Friday afternoon, I met Ted King of Cervélo TestTeam for coffee. The New Englander is in town training in the warm California weather for his second season of racing for Cervélo. This year also marks his second year in Europe, after a rookie campaign that included successfully finishing his first grand tour, the Giro d’Italia.
King started racing six years ago at age 20. His first bike had eight speed. What was your first gruppo? This is cycling’s carbon dating. King spent three years racing pro in the United States, where he rode for Priority Health, which became Team Bissell, and made his results in hilly road races. He finished second overall in the U.S. national rankings in 2008.
Below the fold, the story of coffee with Ted King.
We agreed to meet at a local cafe on Friday afternoon, but first I had to go surfing. SurferBoy and I strapped the boards to the roof, fired up Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and headed down the road to our local spot. If this were a movie, the stereo would be blaring. But it isn’t a movie, and the car doesn’t have a stereo.
Along the way, we came to a small hill where a short bike path splits off from the road. Two riders had just made the turn-off. The rider on the left wore a white jersey. Ted King rides a 60 cm Cervélo, and this rider looked tall. The rider on the right wore black and yellow. The Livestrong colors and the distinctive posture and pedaling style made him easy to identify. Maybe that’s Ted King riding with Lance Armstrong, I thought. Those pros, they like to stick together. How cool would it be to get a picture of them to run with my Ted King story?
So we rolled slowly over the hill until we reached the spot where the bike path rejoined the road. Perfect timing, or so I thought. We’ll just roll up behind the riders, snap a photo, and go surfing. Simple.
But I had forgotten the Dread Follow Car. Whenever I’ve seen him training here, Armstrong has always had a follow car trailing behind him. I pulled out my camera, only to see the back of a beige Suburban.
Now I was stuck behind the very large follow car on a very small road with no space to pass. Surely I am the worst stalker in the history of the world. In the driver’s seat, meanwhile, SurferBoy was getting impatient. The Point was firing, SurferBoy needed to go surfing, and we were stuck behind Lance Armstrong’s follow car. Things were not looking good.
The road soon widened and we could pass. Now, I’ll get my photo, I thought. We’ll pass the riders, and I’ll snap a quick photo out the window. Things were looking up. But SurferBoy was feeling impatient, and we quickly flew by the two bike riders. I stuck my camera out the window and did the best I could.
Behind the riders, the follow car still lurked and I half expected a horde of secret service agents to come pouring out of the Suburban and chase after me. No camera! No camera! They need not have worried. I got a photo of the sky. Or maybe it was the road. It was hard to tell.
Later, after the surfing is done, I tell Ted King this story. He laughs and tells me that no, he wasn’t riding with Armstrong. It was someone else entirely, not Ted King.
* * *
I meet Ted King at a local coffee shop and we find a table outside. I sip my double espresso and watch as Ted scoops the single sugar cube out of his non-fat latte. He eats it with a huge smile, and laughs at the silly story of my paparazzi failure. Already, this is the least serious interview ever. A friend of mine stops by to say hello.
"Do you know everyone in town?" King asks. He’d watched as I’d chatted up the barista, who knew my order as I walked in the door.
"It’s a small town," I say.
After a brief detour into surfing, the talk turns to books as I’m supposed to borrow my friend’s copy of Murakami’s Wind Up Bird Chronicle. My friend, meanwhile, is reading Don DeLillo’s Underworld, a brilliant though lengthy novel about postwar America.
"I felt like I didn’t quite get it all the first time I read it," I remark after mentioning that I’d read the DeLillo novel twice.
"I felt the same way about Atlas Shrugged," says King, but he disclaims any desire to read it again.
"What are you reading now?"
"A book of short essays called What the Dog Saw."
King looks up the author’s name, Malcolm Gladwell, on his iPhone, and looks embarrassed that he can’t remember it. I don’t recognize the name, and Ted explains that Gladwell publishes in the New Yorker regularly. A friend, who owns a bike shop in New England, sends King frequent book recommendations. Between races, on bus rides and plane trips, he reads a lot of books.
I steer the conversation to bike racing and ask King about his training. He is working on building a base for the season and has spent the last few weeks rolling consistent five hour days. The terrain here is hilly, and while he does not do any especially intense efforts, King keeps the pressure on. The consistent mileage adds up and he says he’s dug himself into a bit of a hole, though it’s nothing a few good nights sleep won’t fix. His goal is a solid block of mileage before the holidays when he will head home to snowy New Hampshire. Then, he’ll drop the volume and get a nice recovery period before the team’s training camp in early January.
"Where is training camp?" I ask.
"We are headed to the Algarve coast in Portugal. Last year, I went to Algarve a week early and the weather was warm and perfect. The next week during camp, it rained. On the way, I’ll stop by Girona and drop off my stuff." Like many American pros, King is based in Girona for its weather, for an airport he described as "functional" and for the terrain, which is typically Spanish in its climby goodness.
