We tried to get scammed by Peter Sagan

... with a pair of off-brand Air Jordan basketball shoes.

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Cyclists don’t, as a rule, ‘transcend’. It takes a big name and a bigger personality to escape the cycling bubble: an Armstrong, a Cavendish, and yes, a Peter Sagan. It’s those rare few that have marketing potential beyond the bubble.

And in the mainstream, if you can get there? There’s a whole lot of money. There’s also plenty of potential for weird shit to happen.

Examples: Peter Sagan lending his body and best bedroom face to shower commercials. Peter Sagan showing teammates his sweet potato. Peter Sagan doing elaborate cosplay of a song from Grease for a Jerusalem artichoke extract company. Peter Sagan’s gumby-faced memorial coin

So when an ad was served up on Facebook for a terrible-looking pair of Peter Sagan Air Jordans, you will understand, my interest was piqued.

Was it a fraud risk? Oh, 100%. But could I categorically say that Peter Sagan had not signed off on it? The dude has a history of hitching his wagon to wonky donkeys.  

And besides, I wanted a little excitement in my life. If it came from having my employer’s credit card details stolen by some amorphous conglomerate of affiliate marketers, I was willing to roll the dice. 

I wanted CyclingTips to get scammed by Peter Sagan, and I wanted it to happen with a pair of bad-looking basketball shoes.

Let’s back up a little

A couple of months ago, I wrote a story about an apparently excellent handlebar bag, the designers of which had found themselves victim of an elaborate scam. The imagery of the bag had been stolen and repurposed by parties unknown, and hundreds or thousands of people had bought what they thought would be something good and received something that very much wasn’t. 

So when the Air Sagans came stomping to my attention, they were accompanied by many, many red flags. 

The Air Sagans had the approximate shape of Nike’s beloved Air Jordan 13s, complete with Peter Sagan’s brandmark on the tongue and a Bora-Hansgrohe-adjacent colour scheme. But they also didn’t cost nearly enough, and looked like a rough computer rendering. Most tellingly, they came from a website that was called Luxpu.com which, uh, only looked like the second half of that name.

Here’s the part where I would dress this story up as a meditation on the opacity of global supply chains; the unseen, sinister forces of marketing, and the various ways that we are complicit in our own deception. The value of a brand. The value of a name. Its gravitational pull. The compromises that all of those things usher a consumer toward. 

I would do that, but in this case it would be disingenuous. I didn’t want to write that story. My creative urges were more primal. 

Bad Sagan Shoes. That was truly all I wanted. 

Buying some boots

Because I am A Good Boy, I got approval from my direct superior for a very silly expense, placed an order, and waited. 

And waited some more. 

Trust in the Workplace: A Case Study

Unbeknownst to me, my colleague in Colorado, Mikey Better, had a similarly visceral urge for Bad Sagan Shoes. In the labyrinthine digital bowels of Luxpu, he’d found an even more lurid pair of rainbow-themed shoes commemorating the Slovakian’s astonishing three-year run as world champion. 

They looked fucking terrible. Mikey seemed very pleased, and I was jealous I hadn’t spotted them first. 

Good grief.

So: CyclingTips Media Pty. Ltd. was two pairs in the hole, and Luxpu had US$140 of our real money for some very possibly fake basketball shoes. An excellent day’s work.

It took about a week before it became clear that we’d been scammed. The money had come out, but there’d been no shipping confirmation or any details provided.

I can’t speak for Mikey, but I wasn’t particularly fazed. I was – and remain – much more interested in the idea of the Bad Sagan Shoes than the physical artefact itself. 

Nonetheless, even if the shoes themselves were fake, there were real questions to answer. 

Unravelling the web

First step: I sent an email to Peter Sagan. 

Actually, that sounds like I have his personal email address, so I’ll walk it back a few steps. I sent an email (and a follow-up) to Peter Sagan’s marketing and media people; the people responsible for his brand identity. 

I was polite but direct, and asked whether the Bad Sagan Shoes represented an official collaboration. I’ll grant that this was probably a strange request for Sagan & Co. to field on a Monday morning, but have you seen his commemorative coin? It’s totally a fair question. 

I like to imagine my emails led to an initially hushed, then increasingly strident, conversation in Slovak between Peter, Juraj, Marlon and sundry Sagans big and small. 

“Peter will make his own decisions; I will say only this,” Juraj sighed wearily.

