Some losses hurt more than others. This is a fact that Geraint Thomas, more than most, understands keenly. For the Welshman, it’s something he has hard-won experience in – not just slipping out of the maglia rosa in the penultimate stage of this year’s Giro d’Italia; not just crashing out of contention at the 2016 Olympics, the 2017 Giro, the 2017 Tour, the 2020 Tour, and the 2021 Tour.
At the end of the 2022 season, Thomas lost something even more dear to him: his team, Ineos Grenadiers, signed a new sunglass sponsorship deal with SunGod, meaning that this season – for the first time in 13 seasons – Geraint Thomas has not been allowed to wear his signature Oakley Racing Jacket sunglasses.
The Racing Jacket – a sunglass launched in 1998 that was so polarising (although not necessarily polarised) that it has been discontinued for years – was the bulbous form that Thomas wore to Tour de France glory, with his stash steadily whittled down by a series of crashes over the years. So when Oakley was cast aside by Ineos in favour of a more “forward-thinking, agile and performance-driven … long-term eyewear partner”, there was a near-audible tear in the fabric of the universe. Something needed to change.
At the Giro d’Italia, it was clear that something had: Thomas lined up at the race with a distinctive pair of sunglasses, at that point unannounced on the SunGod website. Like his Racing Jackets, they had a white frame wrapping entirely around the lenses. No one else on the team had them, and he road-tested them to a podium finish.
Now the dust has settled, the mystery glasses have a name, and a price (US$190/AUD$300/£160/€190) … not that you’ll be able to buy any just yet, seeing as within a day they’ve already sold out of their initial run.
There is a through-line in the design, but according to SunGod, they’re a conscious step away from the Racing Jacket, developed in collaboration with Thomas himself on a heavily restricted timeline. Rather than a one-year development pipeline, SunGod got sketching in January, shortly after their sponsorship kicked in. By the end of February, they’d met with Thomas in his homebase of Monaco, learning what tickled his fancy and what didn’t.
“We knew we needed to make something which was SunGod, was Geraint, and was visible,” said SunGod head of product Ed Watkiss. “I’m not a fan of the white frames, but this project was all about him. He was quite happy to depart from his Oakleys, and happy to go for something slightly bigger, something more of a statement of now.”
(Watkiss also claims that Thomas’ love of his old glasses was “the media building it up”, which sounds like something he would say, and is also a narrative which I – The Media Building It Up– choose to enthusiastically reject.)
Racing to meet their deadline of the beginning of the Giro, SunGod’s 3D printers buzzed into life to produce prototypes. Indeed, at the start of the race, Thomas was riding in a 3D-printed pair.
Over the course of the race the Welshman was increasingly prominent, spending extended stints in the race lead. His sunglasses steadily became more remarked upon – often compared to his old favourites, but increasingly in their own right, even if SunGod itself doesn’t seem all that sold on them. In addition to Watkiss’ anti-white frame stance, they have been described by David Rogal, the brand’s head of partnerships and strategy, as “pretty divisive”; Rogal also said that their measure of success for the release would be “if one person in every cycling club in England got them and everyone else went ‘what the fuck are those.'”
To that elegant, age-old question we now have an answer – they are the SunGod GTs, the spiritual descendent of Geraint Thomas’ Racing Jackets. They are white, and a bit blue, and have a Welsh dragon on them. They have Geraint Thomas’ signature in the bottom left-hand corner of a lens, and some proprietary lens technology with a fancy name because Marketing®. Their creators, with the obvious exception of Geraint Thomas, don’t seem all that amped on them, even if he’s really the only one that matters in this scenario, and after his superhuman levels of grace and humility throughout this Giro, he at the very least deserves a pair of angular white sunglasses to call his own.
Perhaps most importantly, we can now pick Geraint Thomas out in a bunch again. Small mercies from a sponsorship switcheroo that threatened cycling fandom’s sanity.
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