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Best young rider, Ben King (RadioShack), was all smiles before the stage start.
American in Calpe with newly-merged team
Ben King enters 2012 with greater assurance of his own abilities after a solid debut season with RadioShack. As US national champion, King began the 2011 campaign with an unusually high profile for a neo-professional, but explained that he was glad to be given the opportunity to develop at his own pace.
“I thought it was great that the team and staff didn’t put any extra pressure on me or any unrealistic expectations based on the fact that I was wearing the jersey,” King told Cyclingnews. “Like with any neo pro, they gave me good opportunities to improve and good feedback from races.”
While teething troubles are a reality of all young professionals’ fledgling steps in the sport, King’s own balanced outlook helped him to keep his performances in perspective from the beginning of the year.
“On my first race with RadioShack in Mallorca, I was in the gruppetto with Jens [Voigt] and Andy Schleck, so everybody has bad days,” he said. “You can’t let that go to your head. You have to realise that it's a process.”
King’s persistence throughout the year was rewarded in October, when he delivered his strongest performance of the season at the Tour of Beijing. His 12th place finish in China was enough to secure the white jersey, and gave the American’s morale a significant boost heading into the off-season.
“To end on the podium with the young rider jersey was kind of an affirmation at least that I belong, and it kind of allowed me to relax more in the off-season and enjoy it,” King said. “If I’d have had a really tough season last year, I’d have been anxious about how I spent my time in the off-season, whereas now I found that in November I was really enjoying my bike and wound up training a lot more than that time last year.”
The softly-spoken King is currently in Calpe at the first training camp of the new RadioShack-Nissan-Trek squad, a merger of the 2011 Leopard Trek and RadioShack teams. Twelve months ago, King and the American riders did not travel to RadioShack’s December camp at the same hotel, but there were no absentees this week as the two factions came together.
“There’s no-one on the [Leopard] team that I haven’t gotten along with,” King said. “I always looked up to Jens [Voigt] for his riding style, so I’d like to follow in his footsteps so to say but I have a lot of respect for all of the guys who have come across.
“Bennati flew out of the same airport as me in Pisa to a lot of races and even though I’d never met him before, he’d always have a friendly smile. I’ve always respected them for the way they race and compete, and for the way they handle themselves off the bike.”
If anything, King is less daunted than he was at this juncture 12 months ago. “I’m coming in with a little bit more knowledge of what’s expected and how to communicate with the staff and riders instead of being super intimidated by everyone,” he said. “The new parts of this team, the new riders – it’s equally exciting as last year but I guess it’s less intimidating.”
In the short-term, King’s goal is to continue the progress he made in 2011, but further down the line, his sights are trained on competing in the Olympic Games and the Tour de France.
“My two long-term goals are to race in the Tour de France and the Olympics one day. I guess completing a Grand Tour would be a step in the right direction, but I don’t really know my schedule yet,” he said, but acknowledged that forcing his way into the reckoning for London 2012 would be a big ask.
“Realistically I think I’m probably looking four years down the line. I wouldn’t be opposed to going this year but there’s a lot of depth in the American peloton. If I were to go this year, I think I’d have to show something pretty impressive early on next year.”
One race where he does hope to make an impact in 2012 is the Tour of California – “It’s going to be really hard to repeat what we did last year, but it’s possible with the team that we have” – but a more immediate concern for King is finding a roommate in Lucca, his Italian base, following Chris Butler’s move from BMC to Champion System.
“I didn’t spend a whole lot of time there last year, so it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for me to have my own place. I’d rather split rent with someone if I’m only going to be there for a few weeks in the season,” he said. With a small community of young English-speaking riders already established in Lucca, King is hoping to encourage new teammate George Bennett to make the move to Tuscany.