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By Matt Pacocha
In 1986, Greg LeMond became the first American to win the Tour de France; he did it wearing a pair of Oakley Eyeshades. That victory propelled the company into the spotlight and prompted Oakley to dedicate Dana “The Duke” Duke to its athletes full time as the company’s first sports marketing representative. He knew how to take care of his athletes and they repaid him grandly.
Its partnership with a Tour de France winner showed Oakley that it could rely on high-profile athlete endorsements, rather than advertising, especially when marketing its products’ performance or technological attributes. LeMond was the first, but plenty of high-profile cyclists have followed with their endorsements.
Skip ahead 20 years and Oakley hasn’t messed with its formula. It still details a man to its top athletes at events like the Tour de France — only now instead of The Duke, athletes look for Steve Blick, the Oakley-sponsored rider’s best friend.
“Right now, I’m basically thinking search-and-rescue,” said Blick. “I go and find these guys wherever they are camping out and I set them up with a fresh kit.”
Blick, a former professional mountain bike racer, is Oakley’s frontlines sports marketing manager and athlete liaison. He’s responsible for all of the funky one-off glasses that show up on the faces of the peloton’s most recognizable riders, including George Hincapie, Christophe Moreau, David Millar and the whole of the CSC and T-Mobile outfits.
“For a grand tour, especially the Tour de France, we kind of turn it up a notch,” he said. “We’re working on our custom program, so I’m getting the guys that kind of stuff. George has the splatter.”
Besides signature shades for the big names, Blick provides stage winners and the race’s internal competition leaders with something special to set themselves apart from the rest. While in the lead of the sprinters’ competition Robbie McEwen was seen sporting a custom set of green and yellow shades.
Blick said that he’s also there to do little things, like clean a rider’s glasses or change a lens tint, giving him the best possible option for the conditions without him having to think about it.
“These guys deal with so much stress over three weeks,” he said. “I just try to be here and take some of edge off.”
Every year, especially after the Tour, Oakley gets requests for replicas of these riders’ custom glasses, and the answer has historically been no. This year, the brand is letting customers match the look of their favorite rider or work up something special of their own.
At the Oakley’s Custom Eyewear page within the Oakley website a fan can select all of the components that make up a pair of sunglasses. There are more 30 different models available, and consumers can select the lens tint, shape, frame color, icon color and even have custom etching put in the lens at a price that reflects the chosen components.
There will still be a few items that Blick keeps just for his top athletes. The only way to get a pair of gold Radars is to win a stage of the Tour. (Oakley also offers its new Holeshot watch that’s specially engraved to remember the moment).
After today, however, many of us may not want to remember the moment.
“We’re going to try to get people’s minds off of the bad,” said Blick. “If you see it actually happen, that means that we pulled it off, but we’re going to try to get people to think about the more important things at the end of this race.”
Blick was quick to point out that there are people pedaling bikes whose achievements are undoubtedly real. He hopes that those at Crankworx in Whistler, British Columbia, this weekend will check out Oakley’s mountain bike movie premiere.
“If anyone is interested in talking about something positive instead of all this downer doping bullshit,” he said. “Tell them to check out the movie.”