Drinking Coffee with Ted King

Coffee_medium It’s become a tradition, if doing something twice qualifies as a tradition. When Ted King comes to town, I meet him for coffee and we talk bike racing. And whatever else happens to come to mind.

A week or so ago, King sent me a message that he would be in town. We immediately got down to the all-important business of planning coffee. Training is important. Coffee is vital.

Join me below the fold for a story about drinking coffee with Ted King.

I catch up with Ted at the new coffee shop in town. He’s sitting in a sun-filled corner of the patio, coffee already in hand. I head inside, and Kim Anderson, ex-Highroad, pulls my espresso shot. Former pro cyclists Anderson and Aaron Olson own the shop, aptly called Handlebar Coffee. The coffee’s good, and the vibe is right.

So there I am, interviewing a pro bike racer in a shop owned by ex-pro bike racers. We sit on the patio, the white cement radiating warm midwinter California sun.

Bee_edit_medium King has just finished a ride and he’s wearing his new 2012 Liquigas Sidis. They’re Liquigas green on the toes and shine like Italian shoes do. A curious honeybee, hypnotized by its own reflection, hovers over the bright green. What manner of thing is this? Nothing to eat here, move along, and soon it does.

Turning his foot, King points to the blue stripes running down the side of the shoes. Contrasting polka dots run through the stripes.

I’m not sure about all the dots, King says.

Maybe they’re going for the bubbling gas theme? I wonder. The graphic reminds me of a Sprite commercial. Crisp and clean, so many tiny bubbles.

We riff on the bubbles for a bit, and King says he asked the Italians if the word for dots had any relation to green peas. Apparently, the Italians were not entirely amused by his etymological musings. I’m not sure about the green peas, really, I’m still seeing bubbles. But maybe I’ve taken too many setwaves on the head lately. It’ll make you see things.

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The talk then turns to bike racing. King had an up and down season this year. Cycling is brutal, says King. You have these great moments, and then it all comes crashing down.

King spend this past spring wrestling with tendonitis in his knee. It messes with your head, he tells me. The injury was especially difficult, because he was riding his first season with Liquigas. Happily, the team proved helpful and supportive. But because he had yet to prove himself to the team management, there was an added layer of stress to the already stressful business of being injured.

By May, things were back on track. King rode the Amgen Tour of California in support of Peter Sagan who scored a series of stage wins and won the points jersey. King was also on the long list for the Liquigas Tour de France team. It’s pretty much impossible for a non-Italian to ride the Giro at a team like Liquigas, he notes. But he had legit hopes of riding his first Tour de France. Bike_square_medium

The run of good times continued when King finished on the podium at the U.S. Pro Championship in Greenville. At Liquigas, King has mainly played a supporting role, so the chance to ride for himself in Greenville was special. King and Timothy Duggan formed a two-man team for the race, and set-up their own supporting cast to make the day go smoothly. “It was like being a cat 2 again,” says King and he seems to have enjoyed the back-to-his-roots, do-it-yourself approach of the day.

For every high, there’s a low in bike racing. For King, the Philly race ended his run of good luck. The race with its iconic Manayuk Wall has a deep history in U.S. racing, and in the past, it served as the men’s pro national championship.

The race also offered a rare chance for King’s parents to watch him race. His father suffered a stroke several years ago which has limited his ability to travel. “The last time they saw me race in person was probably Fitchburg before I rode for Cervélo,” says King, who has done extensive fundraising for the Krempels Center since his father’s illness.

Fresh off his success in Greenville, King was hoping for a good day out in Philly, but as often happens in bike racing, things did not go according to plan. King crashed out early with a broken collarbone. The injury meant a second interruption to his season, and put an end to King’s Tour hopes.

“It was just... “ he trails off.

“The wheels came off?”

“The wheels came off.”

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But for every low, there’s another high and after a period of recovery and rebuilding, King headed to Colorado for the U.S. Pro Cycling Challenge. The course with its high mountains and the crazy enthusiastic crowds made the race a highlight of the season for King.

Everyone I’ve talked to has raved about that race, I say.

It was crazy. So many people came out, he agrees.

