An Interview with Gravel and MTB Racer Isabel King


By Anthony J. Nocella, Ph.D. — 

Anthony Nocella: Could you tell me how you got into cycling and if any women supported you in the beginning?

Isabel King: I fell into cycling a bit serendipitously. I was a soccer player growing up and played D1 through college. After working on the trading floor in New York City for 4 years I decided to move back to California for business school. In the summer between quitting my job and starting my MBA I signed up for a triathlon. I fell in love with bikes and haven’t stopped riding since (hilariously, this was only 4 years ago so I still feel new).

Isabel King. Photo by Scott Tribby

I was living in San Francisco the summer before starting at UCLA Anderson. Evelyn Stevens had just retired from pro racing and was looking to get back into finance. Lucky for me, our paths perfectly crossed at this intersection. She took me on some of my first training rides and introduced me to her former coach. Her story inspired me, because she also discovered bikes later (we were both 26) and had such a successful career. Besides her obvious achievements on the bike, what I try to emulate most about Evi is her charisma and influence on the cycling community as a whole. Every time you mention her name someone has their own story about a time they rode together or something kind she did. 

AN: Tell me a bit about your racing history, such as your podiums and other accomplishments, including the teams you have ridden and raced for. 

IK: Haha, it’s pretty short! I qualified to compete as a pro triathlete in my 4th 70.3 Ironman race. The plan after finishing business school was to try competing full time as a pro triathlete, but 2020 had other plans. In 2020 I used Strava as my competitive outlet and took over 1,000 QOMs (mostly in the Los Angeles area, but also in San Francisco, Yosemite, and Tahoe). 

In 2021 I jumped headfirst into the gravel race scene. I finished 8th at Unbound Gravel (my gravel first race ever, yikes), 6th at Crusher in the Tushar, 4th at BWR San Diego and 7th at Leadboat (Leadville 100 MTB followed by SBT GRVL Black the next day)

Isabel King. Photo by Dominique Powers

AN: As a competitive cyclist can you tell me how your personal life or family life is shaped to support your racing and training?

IK: In 2018 my dad was diagnosed with brain cancer. Even when he unknowingly had a baseball size tumor in his brain, he was the fittest person I knew. Among everything else, brain cancer took away his ability to ride a bike. Every time I get on my bike, I remember to be thankful for the opportunity. This elective suffering we participate in can be taken away at any moment. I ride for my dad and for those who can’t. 

My mom is my support system and inspiration. Growing up my mom was one of the only female hedge fund managers. She showed my sisters and I that you can do whatever you set your mind to. It doesn’t matter whether the odds are stacked against you or it’s not what society dictates you’re supposed to do, if it’s what you want to do, go for it. Her support allowed me to jump off the traditional post-MBA career path and go after a dream I didn’t know I had until I started riding. My mom comes to every race she can and the hug at the finish line will always be better than any trophy or prize money. 

AN: When training and racing with other women what are some key differences that you see as the best part of the women’s cycling culture?

IK: I love it. Being out there with other strong women is so much fun. Beating up on the boys will never get old. 

AN: In your opinion, how can the industry, race promoters, and bicycle shops be more inclusive to women and girls, besides hiring them as is much needed?

IK: The cycling community is incredibly intimidating. Even as someone who’s spent most of their life in male dominated environments (sports, the trading floor, business school and now cycling), I was nervous at first to show up to group rides or ask silly questions. As the sport grows, we need to make sure people realize that, at some point, it was everyone’s first time. Everyone has fallen over trying to clip out at a stop sign. Everyone has bonked so badly they have to limp home. Slowly breaking down the stigma and elitist culture will help make the cycling world better and more inclusive. 

AN: How can the general community support upcoming girls who want to be elite racing cyclists like you, and what do you have to say to young girls?

IK: I strive to be a good example to anyone who’s looking to get into the sport; wave to others, say hi to someone you don’t know, inspire people to beat their personal bests. There are a lot of rules in cycling, but there isn’t a rule book. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. And don’t be afraid to beat up on the boys. All the cool kids are doing it.


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