relatively polished prototype version as far back as the 2016 Tour de France, and saw what looked like a production-ready version being raced at the 2018 Santos Women’s Tour Down Under. And while FSA formally released the groupset for sale this year, it’s remained a pretty rare sight.
The Burgos-BH team are racing a mix of BH’s light and aero G8 Disc, and the even lighter Ultralight Evo Disc, neither of which you see much of outside of Europe. The bikes are equipped with FSA’s K-Force WE Disc groupset, a product that officially unveiled for sale during the Taipei Cycle Show earlier this year.
FSA’s 11-speed electronic drivetrain is best defined as a semi-wireless system. Using the ANT+ protocol, the shifters (powered with coin cell batteries, much like SRAM eTap) communicate wirelessly with the front derailleur. From there, both the front and rear derailleurs are wired together, sharing an internal battery (typically kept within the seatpost, like current Shimano Di2). The main battery is charged by unplugging the wire at the rear derailleur, and connecting it to the USB charger.
As a complete groupset, FSA uses its own K-Force cranks, chains, cassettes and brake calipers to complete the package. Cranks are obviously FSA’s bread and butter, but the company has also dabbled in hydraulic brakes with its own mountain bike brakes hitting the market some five years ago.
It’s a groupset we’re still yet to ride in its current production form, but we’ll likely do so in the near future. In the meantime, some big questions remain on whether FSA’s significant and on-going investment pays off. How much is FSA’s original equipment manufacturer (OEM) pulling-power going to help with getting the groupset equipped to popular and premium bikes? Has FSA done enough to entice people away from three other well-dialled electronic options? And will FSA’s new 11-speed group suddenly seem out-dated if/when Shimano joins Campagnolo and SRAM in offering 12-speed cassettes?
All those questions, and more, lie in the future – along with, Burgos-BH will be hoping, more stage wins.