I was cleaning out some of my old bins of cycling gear this afternoon when I found a reminder of one of the worst cycling style decisions I ever made.
Those sunglasses, for you heathens that don’t know, are Rudy Project “Tayos,” a model made famous by Jan Ullrich in the early 2000’s. Though tremendously ugly–regardless of frame and lens color–these particularly “euro” sunglasses enjoyed an undeserved bout of popularity due to Ullrich’s star power. As a pro-idolizing, sixteen-year-old bike shop employee, I was unable to resist the allure; I purchased a set from the Rudy Project rep as soon as he walked in the front door of my shop in early 2000.
During that year’s Tour de France, the Tayo’s popularity subsided nearly as rapidly as it had grown. Why, you ask? I have a theory.
Consumers began to shy away from these bug-eyed spectacles when it became obvious that, though impervious to UV-A and UV-B radiation (and all fashion rules), these sunglasses were unable to prevent Lance Armstrong from peering into Ullrich’s soul and extracting his will.
On the slopes of the Alpe d’Huez, the timelessly-styled Oakley “M-Frame” scored a resounding victory over Rudy Project’s top offering, Lance became the sole proprietor of Ullrich’s manhood, and my personal cycling fashion sense was left in shambles.
However, those bright blue frames with electric blue lenses perfectly matched the kit of my 2002 sponsor, Gary Fisher; I suffered a lapse of judgement, and decided to wear those hideous Rudy Project Tayo sunglasses for the entirety of the season. In case you’re wondering where my attention-whore tendencies come from…here you go.
The 2002 season was my only season racing on full suspension, aboard a Gary Fisher Sugar 1, and was one of my more successful seasons of bike racing. One of my favorite photographs of my entire cycling career was taken at the end of the 2002 season, at the NorCal High School MTB Series Championship Finals.
At this point in the season, I was leading the yearlong standings, and the final Championship event was held at a classy vineyard in Yountville, CA. As the points classification leader heading into the event, I was given plate number one; my closest rival and perennial archnemesis Evan Anderson was given plate number two. For whatever reason, I chose to wear my 2001 Series Champion jersey instead of my Gary Fisher attire, but the blue Tayos remained a part of my outfit.
Evan Anderson and I were amicable off the bike, but we were fierce competitors and we both consistently finished on the podium of each race we entered. Evan was a huge kid with copious amounts of power; I was of slight build, but a nimble climber*. Our equal but opposite skill sets and roughly equivalent technical ability led to some heated duels, but no race was as hotly contested as the 2002 Championship Finals.
The photograph above is the one I mentioned earlier: my favorite photograph of my career. Note that I have ditched the ugly-ass sunglasses. While another rider put a large gap on us, Evan and I watched one another and stayed in close proximity. On the climbs, I could put a dozen seconds on Evan, but the flat run-in to the finish line favored Evan’s power advantage, and lap after lap he dragged me back. Rarely do opponents enter into perfectly-matched combat, and for that reason, it remains one of my favorite races of my life.
Though the lone rider up ahead won the championship event, the battle for second place raged behind. I attacked Evan on the final sustained climb on the course and was rewarded with a huge gap, but I couldn’t maintain the advantage through the flat vineyards; Evan beat me handily in the sprint for second place.
When the points were tallied, my third place finish was sufficient to win the yearlong series title. That’s great and all, but where was I going with this story? Ah yes, sunglasses.
One of the prizes for my victory was a $100 gift certificate to Mike’s Bikes in Berkeley, which I promptly redeemed for a pair of Oakley M-Frames; this was the first step in my cycling style redemption, and I wore those Oakleys for nearly seven years.
I am left puzzled, however, because I have no idea why these Rudy Project Tayos followed me all the way through college, or why they followed me from college to graduate school. It has not escaped me, however, that their reappearance in my eyewear collection coincides perfectly with my reentry into the world of mountain bikes. Perhaps I’ll wear them in a XC race…or maybe I’ll sell them on Craigslist.
*Oh, how things have changed!