BRUSSELS, Belgium (VN) — At the end of the day, it’s just a job, like any other. Except to earn this paycheck, they’re pinning on numbers, counting calories, and of course, spending countless hours training on the open road.
In a culture predicated on intense focus and attention to detail, some professional cyclists avoid distraction and become one-dimensional.
Ben King does not.
The 26-year-old American on Cannondale-Garmin has found ways during his five-year stint as a pro to absorb more of the experience and reflect on races in a way sometimes avoided by his cohorts who prefer a more nose-to-the-grindstone approach.
“We sign one-, two-year contracts. You can’t race forever, you never know how much time you have in the sport,” he said a day after racing Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
“And if you’re not enjoying yourself and trying to take advantage of all the opportunities that we have available to us now living in a new country, you don’t want to get to the end of your career, having lived in different countries, spent five, 10, 15 years, in a foreign country, and not collected a different language, learned a little bit about the culture of where you’re living.”
King admits he wants to make more of an effort to learn Italian, as he’s now in his fifth year living in Lucca, Italy.
He says the small Tuscan village now feels like home, and he doesn’t want to take it for granted.
“This year I tried to go to some of the museums, some of the towers around.
“When you have a long travel day, get off at the train station, just a ‘k’ from my house. Walking into the old wall, the old city, started to feel like I’m going home,” King said while waiting for a flight back to Virginia, where he’s from.
He might not see the Blue Ridge Mountains or his family that often, but he keeps them updated with email reports after every race day.
“My dad is my biggest supporter, my biggest fan, coach, mentor, hero, all of the above,” King said.
“[I] started writing a quick little report for him. … My dad started forwarding the reports on. People just asked to be included.”
And now, after six years of writing reports that he characterizes as “personal,” about 150 people are on his email list.
“When you’re just suffering, guttered, in some windy crosswind Belgian field, getting sprayed in the face by mud and cow poo. Suffering. It’s just nice to feel like people at home, people care about you and support you,” he said after Liège-Bastogne-Liège. King recorded a DNF in the race and called it a “disappointment.”
Through the good and the bad, the win for his team on the Champs-Élysées at last year’s Tour, and the late-race crash that scuttled Cannondale’s ambitions at Liège, King keeps an even keel. He doesn’t seem to live and die by these races.
After a long day in the saddle, when most riders are whittled down to their cores by fatigue, King seeks activities beyond the trappings of modern life — Playstations, iPhones, and the like.
“I play guitar,” he said. “I’ve been trying to learn to sing and play at the same time. It’s one of the things I got in Italy. Something to pass the time on recovery days and after training, something that switches the brain off. Feels good, better than watching TV.”
It’s reassuring that, despite a profession that often saps every ounce of energy, King makes the effort, by choice, to expand his horizons.