Cervelo TestTeam’s lone American, Ted King, is in his sophomore year in Europe and starting to find his place in the peloton. For now, the 27 year old is happy to be building upon a rookie year that was marked by injury but which also included finishing his first grand tour, the Giro, in apparent good spirits.
King is starting to get a view of the front (and off the front) of the Euro peloton, and regaining the competitive drive that put him near the top of the U.S. National Racing Calendar before he went to Europe ahead of the 2009 season.
King is one of the most successful riders in Europe who is a product of the U.S. collegiate cycling circuit; he raced for Vermont’s Middlebury College, graduating in 2005 and hitting the domestic circuit with Bissell.
A broken arm at the 2009 Amgen Tour of California set back his rookie spring campaign, and he struggled to regain his form for much of the rest of the year. At the Giro he did worker-bee domestique duties, mostly in the first part of the stages, but appeared to get stronger as the race went on.
Later in the season he returned to U.S. soil and, on stage 3 of the Tour of Missouri, helped disrupt Mark Cavendish’s much-vaunted Columbia leadout train and spring teammate Thor Hushovd for the win.
In 2010, he’s come into the season stronger and lighter, and he’s been a presence in the closing kilometers of several races in the last month. At the Circuit de la Sarthe, he got into a 35-kilometer long five-man break on stage 4, getting caught with 5k to go. The next day, the final stage, he took a solo flyer with 3k to go, and was sucked up by the peloton 200 meters from the line. A week later, he led-out Theo Bos for the first of Bos’s two stage wins at the Vuelta Castilla y Leon, and on the final stage he again was the team’s final lead-out rider, this time setting up Stefan Denifl for a surprise early attack, which was unfortunately a bit premature.
Cervelo TestTeam announced Thursday that King will start his second Giro next month, and he’s looking forward to enjoying his return to form on a larger stage.
VeloNews caught up with King to talk about his spring so far.
VeloNews: Last year my impression was you were working for the team for the first part of stages, but were usually out the back in the final kilometers of the big races. But this spring we see you up front at the end. Has your role changed?
Ted King: The short answer is yes, although I need to elaborate a bit. To be blunt, last year was brutal. Everything was humming along smoothly entering my first professional year in Europe. I logged a strong pre-season. Our first camp in Portugal and then onto another camp in California both ticked by without incident, then bam, I broke my arm on day four of Tour of Cali. Surgery wasn’t necessary and I was able to ride fairly quickly afterwards, but through the spring I lacked the intensity found only in racing. So when I came back to Europe, the expression, ‘trial by fire’ hardly scratches the surface; I raced the cobbled, sprinter-happy Scheldeprijs, went straight onto the full Ardennes week, enjoyed 36 hours off before Romandie, then went directly to the Giro.
Looking back one year later, it’s almost comical that that was my race program under the circumstances. I chalk it up as a huge personal accomplishment and it’s been something to build upon going forward. The team also saw promise in what I did last season despite my absence from the typical spring races, so I’m now gearing up for the Giro again.
Given this proper stage race preparation in 2010 as opposed to what I had in 2009, I’m hitting my stride at the perfect time right now. I’m finding that I have good legs in the longer races and further into the stages themselves.
So now that you have my life story in a nutshell, let’s backtrack to your original question. As for my role on the team, especially over the course of a stage race, I have pretty much all duties assigned to me and I really embrace that. Like you said, whether that’s leading out Bos, escorting our GC contenders throughout the day, or taking care of our climbers in the early hectic kilometers of a climb, having this dynamic job really keeps racing fresh and interesting.
VN: Bos (who is transitioning to the road from a track career) is getting the hang of road sprints apparently and evidently you two work well together. When did you start being his lead out guy, and have you two spent much time talking about road sprint timing, etc?
TK: Winning that first stage of Castilla y Leon was awesome. This was actually the first race Theo and I have done together and it iced the cake after the team lay some smack down on the peloton from way out. Cervelo took over from over 40km to go, then in a frenetic finale with a stiff hill and smoking-fast downhill all within the final 1.5k, I just protected Theo until he shouted ‘Go!’ That was the only cue I needed. Arms up, baby!
