After several years of coming close to reaping the spoils of success at the US professional road race championship, Ted King is zeroed-in on the this year's Memorial Day race in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The 30-year-old Cannondale rider helped launch friend and former teammate Timmy Duggan into the stars-and-stripes jersey last year after making it onto the podium himself in 2011, and now King's got his own red-white-and-blue ambitions.
“I'm in it to win it. Period,” he told Cyclingnews on Friday. “That's my goal. Third place was nice. I imagine being in second place would be nice, but the person on the top step is the only person who's really, truly leaving the race happy.”
All King has to do is overcome 87 other guys who want to do exactly the same thing. The Cannondale rider will be without teammates on the brand-new 165km route in a field that will have multiple Continental and Pro Continental teams packing a full punch. The odds can be daunting, but the 6-foot-2-inch WorldTour domestique from Brentwood, New Hampshire, may have history on his side.
No rider outside of a WorldTour team has won the championship since Chris Wherry did it while riding for HealthNet-Maxxis in 2005. Although the trend has recently been changing, US-based WorldTour riders have dominated the podiums since foreigners were prohibited from the championship in 2006.
King will be one of only eight WorldTour riders contesting the championship on Monday. He'll join Duggan (Saxo-Tinkoff), Matthew Busche (RadioShack-Leopard), Brent Bookwalter (BMC) and Garmin-Sharp's four-man squad of Tyler Farrar, Caleb Fairly, Alex Howes and Jacob Rathe. Those riders will face full squads from UCI Pro Continental team UnitedHealthcare and nearly all of the US domestic Continental teams.
“Without any teammates it's always going to be a crapshoot,” King said. “But for sure in a more aggressive race with more attrition, then a strong ride is going to favor me.”
King compared the new course in Chatanooga to the previous championship course in Greenville, South Carolina. The new route features three laps on an 8.2km circuit in town, followed by four loops of larger 26.1km circuit with the day's significant climb, and then back to town for three more trips around the shorter circuit and the finish. The technical circuits and multiple trips up the Ochs Highway climb could easily whittle the field down to a select group, or possibly even blow the race completely apart.
“You look at the half-dozen years it was at Greenville and virtually anything can happen, from a breakaway sticking, to a massive breakaway or a short breakaway, or from a sprint to a solo finish,” King said. “Honestly, anything can happen. You can make the case that because no one knows how it's going to go, everyone will just want to throw down.”
With sprinters like Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp), Ken Hanson (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies), 2012 runner-up Frank Pipp (Bissell Pro Cycling) and Jelly Belly's Brad Huff and Freddie Rodriguez, a three-time US pro road race champion, lining up at the start, the rouleurs and breakaway specialists will have to make the race hard enough to leave the sprinters out of the finale completely or to sap the snap from their legs on the way there.
“There are a lot of people in a similar boat,” King said. “There are a lot of strong individuals from European teams, like Matthew Busche, Brent Bookwalter, so there's plenty of talent. There's no shortage of talent and horsepower. If the race ends up being a crapshoot, Darwin and the strongest riders will be there in the end.”
King shows every outward appearance of being ready to put in a strong ride if the race turns into his hoped-for battle of attrition. He is reportedly leaner than ever this year and is coming off a sturdy build up that started in February at the Tour de San Luis in Argentina. He followed that race with Paris-Nice and then took in a main course of the Belgian spring classics, including the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
King is currently coming off a week of yeoman's work at the Amgen Tour of California helping Cannondale teammate Peter Sagan add two more stages to his career total of 10 in the race. Sagan won bunch sprints in Santa Clarita and again on the final day in Santa Rosa after his Cannondale teammates and the field pulled back all-day breakaways just kilometers from the line.
Although his job in California was to try and make sure every opportunity for a bunch sprint materialized for his team leader; on Monday in Chattanooga King will be hoping to prevent such a finish so he can capitalize on the “crapshoot” that ensues and ride from the race in his own winner's jersey. That would make him really, truly happy.