Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Ted King, cyclist and good guy

I was just asked, via Twitter DM: "Quick question, Why is Ted King so awesome. Everyman, hard worker, anti-doping? Trying to grasp the essence."

It's no secret that I'm a big Ted King fan. So it seems fitting that, on this seminal day that marks Ted's career and life in a big way, I should attempt to answer that complex question from, if nothing else, my own humble point of view as a fan. 

My American cycling friends first made me aware of Ted about 3 years ago, but at that time, he was just a name, just another young American cyclist in the bunch. He seemed friendly enough, making guest appearances on my friends' pictures on Facebook and replying to various fan tweets along the way.

I started following Ted on Twitter, came across some Bicyling Magazine columns he'd written, became a regular reader of his blog. And lo and behold, a theme emerged. Here was one of the most positive, energetic, engaging, accessible and likable figures amongst pro-cyclists. Not to say there aren't other charismatic, "nice guys" in the peloton, but it seemed that Ted had put together a great package.

My friend's Twitter message asked, "everyman, hard worker, anti-doping?" Yes. Absolutely. And definitely. Starting with the latter, I am a staunch believer that Ted is clean. Period. No need to discuss that one any further. Read this article to understand my willingness to believe him. 

Hard worker? He shares his training rides (usually long, challenging and often solo rides) on Strava, always with a comment that makes us all believe it was an "awesome ride" regardless of whether he might have suffered like a dog. He's come up with concepts like the "200-on-100", and the "200-NOT-on-100", which, in a nutshell, boil down to 200 mile-rides (320km) in one day, for charity and, well, just for the fun of it. 

He works hard as a domestique, often riding tempo on the front of the peloton for hours on end, to bring teammate and superstar Peter Sagan to contest for the sprint (which Peter often wins). He rarely if ever expresses anything that sounds even remotely negative, doesn't complain, and just gets the job done. 

Ted is a prolific and pretty talented writer (and photographer, for that matter) - check out IAmTedKing.com, his column in Bicycling Magazine, as well as other blogs, such as the one on the RoadID website. He is a pretty savvy marketer, having started his own merchandising brand, "I Am NOT Ted King", and raising funds for his favorite charity through the sale of IANTK clothing, cycling apparel, and accessories. Ted's favorite charity is the Krempels Center, a "nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of people living with brain injury from trauma, tumor or stroke" in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. There is a 100% probability that I never would have heard of Krempels if it weren't for Ted, and even greater odds that the majority of cycling fans who have contributed money to Krempels in the past couple of years would never have done so, if not for Ted. 

Why Krempels? Because, as Ted has shared with the world, his father suffered a debilitating stroke ten years ago, leaving him with a permanent brain injury. Mr. King has benefited from the care of the Krempels Center over the years, and Ted has seen fit to "give back" by organizing the Krempels King of the Road Challenge to raise funds, and by contributing money from the sale of IANTK merchandise to the Krempels Center. 

So, you see, I think Ted is a good guy, a really good guy. And he works hard, usually with a smile on his face. 

You might be thinking, "Ok, but what makes him SPECIAL?"

He's tremendously engaging, and related to that, he's a brilliant brand manager. I don't mean just his "IANTK" brand of merchandise. That, in many ways, is the easy part of managing a brand. I'm referring to the management of HIMSELF as his own brand. He was one of the first pro-cyclists to use Twitter to engage with fans and supporters; he leverages Facebook, Strava and Instagram in a similar way. He promotes his team and sponsors. He seems to get on well with everyone. (Does he ever fake it? Probably, sometimes - like all of us...) He willingly spends time with fans - chatting, taking pictures, having real conversations. He always comes across as very sincere and genuine, and, I know from my own experience, and that of many friends who have reported similar encounters with Ted, his fans walk away feeling like Ted is their friend. 

Here's an example of "engaging with Ted": after learning he had moved from Lucca to Girona this year, I was curious about the reasons behind his move. I messaged him, asking if he'd be willing to write something about it. He responded that it was a great idea, and wrote a blog about it. Perhaps I gave him the idea, perhaps he'd already written the blog when I asked. It doesn't matter. The fact that he took the time to interact with me ("just a fan") is unique. Multiply that by several hundreds (thousands?) of interactions with his fans during the season, and it's easy to understand why he has become such a crowd favorite. 

He's a college graduate (economics major) and he happens to be pretty smart. He's a family guy, close to his parents and brother. He shares a lot about himself, and yet, there are clearly some topics that remain private (as they should). He chooses not to swear on social media (I'm sure it's a conscious decision, part of his "brand management"), and is very consistent in the values he expresses - again, that "genuine" thing that makes him "one of us", but the one whom we can all live vicariously through, as he gets paid to ride his bike in phenomenal locations around the world. 

Oh, and he loves maple syrup... His fans have latched on to this - lots of tweeting to @iamtedking about maple syrup... Yep, I gave him a small bottle of (Canada Grade A) maple syrup in Montreal last year, and I know lots of other fans have given him syrup as well. Why? Heck, why not... Maple syrup is pretty awesome stuff.

Today, July 2, 2013, Ted is facing one of the most challenging days in his professional life. He made his Team Cannondale's selection for the Tour de France this year. His first Tour de France, the realization of a dream, at age 30. He worked hard for it. Everyone saw how he got leaner, fitter, and pulled like a work horse in races like the AMGEN Tour of California. His fans, friends and fellow cyclists cheered when he announced he made the TDF team. Then - catastrophe on Stage 1: a crash, resulting in a separated shoulder. Ted wasn't about to give up on the Tour, and he started and finished Stages 2, 3 and 4, carrying on with severe pain, but in the hope that with each passing day, the pain would diminish, the legs would remain good, and he would soon be pulling for Peter Sagan again.

Today, Stage 4, the Team Time Trial, saw him riding his road bike, as the TT bike was too painful. He took the start, quickly got dropped by his team (presumably not a surprise for any of them, or him), and finished the stage as an Individual TT. Controversy emerged when the Tour organization declared he finished outside of the time delay ("HD" for "hors délai") by a mere 7 seconds, while Ted's own SRM device showed him WITHIN the time limit. 

Considering the crash of stage 1 was the result of the Tour organization's mis-management of the Orica-GreenEdge team bus fiasco, Ted's supporters erupted loudly on Twitter, demanding that the Tour reinstate him. The outpouring of support by fans, the media and a few other Tour riders, unprompted by Ted himself, is truly a testament to the following he has built, and the fact that he is truly well-liked in the peloton. Here is a very good article on today's situation and another one, keeping in mind more will likely be written in coming days... 

I don't know if I've answered "why Ted King is so awesome". I've yet to meet anyone who spoke ill of him, or said they didn't like him. Perhaps he's just one of those people that everybody likes. Maybe that's it. He's just so darn likable. He will be greatly missed in the rest of this year's Tour de France, if indeed the Tour organization fails to reinstate him. As much as it will be Ted's loss, his team's and sponsors' loss, and his fans' loss, it will most certainly be the Tour's loss. 

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