We study properties of the space of horizontal paths joining the origin with a vertical point on a generic two-step Carnot group. The energy is a Morse-Bott functional on paths and its critical points (sub-Riemannian geodesics) appear in families (compact critical manifolds) with controlled topology. We study the asymptotic of the number of critical manifolds as the energy grows. The topology of the horizontal-path space is also investigated, and we find asymptotic results for the total Betti number of the sublevels of the energy as it goes to infinity. We interpret these results as local invariants of the sub-Riemannian structure.

%B Geometry & Topology %I Mathematical Sciences Publishers %V 19 %P 1569–1630 %G eng %R 10.2140/gt.2015.19.1569