Cyclist Bobby Julich sets sight on the front of the pack.
For most Americans, the sport of cycling exists only in the form of a 30-second highlight clip shot sometime in late July. It’s shown on ESPN’s "SportsCenter"—maybe on the late local news. It’s video of Lance Armstrong riding along Paris’ Champs-Elysees on his way to another victory in the sport’s most famous race, the Tour de France.
Armstrong’s accomplishments—a record six straight Tour wins—are remarkable. But to limit coverage to his achievements dismisses those of the other riders in cycling’s peloton—an entire field of well-conditioned and highly skilled athletes who wow enthusiastic crowds with their exploits in road races throughout Europe. Athletes like Colorado native Bobby Julich.
Like Armstrong, Julich has achieved a great deal of success in a sport that remains a mystery—like foie gras—to most of his fellow countrymen. But like Armstrong, he continues to endure countless grueling hours and miles training and racing in pursuit of cycling glory, glory he knows will be well-chronicled in his adopted home of Nice, France, but barely a blip on the collective consciousness of his home country. And when that success doesn’t come, as it didn’t for Julich for much of the early 2000s, the mental and physical toll of cycling, as well as the myriad sacrifices involved in moving your wife and child away from friends and family for six months of the year, can feel that much greater.
Which is why Julich found himself mulling retirement after the 2003 cycling season. Thankfully for him, and Oakley Eyewear, one of his biggest sponsors, he decided to keep racing.
" Not all of us can be Lance Armstrong," notes Julich by phone from his home on the Côte d’Azur, where he lives part of the year with wife Angela and daughter Olivia. "At the time, I hadn’t been having much success. I wasn’t feeling supported by the team I was on [Telekom]. I wasn’t happy with the sport. I told my agent that I wanted to sign with Team CSC or I was going to retire."
Team CSC, sponsored by the California-based technology firm of the same name, is one of the most successful teams in a sport not necessarily associated with team play. In fact, riders like Julich usually ride in support of a pre-selected lead cyclist (in CSC’s case usually the Italian Ivan Basso), doing what they can in the back of the field to help the leader to victory. Julich signed with CSC prior to the 2004 season. His signing has coincided with an unexpected resurgence for the 33-year-old rider. Highlights include a bronze medal at the Summer Olympics in Athens and a third-place finish for teammate Basso in the 2004 Tour de France. Julich also finished third in the prestigious Paris-Nice race and fourth in the Tour of Georgia in 2004.
His Olympic achievement was particularly sweet given that injuries had kept him out of the Games in 1992, 1996 and 2000. "I always dreamed about racing in the Olympics," he says. "Just experiencing the Games was enough for me. To win a medal was icing on the cake. All through my down years I knew I still had some cycling left in me."
Julich had reason to believe. His cycling career had started with much promise. After falling in love with the sport while riding with his father, a triathlete, Julich began racing professionally in 1992. Many in the sport felt he would be the next great American cyclist after his third-place finish in the 1998 Tour de France. Injuries, including a heart condition requiring surgery, hampered his performance in the ensuing years.
While several cycling teams gave up on Julich, one of his main sponsors—Oakley—remained loyal, and the cyclist has returned the favor (see sidebar). Oakley has been with him his entire career and his need for prescription eyewear has only cemented the bond. Julich has been a myope (with astigmatism) for much of his professional career. He is a -3.25D in one eye, -2.75D in the other.
That may not sound like much to eyecare professionals who see far worse prescriptions on a daily basis. But consider that Julich races hundreds of other riders at speeds of up to 60 mph on surfaces ranging from mountain roads to cobblestone streets, in varying weather conditions. His experiences were instrumental in Oakley’s development of the eight-base prescription wrap frame styles that have become the cornerstone of their sports eyewear business.
" When they hear my prescription, people tell me, ‘Your eyesight isn’t so bad,’’’ Julich notes with a laugh. "But I’m racing in cool weather, fog, rain, off road or on city streets, at high speeds. If my reflexes are off by a little bit, I’m in trouble. I have to be able to see everything. Without my glasses, I wouldn’t be able to perform."
And Julich plans to keep racing with his Oakleys for the foreseeable future. The cyclist has two seasons remaining in his contract with CSC and hopes to follow in Armstrong’s footsteps in challenging the sport’s age barrier. "I caught a little of the Olympic bug," he says. "I’d like to see if I can hang around until the next Olympics in 2008. I’ve never enjoyed riding and training as much as I do now. The past year has changed my outlook. Now I want to ride until the wheels fall off." As long as his glasses stay on.
As this issue went to press, Julich
became the first American to win the Paris-Nice eight-day Stage race, the first stop of the UCI pro-tour.
Oakley and Julich See Things the Same Way
Bobby Julich always loved his Oakley sunglasses. Which is why when he realized he needed vision correction as he got older, he wanted to do anything he could to keep wearing them." I took my old Oakley sunglasses to my optometrist and asked him to put in prescription inserts," Julich recalls. "He did it and they worked, but they didn’t look very good. The folks at Oakley saw them and weren’t too happy."
That was in the early 1990s. Based on feedback from Julich and other athletes in their sponsorship stable, Oakley began experimenting with prescription technology in its famous wrap sunglass styles. The result was the M frame, released in 1992. Julich was one of the first to use them in competition.
" Bobby is a true Oakley athlete," notes Steve Blick, marketing manager for cycling at Oakley and a former mountain biker. "He is very selective in what he wears and he has to be. He’s racing at high speeds, with other cyclists in tight. Our eyewear gives him improved peripheral vision in an impact-resistant material."
Oakley, which has been among Julich’s sponsors since his professional career began, has a unique relationship with the cyclist. They provide him with all of his prescription eyewear, "both on the bike and off," says Blick, and ensure he stays on top of his eye health. "We give him new product all the time, but we don’t give him anything until he gets his prescription checked," Blick explains.
Julich has returned Oakley’s loyalty. Even though he was desperate to sign with a team after the 2003 season, the cyclist made his contract with Team CSC contingent upon his continuing to wear Oakley product. At the time, the team had another eyewear sponsor.
" I want to use the best product available," notes Julich. "For me, that’s Oakley." —BPD