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Road and track star and pioneer of African-American sport remembered in spot for Cognac brand

A new advertising campaign for a leading brand of Cognac is a tribute to a pioneer not only of track and road cycling but also of African-American sport.

The spot for LVMH-owned Hennessy is inspired by Marshall Walter Taylor, known as Major Taylor, who turned professional in 1896 at the age of 18 and would go on to be regarded by many as the greatest cyclists ever.  

The spot – which has been cut in a variety of lengths – forms part of the brand’s latest Wild Rabbit campaign, which in past years has featured forgotten stars and current celebrities alike, reports AdWeek.

According to Giles Woodyer, senior vice president, Hennessy at Moet Hennessy USA, each person portrayed in the campaign “exudes a drive, a determination and an ongoing quest to break down barriers, an attitude aligned with our own brand philosophy.”

Quoting, he said: “In his own words, ‘I was a pioneer. And therefore, had to blaze my own trail'.”

In the spot, Taylor is played by an unnamed professional cyclist and voiced by hip-hop artist Nas, a Hennessy brand ambassador, and Woodyer added: “The cyclist raced flat-out for four days straight in these awe-inspiring settings.

“He was so inspired that he raced from dawn to dusk to make certain that he did justice to Taylor’s story. That was a truly moving experience.”

Hennessy has also partnered with ESPN on a forthcoming documentary about Taylor, while designer Kerby Jean-Raymond has used Taylor for a limited-edition line of cycling clothing called MMT 140 by Pyer Moss for Hennessy that will be sold from June on PyerMoss.com.

A multiple US national champion and winner of the sprint at the world championships in Montreal in 1899, Taylor also raced six-day events, including at Madison Square Garden.

He experienced racism throughout his career, including promoters refusing to let him race when the six-day circuit expanded outside the northeastern US to the segregated southern states.

After the turn of the century, he raced in Europe – two tours in 1901 and 1902 saw him win 82 races out of 114 he entered, in front of big crowds – as well as Australia.

In 1903 alone, his winnings were the equivalent of almost $1 million in today’s money, but he would die in poverty in Chicago in 1932 at the age of 53.

Inducted into the United States Bicycling Hall of Fame in 1989, Taylor is commemorated today by lending his name to a number of cycling clubs and events, as well as the Major Taylor Velodrome in his native Indianapolis and Major Taylor Boulevard in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he lived for a number of years after retiring in 1910.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.