On a Tuesday in January, in the middle of the northern hemisphere’s winter, a photo popped up on social media that made you stop and look. The photo at the top of this article. It contains a host of top-tier professional cyclists carefully arranged in front of … what is that? A wind tunnel??
Not just any wind tunnel, but the Win Tunnel at Specialized’s Morgan Hill, California Innovation Center. Because their riders win … ? Ah, you wouldn’t get it …
Right, so this is marketing?
Yes! Of course, yes. But it’s different from the usual fare. It’s different. It speaks to the “glamour of old Hollywood and the legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz,” according to Specialized’s press release, a handy name-check since the famed portrait photographer was in no way involved other than perhaps providing inspiration.
Somewhere in between the Kim Kardashian internet-breaking Paper magazine cover and the tired format of a rider pulling at the sleeve of their new jersey, staring at it intently as if sleeves are a brand new concept they are only just now becoming accustomed to, sits this photoshoot. To the often traditional, ‘this is how we do things’ world of professional cycling, getting the riders properly dressed up in their glad rags is enough to spark curiosity.
So, are we doing the devil’s work by getting sucked in to do a bike company’s marketing for them, and at a price of $0? Sure. Should we encourage bike company marketing to be less sterile and more fun and interesting? Also yes. Have we done some additional digging to let you know the story behind this unexpected photograph. Also yes!
But first of all, let’s dissect the photo, going from left to right, and explain what’s going on.
Jai Hindley. Left foot forward, leaning against a box draped in a red cloth, other hand on his hip, like a cycling George Clooney effortlessly trying to sell me the latest Nespresso machine. Lotte Kopecky and Primož Roglič come next, looking the most regal. Straight backs, slightly upturned noses, they could be characters depicted in an oil painting hanging on the wall of a stately home, the commission paid for with the loot of some now long-forgotten atrocity.
Demi Vollering is next and appears to both be the only one whose hair has been affected by the turbines behind, and whose manner most reflects the stated ‘Met Ball’ theme. Remco Evenepoel either looks like a father at a wedding watching someone dancing with his daughter and who is primed to intervene at any second, or one of those men from targeted social media ads that tells you how you’re going to earn $10,000 a month and drive a Lamborghini with only eight hours of work (news flash: you are not).
The name is Alaphilippe, Julian Alaphilippe as the new zero-zero-sept takes on his first task as a secret agent: avenging his cousin Franck’s sacking by creeping into Patrick Lefevere’s house before he gets home in the evening and scaring the bejesus out of him by appearing from behind the curtain as his manager sits down to quaff a large glass of red wine after another long day of using the media as a stick with which to beat his riders. Lorena Wiebes looks like Galadriel out of Lord of the Rings and Kasper Asgreen is at the same wedding as Remco Evenepoel but has drunk seventeen more beers.
Was this an actual photoshoot that happened? Yes and no. The photo is from four separate photoshoots, with only four of the riders actually photographed in the Win Tunnel. Bora bois Hindley and Roglič were shot when they went to Morgan Hill for aero testing in early November before Evenepoel and Asgreen repeated the process two weeks later during their own trip. The SD Worx-Protime riders were photographed at a team camp in Xabia (southern Spain) in December and then Alaphilippe was the last domino to fall into place, getting snapped at a Soudal-Quick Step meet in Calpe (also Spain).
For extra information, we sent off some questions to Pete Panciera, who is Specialized’s Leader of Brand Design, which is a cool title. Maybe I can be Escape Collective’s Leader of Sometimes Making People Very Angry In The Comments Section? I’ll pitch it to Wade and Caley at my next 1:1 meeting. [That’s actually a 1:2 meeting. – Ed.]
How did the riders react when you told them the plan? Were any of them in particular relishing the chance to chuck a tuxedo on? (It looks like Kasper Asgreen was)
All of the riders that we shot with were totally on board to get dressed up and were excited to participate in making the concept come to life. I think it took the riders out of their normal routine and are some of the first shoots we’ve ever done where the riders weren’t in a hurry to finish – some of them even asked for more takes.
I think Remco was the most excited of the group – he was eager to make sure he took the tux home! The ladies were enthusiastic as well, and we (hope) it was fun for them to get a little spa-like treatment in the hair and makeup chair.
How much direction did the individual athletes have with their poses? Or were many different poses taken to find the perfect one? As in, did Remco elect to sit down (as all ‘good’ pro cyclists should limit their time standing up) and did Jai decide he fancied a lean with left foot pointing forward?
We had a very tight sketch of exactly how each rider had to pose. We executed this shoot in two countries, three studio locations, and four separate photoshoots, so it was extremely technical to pull off. Before we even started, we knew exactly where each person needed to sit or stand, and how it would get composited together later.
That said, getting people into those poses is always funny. We tried to model the poses for the riders first, and then have them copy us. There is a lot of adjusting elbows, facial positions, and telling the riders where to fix their gaze.
Finally, were the tuxes rented?
The tuxes were bought. We had some beautiful suits from Hugo Boss as the sponsor of Bora-Hansgrohe, and other really nice menswear hand selected by our stylist, Lisa Moir. We tailored each suit to the rider, so no rentals. In fact, take a look at the suit Remco wore to the Belgian Sportsman of the Year Award. Look familiar?
If you look closely, you can see the watch that Julian Alaphillipe gifted Kasper Asgreen after the Tour de France, and Julian’s beautiful Richard Mille timepiece. It’s all in the details.
There you have it, enjoy the free promotion Specialized, your plan worked. Hope you’re happy. But also thank you for a fun photo.
What happens now? Maybe this article appears in the next quarterly Specialized marketing meeting in a section called “wins” on a slide titled “media cut-through.” Maybe two employees high-five each other at having effortlessly placed their brand in these rigorously independent pages, and influencing our readers that Specialized are one of the good guys who you should give your money to. Maybe they don’t care at all and it’s all about social media performance metrics these days. If that’s the case, I’d rather not know.
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