Behind the Zeghos: A Discussion of Grooming, Rabbits, and Pharmacology with Assos Man
By: Jeff Stewart
When the world first thinks of Assos, we first think of unparalleled quality. Second, we think of you. How long have you worked with Assos, and how did your relationship start?
I really doubt the Ellipse Community think of me in second place. Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer to interview the Assos girl instead?
But, in answer to your question, I have been working with Assos since 2005. I was looking for sponsorship, and had asked someone I knew who worked there if they could help. Two days later, I received a phone call from Assos asking for some photos. I said yes, thinking it was for the sponsorship, even if it seemed a little strange to me. And so I introduced myself and got to know Erwin Groenendal (Marketing & Design Director), who explained to me that they were looking for a new model for their catalogue. The one they had before didn’t have cyclist legs, and so someone had put my name forward. I remember that I had long hair on my head, and hairy legs (it was February), but luckily, I had a photo with me from the Ironman World Championships in Kona from 2004. I showed Erwin the photo and said, “Sorry, I didn’t understand what you were after. Anyway, when I’m in race shape this is what I look like.” I know that Erwin still eyes my first photos jealously.
As you might know, there’s long been speculation as to who you are. There’s a fake Facebook page that says you live in a German castle breaking Faberge eggs all day, and then some people even think that you’re married to “Assos Girl” — all of which is perpetuated by your omnipresence across the Assos brand. Who is Andrea Zamboni?
Andrea Zamboni is… A pharmacist. But I don’t see myself as truly belonging to this category (white lab coat, pale skin, glasses). I am a 42 year old guy who has been in love with cycling since he bought his first bike 30 years ago. And not only at a competitive level, in fact, I mainly like cycling as a way of discovering the world. Obviously I don’t live in a castle, but in a very normal house, and obviously without “Assos girl”—I’ve never even met her! But, nevertheless, I live with a beautiful girl who, among other things, also looks very good in Assos clothes.
Working for Assos is a dream. Like you said before, Assos is by far the best cycle clothing company, but not only that: The people working there are great, and we have great fun together. Over the years, I have also gotten to know how much fuss and maniacal attention to detail that goes into creating each product. They are not only top quality, but they also last for ages, they look good, they don’t get in the way, they have an unbeatable guarantee behind them, and they are safe. Being the Assos model is a great honor, because I know how much passion and perfectionism there is behind the brand. And it has the added advantage of providing me with some variety, and some days where I can leave the routine of being a pharmacist behind and go back to my dream world—the cycling world!
I hear that you’re quite the accomplished triathlete — even winning your age group at Kona. How long have you been competing, and what goals do you still have for the future?
I started competing on my road bike when I was 14 years old, and I wasn’t bad at all. I was a member of the Swiss Junior National Team, and I won a few races, even some at the international level. When I was 20 I went to university, and then much later, in 1997, I started racing triathlons for fun. In 2003, by then having worked through many injuries, I attempted the Ironman race in Zurich and ended up winning my age group. Although I had already qualified, I waited a year and qualified again at IM Lanzarote before going to Kona. In 2004, as a rookie, I won my age group in what was a very windy race, but what I’m proudest of is that I came 21st overall! In 2011, I once again won my age group, finishing 30th overall.
And so it makes me laugh when I read a blog saying that I’ve probably never ridden a bike, and that I’m on steroids. Sorry, you’re wrong! Cycling is my life and has been for a very long time.
But competition is no longer my priority. In order to achieve the results I’m after, I have to sacrifice a huge amount of time and money, say goodbye to my social life, and perform miracles to fit training around my work schedule. It’s for this reason that I didn’t do the IM in Kona every year even when I was competing. Now I’m 42, and I have a three-month-old baby at home, Alex Vincent. And so my new goal is to spend more time with my family. Obviously, I also hope that Alex will grow up to love cycling, and that we can go on many journeys together.
Do you ever get recognized on race day, or even when you’re just out at the club?
I get recognized sometimes, but not very often: I don’t think people on race day are interested to see if, by chance, one of the athletes looks like the Assos model.
The reality is that I’m not quite as stacked as I seem in the photos, and I don’t go around with my six-pack tensed. In fact, I only shave for the photos and for Kona. So, the likeness isn’t always so obvious!
This year, for example, I was in Gran Canaria, and I came across two Norwegian girls wearing Assos shorts who had stopped by the side of the road with a mechanical problem. I stopped to help them sort out a chain that had completely twisted on itself. It took me 15 minutes, and my hands were completely covered with grease. And when they asked me where I was from, I told them, “I come from Switzerland,” and having seen that I was dressed 100% in Assos clothes said, “obviously, the land of Assos!” But they didn’t recognize me!
Tourists have also come into my pharmacy dressed 100% in Assos (I live and work in a tourist region), and it never even crosses their mind that the man in front of them is the model. It makes me smile.
Over the course of your modeling career with Assos, we’ve seen some amazing poses, with my favorite being the invisible cycling position pose. Could you walk me through a typical photo session? What level of collaboration is there for creating the aesthetic of a shoot?
Let us just say that the poses came about in a far more natural way than one would think. The reality is that my job is more mannequin than model. My role is more technical than aesthetic. It is of fundamental importance to Assos that their clothes are shaped for the cycling position and not for standing up straight. So, we have always tried to create photos that respect this. Erwin, of course, needs to not think about me, but about the product, and how the photos can be used in catalogs and on the website without having to retake them all.
