Ben King lands in the record books at this year’s Tour de France.
Last July, as the world watched the21 stages of the Tour de France unfold, beginning in Leeds, England and ending in Paris, France, Virginians watched as 25-year-old Ben King of Charlottesville made history. In his tour debut for team Garmin-Sharp, King became the first Virginian to finish the venerable 3,664-kilometer race and the fourth-fastest American, finishing 53rd out of 163 riders.
With 3.5 billion viewers worldwide, the celebrated race—along with the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta España that comprise the three Grand Tours—is the most famous in professional cycling. The pressure on the riders is intense not only because of the physical demands of the course, but also because of the media frenzy that surrounds the competitors.
“I love the adventure and freedom of training, racing and exploring all over the world, the team aspect and the relationships I’ve built, the tangible rewards of hard work, the healthy lifestyle and the feeling of giving 100 percent each day,” says King. “Riding makes me feel alive.”
King, who hails from a family of serious cyclists (his father raced as an elite amateur and his uncle and younger brother also race), got his start racing at 13. He began competing as an amateur with the Charlottesville Cycling Club in 2004, then with Hot Tubes Cycling in 2006. In 2007, he won both the National Junior Road Race Championships and the National Junior Time Trial Championships, turning pro in 2008. He attended Virginia Tech, but left college to pursue his professional cycling career.
King rides support for team Garmin-Sharp—a “domestique” or “gregario,” as the position is known. (A common misconception about bike racing is that it’s an individual sport.) King and the rest of the team’s support riders contributed to Ramunas Navardauskas’ stage 19 victory by rallying around him and blocking the wind so that when he launched his final move, he was fresh and perfectly positioned to bring home the win for the American team.
When the world rolls into Richmond for the World Championships in September 2015, if all goes according to plan, King will be among the world’s elite, racing on American soil in front of a hometown crowd.“
I have a hundred memories from each stage of the Tour,” says King. “It’s cliché and cheesy but one of my favorite moments was after stage 20, eating burgers with the boys and taking turns sharing our favorite moments from the journey we’d taken together.”
Of the experience, the still boyish 6-foot King says simply, “It was an honor.”