Unfortunately I can only imagine that, because despite kindly tipping Team Sagan off to the fact that their man was being used to scam people into buying fake Air Jordans, they did not give me the courtesy of a response.

So I began to look into Luxpu.

Luxpu, I learnt, is “an exclusive store for the world’s best animal themed apparels such as lion, donkey, mouse and so on.”

It’s the ‘and so on’ that gets me. So casually dispensed.

Quite aside from the lion, donkey, and mouse-themed apparels, Luxpu’s core specialisation seems to be desperately unfunny slogan T-shirts. Featured on the front page currently are a number of designs that celebrate the special bond between a child and its father’s wallet.

There’s a lot of weird paternalistic bullshit, in fact. “I may find my prince,” one reads, “but my dad will always be my king.” 

🤢 🤢 🤢

(As a father myself, I am obliged to stress that I would not be seen dead in most of Luxpu’s offerings and my daughters need neither a prince nor a king to be rulers of all they survey.)

I am ink-free but I do have a multigrain loaf, so I’m halfway there.

Another important segment of the Luxpu inventory is its footwear offering, with custom Air Jordans available for a range of Major League Baseball and NFL teams. 

It’s not just sport though. You can show your edge with Coldplay-themed Chuck Taylors. You can get high-tops celebrating your love of hit contemporary bands like Jefferson Airplane, Electric Light Orchestra and Genesis.  

More like ‘Hotplay’, am I right?

This is the sordid company that the Peter Sagan Air Jordans keep.

They’re a rude looking pair of shoes. But even with a “holographic disc”, a couple of crude logos, and a face beaming out from the side of each foot like a bearded bicycle Jesus, they’re not even close to being the shittiest thing on Luxpu.com. 

By this point, some weeks after placing my order, I’d delved deeper into Luxpu’s murky depths. I think it was the Mumford & Sons basketball shoes that said just “MUMFORD SONS” that were the final tip-off that this wasn’t likely to end well. 

Rattled, I sent an email off to the Luxpu customer service email address asking where my Air Sagans were – or for a shipping confirmation or, you know, any sign of life. I received no response. Weeks later, I still haven’t. 

So with the animalistic purity-of-purpose of a Taken-era Liam Neeson, I delved deeper. 

Looking into Luxpu

Here are some things that I learnt:

  • Luxpu is an entity that “ships to more than 200 countries”, which is a doubly impressive feat when you learn that the United Nations only recognises 193.
  • According to the brand’s ‘About Us’ page, Luxpu “Are The Magicians That Breathe Life into Your Dreams”.
  • They are “in the business of creating a fun, happy, humorous and beautiful world”.
  • Their products “evoke a host of emotions, from heer [sic] delight to a flood of bitter-sweet memories”.
  • The brand’s vision is “to be a force of transformative parody, satire, immortalized memories, nostalgia, and timeless messages.”

It’s a fucking insane brand manifesto. You don’t need me to tell you that; you can read. 

Exhibit A: A timeless message.

Behind the scenes of Luxpu is apparently someone called Vincent, “a one person army” who gave birth to the company with the help of his co-founder, Alex, “a brilliant and accomplihed [sic] designer”. Together, they offer print-on-demand services, apparently out of an address in Irving, Texas. 

According to Wikipedia, Irving is a small standalone city which – forgive my geographical confusion here – is also somehow an inner-ring suburb of Dallas.

Besides Luxpu, it is home to a number of prominent corporations: toilet paper magnate Kimberly-Clark, climate change all-star ExxonMobil, and Finnish telephonic titan Nokia. It is this last connection that has resulted in Irving scoring a sister city in Finland, the fetchingly titled Espoo. 

On the outskirts of Irving is 2700 Regent Boulevard, the meatball in a dropped-spaghetti tangle of motorways next to Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. This is, allegedly, the home of the Luxpu empire. 

Unfortunately – for me, for you, for Luxpu – it is no such thing. It is Amazon Regional Fulfilment Centre DFW8, a hulking warehouse that consumes an entire block.

Google Reviews suggest it’s a particularly challenging facility to work at, which is saying something seeing as we’re talking about Amazon here. In a sequence of one-star reviews, a number of disgruntled ex-employees blast the slow truck-loading times, the high-stress working conditions, the “old and rusty machines”. “Work here if you want to know what modern day slavery feels like,” one cautions.

