I've been reflecting - despite the best efforts of other manufacturers Campag held sway up to and including the 80s - beautiful, impeccable palmeres, idiosyncratic, Italian. Then.....
The 90s were not a good decade for Campag. Super Record was long gone, replaced by C-Record which portrayed all the bland beauty of Brad Pitt. Despite the demise of Suntour (has there been a prettier group than Superbe Pro?), Shimano held sway with the dominance of Lance and the prevelance of STIs in the pro peleton.
For what it's worth, I disagree as well. Campag earned its dominance in the sixties and early seventies by producing beautiful parts of the highest quality. They carved out such a niche that with a few exceptions they had the top rung entirely to themselves. A few French companies continued to do their own thing, as French companies will, but nearly every other manufacturer earned its bread and butter making Campag rip-offs. That holds true right up to the first Shimano XT large-flange hubs - beefy copies of Record.
But, objectively, was Super Record so wonderful? The bearings and finish were of the highest quality, but sealing was pretty much non-existant (we don't ride in the rain, do we?), pedal cages couldn't be changed, and the cranks had a fatigue fault that went uncorrected for fifteen years. If it defined a period, it was through lack of real competition. By 1980 it looks primitive.
Things began to change in the eighties as technology, and increased competition from Shimano, Suntour, and Mavic began to enter the picture. C-Record is a real step up in refinement from Super Record. Compare the lovely Delta brake with the cheesy Cobalto - a Record caliper with a blue plastic "jewel" glued to the pivot bolt! C-Record cranks are beautifully finished front and rear, and finally did away with the fatigue-prone spider junction. Cassette hubs arrived. Headsets finally got o-ring seals and grease injection. The pedals got better and better, culminating in the beautiful TBS with a sealed cartridge axle. And indexing ... well, let's not talk about that.
Campag didn't skimp on the lower groups either. Remember those lovely big art-deco Triomphe pedals? Or the Monoplanar brakes?
Superbe Pro, I agree, was lovely by the late eighties, but never had much impact on the European peleton. Mavic were doing good things in the eighties, but didn't really hit their stride (in my view) until the mid nineties, by which time their lack of a viable STI/Ergo competitor made them a marginal choice. Shimano cracked indexed gears, but they really didn't make anything classy for road bikes until the 7700 group - and their first
TdF victories with Armstrong in 1999 after a decade dominated by Campag (five years of Indurain, then Riis, Ulrich and Pantani).
After that, well, who cares? I stop at 9-speed.
Calmes dans le demi-jour
Que les branches hautes font,
Pénétrons bien notre amour
De ce silence profond.