VN: That’s pretty remarkable that in your first race with Bos you led him out for the win. How far out from the line did he yell “go!” and when did he come around you?
TK: Yeah, what can I say, I’m a pretty remarkable guy (laughs). Seriously though, working together for the first time is part of what made it a special win. Like I said, the team set a searing tempo from about 40k out, knowing that it was going to be windy with a fair number of corners and rolling hills to the finish. It was anything but traditional lead out, though, based on the course.
In the final two kilometers we hit a pretty nasty hill and that started a flurry of attacks from the flyweight, non-sprinter-types. Cresting the hill and into a ridiculously fast descent, Theo was still with me in great position, I got the order for full gas, and we went from probably 1200 meters til 600 meters. That brought him to second wheel, and given that we were still basically in the descent, it was fully strung out nearly all the way until he kicked to the win.
VN: This is your second year in Europe, but it looks like many of the big races you are doing are still brand new to you — you didn’t do Paris-Nice, Algarve, or Castilla last year, but you did them all this spring. Are you feeling more confident and experienced in the races, or is everything still brand new because you don’t know the races?
TK: Sure I’m still relatively new to Europe, but these races all new to me because I was healing up from my busted wing while they were going on last year. Making up for lost time, these days I do my best to scour information as best I can beforehand. Seeing the key climbs and profiles online, checking out race maps, the weather typical to the region, previous year’s results, and all that junk really helps flesh out what I’ll be seeing in the coming days.
Confidence and experience don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand in this business. You can race it all, but still have your teeth kicked in week in and week out, which is obviously a dead-end route. Cycling can be savage, so it’s all about what you do with your experience. For a variety of reasons both on and off the bike I’m naturally calling Europe home, my mind is in a better place, knowing the pace and dynamic of European racing, recognizing which riders to watch and cue off of — I’m champing at the bit to race as much as I can. Right now, the Giro is the big target for me in 2010 and my confidence is sky-high thanks to the experience from the past year.
VN: When you say you are geared up for Giro, what are your ambitions there, specifically? Is Sastre the team’s GC guy there?
Carlos is the captain for the Giro and it’s his first major goal for 2010. It’s been a while since I’ve seen him, but I know he has high aspirations and the top step on the podium seems to me like a fine place for him to stand after three weeks in Italy (well, four days in Holland and the rest in Italy). Like you noted before, last year I was doing a lot of the grunt work in the earlier parts of stages. Without the racing in my legs earlier that spring, I just lacked the power later on in races.
For me, 2010 though can be characterized as stage-race specific. Already this spring I have wrapped up five stage races.
As I mentioned before, my head is in a different, much better place, and I’m incredibly focused this year. Specifically, I’ve been working with a sports nutritionist and I’m ten pounds (yes, pounds) lighter than I was this time last year. Back in January when I received the nod from my sports directors for the Giro, that was a huge pat on the back. This all relates back to confidence and experience; I’m taking all the lessons learned from last season and putting them to good use in 2010. It’s truly night and day comparing last year to this, so I really am pleased with my preparation for my second grand tour.
As for my ambitions, I’m going to the Giro to be the consummate teammate, period. If that job puts me in a position for personal acclaim, sure that’s great, but that’ll remain a secondary priority. Whether my role that day is to make the breakaway to take pressure off the team, escort Carlos around the bunch, lead into the climbs and dicey finishes, or tell off a NY Yankees fan, I’ll be there to do my job.
VN: When’s your next race in U.S.? Missouri? Greenville? Will you have any personal results ambitions at those races?
TK: Assuming Missouri happens, I’m almost certain I’ll be there. That’s normally a really enjoyable race with which to wind down the season, but with the scheduling in 2010, it’s actually perfect prep for the Canadian UCI races and then nationals in Greenville. Of course there’s extra motivation racing on home soil since I’m overseas so much — even more so as the only American on Cervelo. Winning either of those doesn’t sound too far out of the realm of possibilities, to be honest. Always gotta aim high, right?!
Related: Ted King’s journals for VeloNews.com