And next year, when the race goes to Boulder... if you want to rob a house in Boulder, that’ll be the day. Everyone will out out on the roads, King jokes. Crown_square_medium

King also at last had the chance to race in front of his parents, who made the trip to Colorado. As King tells the story, his father spent the week wearing a crown. “It was a paper crown, like from Burger King,” explains King. And everywhere Ted King, Sr. went, much to his delight, fans came up to him, asking if he was in fact Ted King’s father.

After the Colorado race, King headed back to Italy and met up with Joao’s Fat Man Tours for a week in Toscana. There was eating. And bike riding. And more eating.

It was mostly eating, with some bike racing on the side, says King laughing.

Immediately, I start thinking about how I can scheme my way into a trip. Eating, wine, bike racing. Really, there are few better things in life.

King also got a last minute call-up for the Giro di Lombardia, but he was already set to step on the plane back to the U.S. He likes the hilly classics best - King named Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Flèche-Wallonne as two of his favorite races - and is hoping to ride Italian monument at least once before his career is over. It’s not easy to get on the team for the Italian races at Liquigas, of course, as the Italian riders get priority seating for their home events.

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The upcoming 2012 season is King’s second with Liquigas and his contract expires at the end of the year. He says he can’t ignore the need to make sure he gets a job for 2013, but it won’t do much to change how he rides this season. “I’m not going to turn into a selfish jerk out there, or anything, and try to win every race,” says King.

For King, pro bike racing is as much about the life experience as it is about the results. Take his time at Liquigas, for example. On the cycling side, King is happy racing for the Green Team. The team supported him through his knee injury, he’s ridden some interesting races, and he’s had the satisfaction of seeing team-mates win after he’s worked hard all day. Flag_square_medium

He has also had the chance to live in Italy during the season. King says he’s definitely relished the chance to immerse in Italian life. There’s just so much passion for bike racing, he says. And so much talent. I’m reminded of the chat I had with Jamie Burrow about how competitive cycling in Italy is, and how only the very best teams get into the big races. We banter about how difficult it would be to make it as an Italian rider. And what it would be like to ride for one of the lower tier teams.

Tradition demands that we talk about books, because that’s what we did the last time we met. King fills the time between races and on plane rides by reading. He reads mostly nonfiction, while I’m a novel kind of girl. We don’t overlap much, really.

King has Bill Bryson’s At Home and Walter Isaacson’s biography of Ben Franklin. Isaacson gives good bio, I say. And King agrees. He has plans to read the Steve Jobs bio from Isaacson, but figures it might be better to let it “age” a bit first. I’ve heard the Jobs book was a bit rushed at the end, I wonder how it will stand up over time.

Me, I’m out here in fiction land. I just finished David Ondaatje’s Davisadero.

By now, the sun is slipping behind the building across the way. It’s time for King to head out. I wish him luck for the season and we promise to catch up again down the road. I see a friend at another table, so I join him. There’s more book talk. He’s looking for a copy of Cloud Atlas, so I promise him mine.

And then the shadows deepen and the air chills with the promise of darkness. It’s the end of the coffee chatting for the day.

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Another day, another coffee shop. The local boys are sitting around the table talking about the morning’s ride. You can’t really escape bike racing talk in this town. It seems like everywhere you turn, there’s someone with a bike who wants to make it go fast.

And they’re talking about how Ted King was on the ride, and how it was okay in the flats, but then they went into the hills.

It’s amazing how fast even the non-climbers can climb when you get to that level, says one of the guys at the table. Mountains_edit_medium

Yeah, his cadence was so fast, says another.

I wonder what’s like, you know, to ride next to Contador. It’d be like ten seconds, then …

I could tell them what it’s like, and a few other things. But I don’t.

I sit at my table and let the talk wash over me. Now they’re talking about tomorrow’s ride and about maybe doing that one climb, you know the one, with that steep switchback near the top and the long descent down the other side.

There’s always another ride, another race, another climb. Ted King is off to Argentina now to begin his racing season at the Tour de San Luis.

Me, I’ll just be sitting here drinking coffee.

And maybe when I’m done with this cup, I’ll roll out and go do that one climb, the one with the steep switchback near the top and the long descent down the other side.

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Story and art - I use that term loosely, natch - by Jen See. Thanks to Ted King for his time and to Aaron Olson and Kim Anderson at Handlebar Coffee, Santa Barbara, Cali, for their hospitality.

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