It’s no secret that American cycling has suffered like a dog under the relentless allegations brought to light by the US Anti-Doping Agency, an organization hell bent on seeking due punishment for cyclists who used performance enhancing drugs to better their careers. Spurred by thorough investigatory tactics and irrefutable evidence, countless US cyclists confessed to using PEDs throughout a whole slew of events, from the Tour de France to the Olympics, all typically in the years prior to 2007. The coup de grace came when once-hero Lance Armstrong, whose seemingly untouchable seven Tour de France titles were a symbol of inspiration to millions of Americans, finally threw in the towel and confirmed what countless skeptics had ranted on for over a decade.
As the dust settled, many brilliant careers were cut short or put on suspension, forever casting them as bad men amidst an even worse culture. Regardless of the validity surrounding these judgments, the sport has continued to pedal on, yet where does this leave American cycling, both for the fan and the rider?
America’s Greatest Race. This title, aptly given to the Amgen Tour of California, describes in three words one of the nation’s most prestigious and successful sporting events, with roughly 750 miles of beautiful terrain. The route, which started in Escondido and finished in Santa Rosa, acted as stadium last week as 16 professional teams from around the globe squeezed every last drop of energy into eight days of battle between man, bike and road.
The Amgen ToC has solidified its reputation as the nation’s most triumphant bike race, offering a hearty platform for domestic athletes to showcase their talents to a large audience. Despite the fallout from Lance and his syringe-prone US Postal teammates, this year’s edition saw American riders shake off the naysayers and cynics, eventually leading to a first place overall victory by 24-year-old Washington native Tejay van Garderen, as well as a stage win by Tyler Farrar of Garmin-Sharp.
Can this momentum be carried onward for years to come? Given such anti-drug advancements like the biological passport, which detects irregular blood levels over a period of time, one can hope that integrity and class returns to US cycling’s reputation, much as was exuded in the days of Greg LeMond and his now sole American Tour de France wins.
From the Horse’s Mouth
An insight into these sorts of things can only be stretched so far, however, and there comes a point where it is a blessing to hear from those actually in the trenches, racing side by side against some of the world’s most fit athletes. Bullz-Eye had the chance to cash in on such insider info by recently talking with Ted King of Cannondale Pro Cycling, whose team won two of the eight stages in this year’s ToC and have had an extremely successful European racing season.
Ted is not only known for his stellar international cycling career, but also a razor sharp wit and command of the written word, which both have contributed to him becoming one of the most popular racers from the US.
BULLZ-EYE: You are not only a college graduate, but got started in cycling relatively late. Did you ever look enviously at the riders who were groomed from a young age though junior development squads? Did you feel you had to work extra hard to play catch up?
TED KING: By in large, no. Sure, it’s wild to see the talent coming up from kids racing at the ProTour level at an age that I wasn’t yet even riding a bike. But I think my college education as my entry to the sport has me more well-rounded and ready for what life serves up. I could wax poetically about this all day long, but at the end of the day, I’m thrilled with how this career has unfolded.
BE: Countless US pros were left without contracts for 2013, which is no doubt a major blow to one’s livelihood and identity. Seeing as longwinded careers in any sport are never set in stone, do you feel it is important to have a backup plan, such as a degree, and perhaps be more cautious when plunging straight from high school into the professional circuit?
TED KING: You hit at least one of the points I was glossing over in the question above on the head. Cycling, like any professional sport, is fickle. Contracts run generally one or two years, and after that, it’s what have you done for me lately. In the grand scheme of life, and not just cycling, I think having a backup plan is wise. But that’s why I preach collegiate cycling so much; it’s as fun and competitive as you want to make it, while still providing a college degree and some cultural awareness.
BE: Can one embrace the phrase, “Don’t out all your eggs in one basket,” and still display the vigor and drive needed to reach the upper levels of cycling, or do you feel a 100% commitment is crucial?
TED KING: That’s tough to say. Because if you’re in the tip-top highest rankings of the UCI, then you’ve likely been racing from the age of eight and you’ve likely always been the absolutely highest level of cream rising to the top. You’re the best of the best and you didn’t find cycling on a whim as a collegiate athlete. I think it’s still easy to stay well-rounded while at the top echelon of the sport; read, write, public speak and embrace the culture in which you’re surrounded. That all being said, it’s far, far easier said than done as well as few and far between when you see it in reality, since professional sports are so full of immediacy and living in the now.
BE: Is it safe to say that the Tour of California can hold its own with the European stage races in terms of beauty, competition and overall class?
