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Road Gear

What are those new Specialized road shoes we’re seeing?

New S-Works shoes spotted in the wild may have been developed as part of the brand's ‘Project Black’ program.

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Specialized-sponsored riders are racing in some unreleased S-Works shoes in this year’s early season stage races.

So what’s the deal? The company will not comment in detail beyond saying its pro riders are helping test and refine products.

Last year, Specialized wrapped the feet of some of the riders on its sponsored teams in the Ares shoe, which is lightweight and features large straps that lay over one’s feet for optimal retention. And the S-Works 7 shoe is another current model popular among pros.

In early 2021, Ben Delaney wrote about the Ares shoe: Specialized completely overhauls shoe design with S-Works Ares. Delaney also recently wrote about the S-Works 7 lace-up road shoe when he reviewed them earlier this year.

A year after the launch of the Ares, in some of the early-season 2022 races like the Tour de la Provence, the Tour of Oman, the Étoile de Bessèges, and a few others, a few riders have been wearing unreleased S-Works shoes.

Anthony Turgis of Team TotalEnergies was spotted in new S-Works shoes at a team camp in January 2022.
Anthony Turgis of Team TotalEnergies was in new S-Works shoes at a team camp in January.

Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl’s Mark Cavendish, the winner of stage 2 of the Tour of Oman, was wearing a white shoe with a black tongue that looked different from his teammates’ (see photo at top).

His teammate Julian Alaphilippe, racing at the Tour de la Provence, is not in the new shoes.

Cavendish’s shoes are low-cut at the ankle, look to have a well-ventilated upper, a loop on the top of the tongue, a relatively shallow heel cup, and no Velcro strap at the toe box.

Cian Uijtdebroeks was wearing black shoes from Specialized that were distinguishable from his teammates, who were wearing white shoes.
Cian Uijtdebroeks was wearing black shoes from Specialized that were distinguishable from those of his teammates, who were wearing white shoes. The new S-Works shoes have a different profile at the ankle than the Ares, and what looks to be a shallower heel cup than the S-Works 7. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)
These are not S-Works 7 nor Ares shoes from Specialized. Cian Uijtdebroeks’ shoes have two BOA dials, and no Velcro strap over the toe box. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

‘Project Black’

VeloNews asked Specialized about the shoes. The details were intentionally vague.

“Specialized relies on feedback from professional athletes in developing and testing advanced pre-production products in real-world applications. Thanks to this top-level feedback some of these products, or elements of their designs, eventually show up in future retail product offerings. We call this ‘Project Black’,” said Sierra Domaille, Specialized’s equipment and public relations manager.

Not all riders at Bora-Hansgrohe, Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl, or Team TotalEnergies were seen with new shoes.

“There are not specific athletes or teams that are a necessarily part of ‘Project Black’ because we work with athletes that are right for the product. It’s a testament to how closely we are connected to our teams and how much we value them as technical partners, not just as a sponsor,” said Specialized performance public relations manager Kelly Henningsen

To our trained eyes, the Specialized S-Works shoes appear to have a low-rise mesh upper, two BOA dials with no velcro strap at the toe box, and look to be available in black or white/black.

Some of these things are not like the others. Two of the Bora-Hansgrohe riders at the 2022 Challenge Mallorca were wearing black shoes, while teammates were wearing a variety of models of white Ares shoes. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Since these shoes are being raced by Specialized’s three men’s WorldTour teams and have also been seen at teams’ pre-season camps, it’s a good bet that we may see these shoes — call them S-Works 8 or whatever you like, since Specialized has not yet officially confirmed them — in production later in 2022.

And to be sure, womens’ teams were also included in this product development process. Several members of Team SD Worx were seen wearing the unannounced new shoes from Specialized, too.

VeloNews will keep on top of the latest cycling technology, so check back here for more information as we learn from teams and manufacturers about the latest and greatest cycling gear.