A MAN OF MANY TALENTS

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Here is a cold, hard truth: Almost all cyclists of a certain age, usually in their mid- to late-40s, experience a precipitous drop in one aspect of physical performance. This has nothing to do with power-to-weight ratio or VO2max. You could be at peak fitness and one day realize, perhaps quite suddenly, that your eyes don’t work the way they used to. Your vision has deteriorated. You’ll look at your expensive cycling computer, with all its fancy data, and not be able to read it.

That’s what happened to Louis Viggio. And that’s why he founded Dual Eyewear.

Viggio launched the eyewear brand in 2011 because he couldn’t find a suitable solution for a condition he was experiencing. He had purchased a new Garmin computer to use while riding. He programmed the device, mounted it to his handlebar, and the next day rolled out with his $400 accessory. But before he reached the end of the driveway, Viggio realized he had a problem. He couldn’t read the numbers on the display.

Viggio, in his mid-50s at the time, had developed presbyopia. In layman’s terms, presbyopia is the aging of the eye. It eventually affects nearly everyone to some degree, and its symptoms include difficulty reading small print, which appears blurry up close. Presbyopia can lead to headaches, eyestrain, and an annoying need to hold your phone at arm’s length to view its display.

A simple solution is a cheap pair of “readers,” eyeglasses that magnify small type for up-close reading. Some people require bifocals, which are constructed with more convex lenses in the bottom half (for close viewing) and less convex lenses on the upper (for far-away clarity). But neither of these options work well on your weekly group ride. As Viggio came to understand, cyclists with presbyopia have specific needs.

How Viggio got to this point in life, the point where he made it his mission to solve this on-the-bike vision problem for cyclists his age, is a story itself. It’s one that involves a South American military coup, the early days of the Coors Classic stage race, Mexican racer Raúl Alcalá and the 7-Eleven Team, Harley-Davidson, and the commercialization of cycling photography during the Lance Armstrong era.

Viggio’s story is that of a behind-the-scenes player in the business of cycling over the past 40 years.

Louis Viggio has been many things over the past 40 years. In the mid 1980s he took on his first team management role with the Colorado-based Team Max.

Long before he thought he would start an eyewear company, Viggio was a kid growing up in Peru. He went to a good school and was part of a middle-class family in Lima, yet his childhood environment is best described as unstable.

“My family lived in Lima, and earthquakes were a big problem,” Viggio says. “I lived through three of them where thousands of people died. Everything would just turn to rubble. By the last one I was freaking out, going to bed with my clothes and shoes on because they usually came at night.”

Viggio’s father recognized that anxiety, and came up with a plan. “We’re sending you to America,” he told his 14-year-old son.

Viggio’s older sister lived in New York, where she worked as an executive secretary for Peruvian Airlines. So Viggio packed up and headed there for six months. His sister enrolled him in public high school in Queens, where Viggio quickly realized he should have studied harder back home.

“My father had always said it was important for us to learn English, and in Lima we went to private schools that emphasized learning the language” he says. “But I thought it was stupid to learn a language I’d never use. I failed every year.”

In Queens, Viggio was forced to learn fast. To adapt. As it turns out, that was a life skill he would rely upon repeatedly in the years ahead. After six months in New York, Viggio returned to Lima. He could now speak English better than his teachers, but his days in Peru were numbered. Now a different sort of instability was unfolding: a military coup. “My dad saw the writing on the wall,” Viggio says. “He knew things were going to get really, really bad.”

Along with a new government came years of internal conflict and hostilities. Viggio’s friends and neighbors were fleeing. “Anybody who had the means to leave, left,” he says. “After a while, I had nobody left that I knew there. The ones who stayed suffered.”

So Viggio went back to New York, this time with his whole family. “We were only allowed to leave the country with whatever personal belongings we could carry and a hundred dollars of currency per person,” he says. “We felt like refugees.”

Viggio had his high school degree from Peru, and he enrolled at the Pratt Institute in New York with the goal of becoming a graphic designer. He eventually moved into photography and landed an apprentice job at Warsaw Studios, one of the major fashion studios of the time. He started at the bottom, cleaning up and washing developing trays in the dark room.

“But I had the opportunity to use the equipment at night and started developing my portfolio,” he says. “And sure enough, after a couple years I was an assistant for one of the fashion photographers and they were giving me little jobs on the side. They were grooming me to be the next shooter.”

That was the plan, at least.

“I came over the hill and saw Boulder, and I just knew. I said ‘To hell with it, I don’t care if there’s no photography work. I’m moving here.’”

