You've been racing only seven years—is your first race still vivid in your memory?
I actually got hit by a cargo van while I was warming up for my first race. It threw me a long ways and totaled the bike. I ended up racing on my dad's bike. We just slammed down the seat. I was like third from last and so disappointed I thought I'd never do another bike race. But the next race I did was an uphill time trial at Wintergreen ski resort in Virgina. I didn't crash and did pretty well, so I stuck with it. The next year, when I was 16, I won the time trial and it was a big deal locally.
Going solo isn't always considered the smartest way to race, but it seems indicative of your racing style, and you've had success doing it.
My directors say to me, "When you learn how to race, you're going to be really good." But what I'm good at is hammering. Sometimes it's in support of a team leader, like at L'Avenir where I had a blast riding the front everyday for Andrew Talansky, who ended up second. Or it could be a long breakaway, another way to take pressure off the team. Every now and then those breakaways work out, and they've worked out a lot for me this year.
What are you thinking when you're off the front alone?
When it's late in the race, like at pro nationals, and I really need to find some internal motivation and see what I'm made of, there are all kinds of things that motivate me. I know mentioning religion can make people squeamish, but I'm a Christian, and cycling is an act of worship for me. God's definitely blessed my career. When you have an opportunity to win and give the glory back to God, it's motivating to work pretty hard.
What kind of training advice would you offer to kids aspiring to get where you are?
Allen Lim once gave me some good advice for young racers. He said, "Something is better than nothing." Basically, when you're starting out in the sport, first you have to get out there and ride. Once you're riding regularly, then you can develop a plan and figure out what works for you. I think power meters are extremely, extremely useful, but a lot of guys that grew up training with power meters can rely too much on them.
What does an off-season in Virginia consist of?
I love being outside and hiking and camping—which are kind of the PC terms for hunting. I bow hunt, and we hunt for turkey and deer mostly. I consider myself an educated redneck: A lot of cyclists are into organic nutrition, interested in a more humane form of eating meat. At home, we try to use everything we can. My mom is a pretty incredible wild-game cook.
The King's Orders
Six tips for becoming a better cyclist, from Ben King
- Set achievable, short-term goals. This helps you chart your progress and boosts your confidence. You need to aim high with some long-term goals. But focusing only on the long-term goals can be discouraging.
- Trust in the process. If you have a coach or have set out a training program, believe in it.
- Measure yourself against yourself. The best way to be competitive against others is to be at your personal best.
- I do very little to nothing with weights during the winter. I do my strength training on the bike with big-gear efforts on short, sprintable hills and long, grinding mountains. I also do plyometrics like one-legged squats and lunges.
- I often listen to audiobooks and podcasts on base rides. Besides passing the miles, it will make you sound smarter.
- Attitude is everything for instance, some of the training required in winter isn't a jolly good time, but that's what postride cookies are for.
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