I was recently asked about the current state of cycling in America. Despite consecutive years of superb racing amid an ominous few months leading up to the event, our country’s second biggest race, the Tour of Missouri, had just recently received the fatal axe when this question was posed to me.
Memories from the Tour de Georgia are beginning to fade as the years continue to pass since its last edition. Instead of competing against weather as its greatest adversary like in recent years, the 2010 Tour of California was forced to compete against perhaps the grandest tour of them all, the Giro d’Italia.
Additionally, as if to add salt to the wound, the United States has seen the former formidable Philly Week, with its million-dollar purse and hundreds of thousands of live spectators, pruned to mere Philly Day. To some, the state of cycling in America is menacing.
Allow me to digress.
During the two restful weeks immediately following my second Giro, I tallied one college reunion (my own) as well as one wedding (not my own). After these and other fun-filled activities entirely unrelated to the bicycle and entirely related to recuperating from a strenuous first half of the season, I jumped headlong back on the training bandwagon. I logged progressively longer rides with greater intensity throughout the week, but for me there is no better way to add efforts to my training than to be in a proper race. Looking at the local race calendar, I was therefore excited to see that a stalwart of the New England cycling scene, the Housatonic Hills road race, took place that very weekend.
In truth, however, a great deal of time and effort went into my participation in this race due to this little blurb from the UCI to which I have to subscribe:
UCI code 2.1.009 prohibits ProTour and Professional Continental teams from competing in national level events where only UCI Continental teams of the country, regional and club teams, national teams and mixed teams may participate. They are permitted to race with three riders wearing non-team clothing, however.
This made for a perfect excuse to execute the iamtedking cycling jersey, which I have wanted to pursue for a while. While this may sound like an ego boost if you’ve ever heard one, there is an altruistic goal in mind since a significant portion of the proceeds from sales of the jersey as well as all of the iam(not)tedking products go to the Krempels Center. Therefore with the generous assistance from the Cervelo TestTeam’s clothing sponsor, Castelli, the jersey became a reality and team iamtedking was ready to roll.
From the moment I arrived at this race, there was a level of energy I felt that is equal to yet entirely different from lining up for a grand tour or an Ardennes classic. The same anxious anticipation that I experienced a half-dozen years ago when I regularly participated in these big New England races rushed through me the entire morning as I went through the routine of strolling with everyone else to registration, pinning on my numbers, and kitting up in my car.
I was mistaken in thinking I was inconspicuous in my yet-to-be-unveiled kit as I had dozens of people approach me to shake my hand, congratulate me on the Giro — including one very proud Italian now living in New York City — or just say hello and offer words of encouragement. I really tried to downplay my being there so despite arriving quietly to the back of the peloton at the pre-race staging, I still received a very warm welcome and call to the front line.
This gregarious hospitality persisted throughout the day and even during the race itself. Within minutes of the start flag being dropped, already a handful of people among the peloton thanked me for being alongside them in competition — I was floored! The warmest reception came at the finish where I was interviewed by race emcee extraordinaire Richard Fries, and the handshakes and congratulations continued. I did win the race, which could account for this fanfare, but the amount of enthusiastic support was far more than I anticipated.
There was a great reception throughout the afternoon in an open field alongside the finish line with a fun, picnic-like atmosphere. Ebullient families cheered throughout the day — perhaps even more so on account of it being Father’s Day — so that while it feels terribly cheesy to say, the amusement and lightheartedness in the air was infectious to everyone present.
New England has produced an inordinately large number of professional cyclists and it’s thanks to superbly run races like this. This is where I cut my teeth throughout the early days of my cycling career. Racing week in and week out with this level of competition really raised the bar for me across the board and helped me get where I am today. The enormous number of participants, the exceedingly well-run organization, the fair and supportive officiating, the impressive number of local and regional sponsors, and the vivacious energy throughout the day is especially promising when I think about the future of cycling in this country.
The ebb and flow of races gaining traction on a national level is what currently characterizes American cycling. However, I can safely say that I have taken the pulse of cycling at a regional level and I am very proud to say the state of cycling in America is extraordinarily strong.
(Related: All Ted’s columns)
This year Ted King is in his sophomore year with the Cervélo TestTeam. After getting a taste for the European peloton with the U.S. espoir national team in 2005, King returned to the United States for three successful years of domestic pro racing. The 27-year-old is a native of New Hampshire and despite his affinity for hearty servings of coffee, he is slowly adapting to the smaller European portions. Slowly. His diaries appear monthly on VeloNews.com; between the scanty portions we serve up, you can follow Ted at www.Cervelo.com/team and www.iamTedKing.MissingSaddle.com. Those of you content with 140 characters or less can track his activities at www.twitter.com/iamtedking.