TED KING: If I’m picking up what you’re putting down… yes. The Tour of California is among the finest races on the planet.
BE: Are there any sights or experiences that are a must for you when in California?
TED KING: A post-race swing through In-and-Out Burger will likely be on the to-do list. Even more than that, I’m pretty stoked to finish in Napa rather than racing north to south as years’ past. I won’t let wine country escape my grasp.
BE: How important is it to have familiarity with a route, and is there any benefit from having some mystery?
TED KING: It’s important but not decisive. Sure, due diligence will certainly help for making up a few seconds here or knowing when to attack there. But in reality, the mass of the peloton dictates pace. Again, I could go on about this one at length, but the two letter answer is no.
BE: When racing the ToC, how does the cycling scene community on the west coast differ from that east where you grew up? Or in Europe?
TED KING: North American cycling culture in general is more enthusiastic. I think European cycling culture is often so commonplace that some fans don’t really embrace just how cool the spectacle of cycling is as it rips by their town. There is certainly some naivety since professional cycling is still considered a foreign sport here in America. But knowing that and recognizing that we’re ambassadors for the future of the sport is special. Then, for east compared to west here in America, I think the biggest difference is just proximity. Everything is closer and therefore more convenient back east. A two-hour drive to a weekend race seems like the standard for us right coasters, but trekking the length of California or from CA to NM would be an apparent eternity.
BE: You’re a major presence on Strava. Do you feel that this international web of online support is an added motivation when times get tough? How about Strava as a training tool?
TED KING: It’s flattering the outpouring on Strava, with people posting comments and virtual pats on the back after big training rides from all over the world — friends and family back home or people whose names I can’t even pronounce. It doesn’t directly evoke added motivation, but for sure it inspires some of my tougher rides or through nasty weather even just subconsciously. As training, I think it’s awesome for the elite amateur. On the high professional level, we’re not comparing race notes or climb times. One of my favorite uses is coming to a new geographic area and using the Explore feature to check out just the right length climb for the specific intervals I have to do. That’s extremely handy.
BE: It seems that Americans have done well in the GC since the inception of the ToC. What do you think it is about the ToC’s route environment that brings out the best in domestic riders?
TED KING: Everyone ups their game when it’s time to race on their home turf. It’s no different in Italy, Spain, Australia, or here in America. Pride? Compatriot one-ups-manship? I don’t know, something like that.
BE: Races can be a bit monotonous to viewers who aren’t involved in the sport, which seems like a disservice to a sport that launches the human body up and down some of the most challenging and beautiful landscape on Earth. Do you think there is any way to make cycling more appealing on TV, such as the GoPros used in 2012?
TED KING: Don’t get me started on this. If we can know every single bit of telemetry regarding car racing down to the ten-thousandth of so-and-so measurement, but we then scan a camera at a bike race and don’t know even what group we’re looking at or where they are in the race, we’re missing something huge. Camera angles, live telemetry, in-race commentary, are a start. It’s a sport steeped in tradition, so we’ll see how long it takes for these things to catch on.
BE: What is the most useful piece of advice you have ever received, in regards to the sport?
TED KING: Wear sunscreen.
BE: Do you think cycling has the ability to enhance a person’s writing skills, given that there are prolonged hours of focus, inner monologue and thought building?
TED KING: For the right person, absolutely. Without being vain whatsoever, are those people rare? Yes.
BE: ToC successes such as Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner have experienced great longevity in their careers, is it a huge relief to know there is the potential to carry on your life’s passion for many years to come?
TED KING: A huge relief? Ha, no, not one bit. I’ve known for years that you peak physiologically in your early 30s and you can maintain some incredible form into your late 30s and early 40s. It’s certainly nice to know that I could continue that long, but I’ve already been at this game of professional racing for nearly a decade. Life is an adventure. Only time will tell what and when the next chapter will bring.
BE: In a recent article by VeloNews, Mario Cipollini told Dan Wuori that riders nowadays lose some of their allure/mysticism by cataloguing their lives to various social media outlets. Personally, one of my absolute favorite things about your influence within the sport is the fact that you do just that and detail your exploits. Taking this into consideration, do you feel that Cipollini has a valid point, or that fans can only benefit from immersing themselves within riders’ lives?
TED KING: While Cipo’s allure and mysticism arguably exceeds mine, I think he’s from an entirely different generation of cycling — not to mention an era that doesn’t really embrace social media. So I lean to the latter of those two; riders who use social media well can put themselves on display, but to whichever degree they please. It’s all about having a filter, both as the person issuing social media and the person absorbing it.