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Riding with the King: Dispensing pretenses

  • By Ben King
  • Published Feb. 2, 2012
Ben King was all smiles after winning the best young rider's jersey in the 2011 Tour of Beijing, stage 5. (file) Photo: Andrew Hood

As fast as I transitioned to a bike rider in the off-season, forgetting about my power meter, riding-not-training and eating what and when I wanted, I shifted back into race mode. Expectations flipped the switch.

Cameras flashed like fireflies in the dark. With the spotlight in our eyes, the presenters called us to the front of the stage in our respective groups: climbers, sprinters, all-rounders, time trialists, and indispensables. Three days after celebrating the new year, I congregated with teammates in Luxembourg to present Team RadioShack-Nissan-Trek. Media finally replaced personal conclusions and general speculations with the facts gathered during the presentation, rider interviews and press conferences.

The team chartered a flight from Luxembourg to Mallorca, Spain, for a team training camp the following day. Although we spent time in chamois during the presentation, we three Americans arrived in Mallorca with three days of travel sediment in the legs. That very night the directors scheduled me for a lactate threshold test, a test in which the intensity increases every four minutes until failure. It sent lava through my legs. Nevertheless, it showed the gains I made from a year of racing and training at this level.

Last year the team held training camp on the same island. The mechanics parked our team busses in the same spot at the same hotel. Despite the combination of teams, everything felt familiar. Team RadioShack 2011’s differences integrated easily with Leopard-Trek. I think the merger, a difficult transition, unified us, because we experienced it together. Once fitted in our new jerseys, it became impossible and useless to differentiate who came from which team.

Last year in Mallorca I had kicked into the Col de Cura before my RadioShack teammates who were still at the team car trading jackets for bottles. A Leopard rider floated past me, and I admired how his mechanical cadence transferred power into the climb. The sticker on his helmet said, “Fuglsang.” At the top of the climb Horner slapped hands with Voigt. During the Mallorca Challenge races later that week, Andy Schleck and I swapped massive pulls for 100km. Afterwards, I introduced myself to Voigt as “a long time fan.” Now Fuglsang and I share a room at training camp. Voigt tells jokes at dinner and Andy and I swap pulls on training rides up and down Col de Cura.

I got to know my new teammates during long, double-file group rides, which the directors broke up with quality intervals, and the riders broke up with playful racing especially when we stopped for an espresso on the return trip. The specific drills we followed brought me back to my days on the swim team focusing on form and technique. We completed a trio of three-day blocks, which tested each of us. The directors also mandated frequent literal tests like the lactate test and pre-breakfast fat tests.

Unaccustomed to testing like the Leopard riders, I had to overcome some performance anxiety. Thanks to the scientific and neutral attitude of the directors and doctors who analyzed the results, I consigned to the tests as a method, not to judge us, but to proscribe tailored training for us. In an interview, I said that I would gauge progress toward my goals by the feedback I receive from my teammates and coaches. These tests will serve as another form of feedback.

We crammed interviews, equipment fitting, and meetings on both ends of training. Halfway through camp, the hype dispersed, training fatigue increased, and one day on my walk to breakfast, I noticed that Markel Irizar wasn’t smiling. I appreciated that any pretenses had faded. What I saw from riders at this stage of camp is what I can expect from them for the duration of the season. It made me grateful for how often our guys like Markel do wear an authentic smile.

Our sport requires coordination for success. Some articles I read overplay the team “family” dynamic. However, we do live our lives together on the road. During camp we celebrated birthdays. My roommate recounted to me the day that he flew home on a rest day of the Tour de France to meet his new baby son.

My Uncle Ben, a cycling enthusiast, passed away this week. He was the most brilliant man I have ever known. He remembered everything he heard or read, and he once read the dictionary just to expand his vocabulary. He suffered heart failure and fell off his bike. In a quiet place I watched the memorial service via live steaming. Although we remove ourselves from distractions during camp, life does not pause. Life is short and, as teammates, we spend a lot of it together. Go big, and then go home.

FILED UNDER: Rider Diaries TAGS: /

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