"When’s your first race?"
"I’m doing Étoile des Bessèges. I’ve heard it’s usually wet."
I agree that it will almost certainly be wet, since the race is in France in February. King explains that since this year will be only his second season racing in Europe, he is still learning the calender and often doesn’t know too much about the races he’s starting until he gets there. King describes French racing as a little crazy. Everyone attacks all the time, sometimes at the expense of his own team-mate. Everyone wants to win.
King rode - and finished - the Giro d’Italia last season, his first grand tour. He is obviously proud of finishing, and is tentatively scheduled to ride the Italian grand tour again this year. The team’s rosters for the grand tours are usually not complete until very close to the race start, so nothing is certain just yet. Also, in the case of Cervélo TestTeam, much depends on the plans of Carlos Sastre. Sastre announced Saturday that he intends to ride the Giro d’Italia, and will decide about the Tour de France and Vuelta a España after the Giro. King notes that he made the long list for the Vuelta a España last season, but volunteered to ride the Tour of Missouri instead. He sounded confident that he’ll get another grand tour start this season.
"What was the funniest thing that happened at the Giro?"
"It was the Vesuvius stage, the day when Carlos won. I was on the final climb, the Vesuvius, and I saw a guy wearing a Red Sox hat. I’m a Red Sox fan, so I said Go Sox!" King explains to me, clueless from California, that this is what Red Sox fans say.
"The guy stared at me blankly, like he had no idea what I meant," he continued. "I kept climbing. Then, near the top of the climb, not far from the finish, I saw another guy. This guy wore a Yankees cap. So I said, Yankees Suck!"
This apparently, is also required Red Sox fan talk.
"The guy just looked at me like, what? He was just wearing the hat, he had no idea."
King dismissed the much-talked of transfers at the Giro with a shrug. They averaged around two hours, with the longest clocking in at four. He read during the transfers and pounded out his one thousand word updates for VeloNews on his Blackberry.
"I alternated with Michael Barry, and wrote every three days," he said of his VeloNews assignment. "I think I type better on an iPhone than I do on an actual keyboard."
I ask about gear choices at the Giro, and King says he rode either an 11-23 or an 11-25. For one stage, the team had the option of a compact chainring set or a 27 cog. He couldn’t remember exactly which stage it was. I guessed it was probably the Mortirolo stage, though we couldn’t be sure. King said he opted for the 27, and it worked out fine. He praised Cervélo as "innovative" and "pushing the envelope."
"They bring us studies from outside companies about how fast the bikes are."
"That must make it a bit rough if you get dropped."
He laughs, "Yeah, your time trial bike is 7 minutes faster. Why aren’t I 7 minutes faster?"
"What’s your secret super power?" I ask.
King has to think about this one for a bit, and comments that one of his friends once listed his strength in a team bio as "eating." King admits that he, too, loves to eat.
"Baking," he says finally.
"Bacon?" I look at him confused. I’ve totally misheard him.
"No, bakING." He’s laughing at me again. He did that a lot.
I’m now much less confused, though a bit disappointed. I really wanted to know where the bacon part was headed.
"What have you made lately?"
"I really like pumpkin, and I’ve been making a lot of pumpkin bread. I know all the proportions for the flour, sugar, whatever. So I just experiment. I put carrot in it last time. Two big carrots, grated. They made it really moist. I add raisins, nuts..."
We contemplate for a moment the scrumptious goodness of pumpkin. This reverie is interrupted by the distinctive sound of a bike hitting pavement. A rider had taken a spill in the intersection in front of the coffee shop. He looked down at his bike confused, as if it had suddenly become a demon thing. We watch, baffled by the crash, until we see the rider holding his saddle. It had broken off mid-ride. Fortunately, the rider suffered no harm, got back up, and continued down the street, his saddle now in his hand, not on his bike.
"That happened to me, once," volunteers King. "I was riding to class, and I had a stack of books in one hand, and a coffee in the other. The saddle broke off my bike. Somehow I landed on my feet behind the bike. The bike kept going, a ghost-ride. Some girl saw the whole thing, and couldn’t believe it."
If you’re going to be a pro bike racer, it’s never a bad thing to have a little luck. By now, our coffee cups are empty and the street is dark. I wish King all the best for the season and thank him for the chat. He’s borrowed a quite stylish yellow Vespa. If this were a movie, he’d have ridden off into the sunset. But it isn’t, so we just wave good-bye and go our separate ways.
* * *
You can follow all Ted King’s adventures - and get some vital advice on matters of style and conduct - at his blog, I am Ted King. You can also pick up a "I am not Ted King" t-shirt, so that no one will mistake you for Ted King. If you happen to see him on the road, be sure to wave, or you’ll make him sad.
Thanks to Ted King for his time and to Nikki for her assist in making this story possible.
Words and pictures by Jen See, and are for Podium Cafe use only. Don’t make me put you on my naughty list!