By Jared Eborn
He is every parent’s nightmare – sort of.
“I like to play in traffic,” Nate King, a neo-pro cyclist for the Utah-based Competitive Cyclist Racing Team, said.
Then again, maybe King is every parent’s dream.
“I’m driven to see how far I can go and see how good I can be,” he said. “I know there’s still a lot of room for me to grow.”
King isn’t your average professional cyclist. The Utah native grew up in Taylorsville near the Jordan River Parkway, graduated from Logan High School and then the University of Utah.
Always fairly healthy and fit – “I didn’t really play many sports, but I always did well in the President’s fitness tests” — it wasn’t until the last year or two that King decided he’d turn his love of bicycles into a career.
Sure, King had been using bikes to earn money for a few years already as a bicycle messenger in Salt Lake City and San Francisco. He currently works for Backcountry.com – home of RealCyclist.com, CompetitiveCyclist.com and other online gear outlets — as a photographer. But it wasn’t until the long winter of 2010-11 that King decided he wanted to try out racing.
So, while many novice cyclists – King started 2011 as a meager Cat 5 – were patiently waiting for Mother Nature to ease back on her relentless assault of that record-breaking winter, King parked his bike on a trainer and would often spend hours in the saddle cranking out a few thousand miles without going anywhere at all.
“It was kind of a little goal I had in the back of my head,” King said of his grueling winter of training. “I wanted to see how far I could go and how fast I could get there.”
King said he was looking for a new thrill and a way to release some of his boundless energy in a competitive setting. The sport of cycling was a natural fit. In addition to his fitness from his job as a messenger, he was drawn to the intensely competitive nature of bike racing that he didn’t think he could find elsewhere.
“I wanted to do something really, really hard,” King said. “So I picked up road racing. I liked the pain aspect of it. I liked the highly competitive nature of bikes and I really wanted to go out and win against other people.”
How far and how fast has been nothing short of remarkable.
After starting the season as a Cat 5 at some of the local races, King rapidly left his competitors behind. He moved up to Cat 4, then Cat 3 in a matter of a few weeks and set his sites higher. He won a stage as a Cat 3 at the Tour of the Gila in New Mexico and finished second overall in the GC. He moved on to Oregon where he won the Cascade Classic as a Cat 2.
Those hammerfests on the training turned his legs into pistons and King has excelled in time trials and hill climbs where he can simply focus his efforts on cranking out watts at an incredible rate.
His remarkable ascension in the sport caught the attention of his employer and he was offered a spot on the CompetitiveCyclist.com team. That means his focus is changing simply crushing every race he enters. Now, the 24-year-old neo-pro is thrust into a role he’s unfamiliar with – that of a domestique whose job is to work for the good of the team.
While that may not always mean sacrificing his individual goals to help someone such as Paco Mancebo, King knows he’s in for an adjustment or two as a cyclist.
“It’s a very different dynamic than the amateur scene, that’s for sure,” King said. “The team is a cohesive unit and we work for a common goal more often. … I’m just looking forward to experiencing everything there is to experience.”
King’s first true test as a professional came at the San Dimas Stage Race and he’s hoping his team gets invitations to the Tour of Utah, the US Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado and that he gets a chance to show himself at the USA Pro Cycling Championships.
If his path from bike messenger to Cat 5 to Pro in barely a year is any indication, King – despite he relatively late start in the bike racing business — may have a long and successful road ahead of him.