If you haven’t heard of New Hampshire native Ted King, it’s perhaps no surprise; The professional cyclist certainly doesn’t dominate the world stage. He finished 64th in the recent tour of Colorado and 39th in the tour of Utah. But as one of only six Americans to race in the Tour de France this year, King has won many hearts in the cycling community all over the Northeast.
Every Wednesday in the summer through Mid-September, a group of cyclists ride together out of the Exeter Cycles bike shop. Ted King grew up in nearby Brentwood and this is his backyard. The cyclists who gather here are a who’s who of riders who watched as this 30-year-old’s star rose.
And they all have something to say about him.
“He really likes to have long dinners. I can see him really easily being a guy on a porch when he’s like seventy, just like whittling,” says Ryan Kelly, an amateur racer and friend.
“So in high school I ran with like a rougher crowd maybe than Ted did, and it was funny because Ted used to be afraid of me in high school,” explains Dylan McNicholas, a rider who has won many of the races in New England, “And now when Ted comes to races I’m afraid of him.”
King debuted in his first Tour de France this year, but had to leave the race early after crashing. He separated his shoulder, and missed the time cut required to continue.
Despite having made the big stage, whenever he’s home he still makes time for the local ride in Exeter. But he’s not there the night I visit. He’s hard to pin down: during the racing season he lives out of a duffel bag, has a house in Girona Spain, and is shopping for another in Boulder, Colorado.
But when he makes it the Exeter ride, it’s a big deal.
“It’s like the hot girl came to class, and everyone’s trying to impress her,” Ryan Kelly says King doesn’t act like a big shot on the ride, but people still know who he is, “So there’s this element of trying to impress him but also respect and being on your best behavior. Because you don’t want to embarrass yourself around the hot girl either.”
And just hanging out with local cyclists isn’t the extent of King’s community involvement.
He also organizes a couple of charity rides. One in October aims to raise $100,000 for the Krempels Center – a non-profit community center for people with brain injuries. A smaller event earlier this week sent money to flood victims in Colorado.
And of course, whenever King is home he hits up the local races and it doesn’t go unnoticed. Last weekend he did the Mayor’s Cup, a big race in downtown Boston.
“Our hearts were broken this July when Teddy King was eliminated from the Tour de France in the Fourth stage,” declares the race announcer as King is called up to the front row of racers, “Ted our hearts went out to you. He’s been pulling for Peter Sagan all year long, maybe today is Teddy King’s turn!”
Slovakian Peter Sagan is team Cannondale’s team leader. King’s job is to ride out in the wind while Sagan shelters behind for most of the race. During the 5-hour-long races of the tour, King is often at the front of the pack making pace during the first few hours of the race, before the TV broadcast even begins.
So, he’s not exactly basking in the spotlight. But in the off season, King gets to ride for himself.
In this Boston crowd fans know a lot about him. He’s all over social media, has a popular blog, and he posts data from his training rides online, including how much power his legs put out. That’s a big commitment to transparency that could help to show that he’s not using performance enhancing drugs.
“He’s clean and he’s awesome,” says Cote, “We saw him fight through the tour de France first few stages with a separated shoulder… I admire him a lot more.”
After the riders power their way across the finish line, and the crowds disperse, I told King about Cote’s praise.
“That means a lot, to be honest,” he said.
He didn’t start riding until he was 20 and says he has just been taking the experience day-by-day ever since he went pro.
“I guess I never would have expected to be where I am now. My evolution into the sport has always been… not unexpected, it’s the result of a tremendous amount of hard work, but I think I have a really good appreciation for it, because of the circuitious track that I wouldn’t have expected to have gotten here.”
It could be that people love Ted King just because he’s the hometown hero; the local guy on the world stage. But even so, he’s maybe a healthier cycling hero to have: one who works hard and does his part, but isn’t always on top of the podium.
By the way, at the race in Boston, King finished 11th. It was a race geared for sprinters and please and crowd, and King says he’s more suited to long, grueling stage races like the tour.
But King keeps his finish in perspective.
“I wish I won today, that would have been really nice to high-five those twelve year olds. But this is an awesome event,” he smiles, “Bike rides! Bikes will save the world!”
Look for King, saving the world one bike ride at a time, on the New Hampshire Seacoast over the next few weeks.