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Ben King Diary: Part 3, race finish to bedtime

Editor’s note: This is the third rider diary from U.S. professional road champion Ben King of Team RadioShack. His first column talked about a pro’s race day from breakfast to getting on the team bus. Part 2 covered the race from start to finish and today’s final part deals with the post-race period, from race finish to bed.


For each of us an hourglass upends at the finish line beginning a new countdown. It’s already late in the afternoon. As the sand drains, we race to recover for the next stage. Rather, the staff races to recover us. Despite the dire tone and urgent mission, our minds, fatigued by a thousand snap decisions, crash avoidance, and hours of quarrelling with our legs over oxygen and energy, tune to a blank station. White noise.

The hotel parking lot is the last place we see our bikes until tomorrow. And behind the white noise, our mechanics toil late into the night washing cars and bikes, tuning, repairing, refilling, and replacing. One of our soigneurs has been on “hotel duty,” meaning while his partner catered to us at the race, he drove to the new hotel and set up camp. When we arrive, he is waiting with room keys and massage schedule.

Our luggage, everything we didn’t need for the race, is already in our rooms. There is a room list on the desk. I scan it for “food room.” This is where they store “the box” stocked with fruit, nuts, and cereal.

The most savage competitors are horizontal until dinner. Kloden’s infamous PSP FIFA World Cup game is a perfect example of what I call “inactivities,” and his skills rival his on the bike. On occasion, the staff makes a point of rooming a rookie with a veteran.

2011 Paris-Roubaix
'I can't move my fingers!' King after Paris-Roubaix. Photo: Ben Delaney

I read, battle with erratic hotel WiFi, and type up a race report for friends and family, something I’ve done at every race for two and a half years. Our director makes rounds and sits down for a quick visit.

“How are you? Is there Internet?” he asks.

“Ok. Hard day and slow Internet. What did you think about the race?”

He tells me it’s a hard race for everyone, that it’s good experience, and points out a few places that he saw me wasting energy. Then he hands me tomorrow’s schedule scribbled on an official RadioShack timetable. Before he leaves, he plants a seed. That little nudge keeps my body and mind from shutting down into complete post race hibernation. Overnight the seed sprouts in my subconscious into competitive inspiration. The rest of the night, I think of racing as little as possible.

My roommate returns in a cloud of residual tranquility and tells me I’m up for massage. I’ve been with the same soigneur all week, and he can feel the stress accumulating in my legs. We chat about anything. Sometimes he DJs. Sometimes we watch TV. Sometimes I ask to learn a few words in his language. Sometimes I fall asleep. When he finds a knot, I try not to scream or spasm off the table.

A peculiar grumble from my stomach interrupts the massage and my soigneur laughs. We’ve long since incinerated that post-race recovery meal and crave salty sweet. “If the furnace is hot enough, it will burn anything” (John L. Parker, “Once a Runner”). My roommate and I count down the minutes until dinner. We wait an extra five, to avoid beating the food to the dining room.

Lightweight riders in the buffet line struggle to peer over their heaping plates of pasta. I prefer a few smaller plates to get the job done. Somewhere in the room a champagne bottle pops, and a cheer goes up from the winning team’s table. A few somber teams eat mechanically and leave. I’m proud that the few teams I’ve been a part of laugh a lot at dinner. On RadioShack, once again, we spend extra time socializing. The harder the stage, the harder the laughs, and less witty the humor.

Food coma. We have just enough stamina to lay out our gear for the next morning.

I fall asleep stuffed, wake up hungry at midnight, stand over the toilet with Jell-O legs and hope that the forecast for rain is wrong.

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