By 1976 Viggio, now in his early-20s, was a working photographer in New York, but says he never really felt comfortable in the big city. That winter he took a ski trip to Aspen. One of his photographer friends from the studio was from Colorado and had an idea to open a new studio out west. He told Viggio to check out Denver and see what he thought. Viggio brought along a portfolio and visited a few businesses to feel out the market.

“It was pathetic,” Viggio remembers. “Back then we were shooting chromes, 8x10 slides. I pulled them out and showed them to people in Denver, and they didn’t even know what the hell they were looking at.”

The commercial photography market didn’t look good. But after a couple of days without much luck, Viggio drove about 30 minutes west to Boulder. “Oh man,” he remembers. “I came over the hill and saw Boulder, and I just knew. I said ‘To hell with it, I don’t care if there’s no photography work. I’m moving here.’”

So Viggio returned to New York the next weekend, quit his job on Monday, packed a moving van, and headed west. With no photography work to be had, he landed a job at a ski shop. Never mind that he could hardly ski and knew nothing about the gear. He was a quick study. One day, after he had worked there for a while, Viggio asked the owner: “Why would you ever hire a Peruvian who knew nothing and could barely ski?”

The owner answered: “Simple. Because you have an accent. In the ski industry, an accent makes you believable.” A few years later, that accent would again serve Viggio well in the cycling world.

Not long after he landed in Boulder, Viggio walked to a nearby park one day to watch the final stage of a bike race called the Red Zinger Classic. It was sponsored by the Boulder-based tea company Celestial Seasonings and named after their Red Zinger tea.

“I had never seen a bike race in my life,” he says. “Not even on television. It was awesome. I got hooked.”

Viggio was first introduced to international cycling as a host and language interpreter for Spanish speaking teams at the Coors Classic stage race (formerly the Red Zinger Classic). He’s shown here working the feed zone for the Peruvian team at the 1983 edition of the race.

Viggio met race director Michael Aisner and asked if he could volunteer. And over the next few years, as the Red Zinger morphed into the Coors Classic — the first major stage race in America — Viggio worked the event as a translator and host for Spanish-speaking teams from Mexico, Colombia and Spain. He also eventually opened his photography studio in Boulder, landing some big corporate accounts including IBM. He specialized in commercial photography for advertising and catalogs. Business was good.

But Viggio would never miss the annual bike race. Every summer he took a month off to volunteer, and by the mid ’80s the Coors Classic had grown into a major international event. In the wake of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, which had introduced U.S. pros like Alexi Grewal, Davis Phinney and Ron Kiefel to the public, the Colorado race had become the backbone of a burgeoning U.S. cycling scene.

Viggio’s favorite riders to host were the Mexicans. He befriended a young Olympian named Rául Alcalá, who had raced for Mexico at the 1984 Olympics. And when America’s first professional cycling team, 7-Eleven, recruited Alcalá in 1985, the young athlete asked Viggio to help negotiate the contract. Just like that, Viggio became the first pro cycling rider agent in the U.S.

Viggio and Rául Alcalá at the 1987 Tour de France. The photo was taken after the podium ceremonies following the finish of the time trial that finished at Futuroscope. Alcalá crashed that day, but he won the white jersey of the Best Young Rider that year.

Around this time, Viggio had also gotten to know British cycling journalist John Wilcockson. The two became friends when Wilcockson moved to Boulder to become editor of a new magazine called Inside Cycling. One day Viggio told Wilcockson, half-jokingly, to call him if he ever needed a driver for the Tour de France. “I figured John must think ‘This goofball is crazy’,” Viggio remembers. “But about a month before the ’87 Tour he told me I better get my passport in order because I was set up to go.”

A veteran Tour reporter, Wilcockson was able to get Viggio accredited as a driver, and, along with photographer Graham Watson and a few other English-speaking journalists, they set out for the 1987 Tour de France. Viggio drove the car, learning the ins and outs of the biggest bike race in the world. And the deeper he got into it, the less interested he was in his day job back at the photo studio.

Before the Tour, Viggio had wrangled a deal with Audi, securing a car to drive for the three-week Tour. The race started in Berlin that year, and they picked up a brand new souped-up Audi 90 at the factory in Ingolstadt. To reach the start, they had to drive through part of East Germany, which was like going back in time. “It was pretty spooky,” Wilcockson remembers. “It was still like pre-war era there.”

Driving through what was then called “the corridor” between West and East Germany, Viggio put the Audi to the test, cruising at 240kph (150mph) on the desolate autobahn. They weren’t too worried about getting stopped by the police, who drove Trabants — notoriously sluggish East German automobiles sometimes called a “spark plug with a roof.”

“They were no match for our four-wheel-drive Audi,” Viggio says.

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