So if Luxpu isn’t there – and it isn’t – where else could it be?

Diving deeper into Luxpu

One link hidden away down the bottom of the Luxpu website gives a clue. In a DCMA takedown request page, there are references to two other corporations: LARVINCY, and Tee4lives. 

LARVINCY is based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and according to its Facebook page – which boasts 51 followers – has serviced “more than 360,000 happy customers”. It lists itself under the industries of ‘Pet Store’ and ‘Games/Toys’, and its website is inactive.

Dead end.

Tee4lives has an advantage over LARVINCY in that it actually seems to exist. It has two addresses listed – one a nondescript apartment block in San Francisco, walking distance away from Ocean Beach and the Golden Gate Bridge, and the other a corporate address in the western suburbs of London. 

Tee4lives’ parent company is BVL Limited – an entity that is registered for “Retail sale via mail order houses or via Internet”, which checks out.

It operates out of a three-floor office building owned by Dephna, a commercial kitchen and cold storage leasing firm. That’s why on Google Street View, you don’t see trucks getting filled with Peter Sagan merch; just forklifts carrying load upon load of just straightforward fabulous meat.

Oh, you thought I was taking creative license with that last sentence?

By this point I was resigned to the fact that Luxpu had won. I didn’t have shoes, I didn’t even have Danish smallgoods, and my corporate overlords were going to be very cross about my expense report.

But who was the real victor?  

Was Luxpu ever even a thing? Was the villain of this story Dephna, Tee4Lives, LARVINCY, BVL Limited, or Amazon Regional Fulfillment Centre DFW8? Did the Sagans have a hand in this anywhere at all? 

Most of all, I felt a bit bloody silly. The shoes didn’t exist – they probably never had. They’d used Peter Sagan as beardy bait, and I’d been caught. There I lay, flapping on the deck of the good ship Luxpu, outwitted by vapourware basketball boots and a shit-looking website. 

It’d almost be sad if I hadn’t wanted it to turn out this way all along. 

A final twist

But then, dear reader, a miracle happened. Vincent and Alex, Our Lords of Luxpu, had one last trick up their sleeve. 

On Monday, a package landed on my desk whilst I was home looking after a sick child. My friend Matt, who occupies the desk next to me and was having a lovely quiet day without me pestering him, texted through a picture of a white plastic shipping bag with my details on it. A simple caption accompanied it: “You have a treasure.”

And I did.

There was no return address and no clue as to whether it came from Texas or London or San Francisco or Ho Chi Minh City, but against all odds, it looked like the shoes had turned up. “I can feel the heels through the plastic bag,” Matt wrote to me. 

There was a surprising intimacy to it all: me urging him to really have a fumble, him covertly touching a package addressed to another. There have been feature films made out of less.

Today I tore into the bag and we filmed an unboxing video. I say ‘unboxing’, but that’s a wild overstatement because there was no box, just a plasticky pair of fake Air Jordans wrapped in two more layers of plastic. 

Emerging from the bag, Peter Sagan looked entirely malevolent. All the logos were fuzzy. The materials were cheap on a scale measured in cents rather than dollars. There was no arch support whatsoever. Some of the threads were already loose. Others were stitched over design elements.

I had a website on hand as a resource to help me judge whether they were fake or real Air Jordans, and I can most charitably say that I did not need to call on its expertise. The Bad Sagan Shoes are – and this is written with a complex mix of affection, awe and dismay – the worst shoes I have ever seen. No contest.

I don’t intend to ever wear them. In fact, I don’t know who would, because they are – I want to be very clear about this – entirely without redeeming features.

But here’s the thing. As I write this, they’re sitting above and to the left of my computer, and if I turn my head just so, the (non-holographic) hologram twinkles, and Basketball Shoe Peter Sagan’s eyes seem to meet mine.

In a practical sense, they’re barely footwear. But in a symbolic sense, they’re a strangely satisfying metaphor for the corrupting power of celebrity, sleight of hand, shell corporations, and Vincent and Alex’s vision of “transformative parody and satire.”

They are the worst shoes I’ve ever seen. I hate them. I couldn’t be happier.

Update: Mikey’s Bad Sagan Shoes arrived a month later in an unmarked box, in completely the wrong size. You can read about them in an epilogue to this story here.

The Sagan Corporation is still yet to respond to requests for comment.

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