Photo days always start at 6:00am. I get up and shave my legs and face ; -) Then I drive the 50 miles to the Assos headquarters in Stabio, and a further 70 miles with Erwin to Milan where Linda (makeup artist) and Ivan (photographer) are waiting for us. A coffee, and then Linda covers me from head to foot in paint whilst we talk with Ivan about Italian politics, and then we start with the photos. It’s good to see all the latest innovations and products before anyone else, but it’s a pity I can’t take anything home with me! Apart from the challenge of not dirtying all the clothes with makeup, the hardest thing is keeping my eyes open. If there are lots of photos to take, then it can be quite difficult. The set measures about 2 by 3 metres, so the action photos aren’t easy either. I have to get on the bike, get going, pedal standing up or sitting down, and stop, all within 3 metres. But ultimately, that comes far more naturally to me than the static poses, can you tell? We take a relaxed lunch break and talk more about politics. I avoid carbohydrates, otherwise my eyes close even more, drink two coffees, have a makeup touch up, and then it’s back to the studio where we finish at about 5.00pm. I wash off the paint, say goodbye to Milan, and return home. And that’s it. Oh, and I forgot, during the journey, I have a good gossip with Erwin ; -).
I can’t tell if it’s intentional, but you seem to have an amazing awareness of your body position. For example, it seems like you’re able to maintain the same distance from your arm to your torso across an entire line of jersey photos. Is this precision just coincidence, or are you really just that good?
Haha. Don’t forget the amazing power of Photoshop!
I don’t really have much body awareness: I think, like most triathletes, I am very rigid. And apart from putting in hard efforts, I’m not able to do much. And you have to remember that I’ve been posing in the same five or six positions for the past eight years, and it’s not rocket science. It’s not like they’re asking me to moonwalk like Michael Jackson—I just have to stay still for a few seconds!
You’re obviously in incredible shape. Do you have any tips on how the rest of us can be as ripped as you?
Definitely. If you want to stay in great shape, my first tip is to do the thing that most of us probably love anyway—ride your bike! Secondly, something a bit more specific, get your diet as close to the Dr. Barry Sears Zone Diet as you can. It’s amazing how defined you can become without ever being hungry, and whilst maintaining the right energy levels for training—all while staying in a good mood.
Your race results and low body fat percentage lead me to believe that you’re incredibly dedicated to your conditioning. When it’s time to let loose and indulge, what are your guilty pleasures?
It’s true that I’m a big fan of having a low body fat percentage. But it’s also true that I love eating: quality AND quantity. A piece of chocolate never tastes as good as a whole bar, or a whole rabbit!
The problem for me is always that the topless photos are always taken in February/March, which is right after Christmas. And just think that Erwin doesn’t help me at all. Every Christmas Erwin sends me a gift box with 64 chocolate marshmallows inside. I eat them all in 2 or 3 days, after which I get the very punctual phone call: “Please be in shape for February…” Damn you Erwin!
Jokes aside, my tactics, refined over the years, are like this:
For simplicity’s sake, let’s start on the 29th November, the day before my birthday. This is the day in the year when I’m at my thinnest. From the 30th of November through Christmas and new year, it’s party time and I eat impossible amounts of food until the 6th of January (la Befana in my part of the world). Then, because I know that Erwin will call me pretty soon, I get back on the wagon from the 7th of January: strict Zone Diet (18 blocks), 1 hour of running or biking at lunch time, and a ski tour on the weekend. By mid February, I’m at race weight. In march I go to Gran Canaria for two weeks to define my leg muscles (6-8 hours of easy biking every day), and there I am, ready for the photos. I then follow the Zone Diet from Monday to Friday throughout the summer. On weekends, and occasionally at certain events and festivals, I eat what I like, no holding back! One of the great things about cycling is obviously also the eating and drinking.
If I need to, I refocus during September and October to hit my 29th November target, once again following the Zone Diet for 6 out of 7 days. Simple isn’t it?
Of course, over the years, you’ve worn every piece of Assos apparel. What are your favorite Assos pieces for summer, fall, and winter?
Summer: I like wearing the H.Mille shorts (being a triathlete, I like the sleeveless version), but having now tested the new S-7 generation prototype (the T.équipe and the T.campionissimo) this might change. The new shorts are just AMAZING and feel just like a second skin. Then, very importantly, I wear Zegho eyewear and the sV.Blitzfeder for descents.
Fall: My favourites are the FalkenZahn, or the Intermediate, the Speer Socks, and the Insulator Gloves.
Winter: Without a doubt, the Habu. What a jacket!
And not to be forgotten is the SturmPrinz—this rain jacket looks so good that I have one for wearing off the bike as well (my LollyRed version is for biking, and the black one is for everyday).
You’re stranded on a desert island. After a couple of days, a genie appears and offers you one of the following: 1) a bowl of ice cream 2) A pair of Zeghos
Which do you pick and why?
As I don’t want to be fired, my answer is obvious! Having pale blue eyes, I am very sensitive to light, so I choose the Zeghos—if possible, the prototype I had in Hawaii with the very dark lenses.
If however the genie offered me ‘Mövenpick Gruyère double cream and meringues’ ice cream, I would go for the ice cream!