A Sit-Down with John Murphy

John Murphy, aka the Kid, is one of those rare preternatural talents who could run with the big dogs when he himself was still yet a pup. When Murphy first walked on stage at the WBL in 2004 as a 19-year-old, fresh-faced, unknown interloper, he didn’t just blend in with the crowd, he stood apart—he won, and from then on, we all knew who he was: the Kid. Murphy was a regular at the WBL for the next 6 years and from 2004 when he scored his first of two Alto World Cups until 2009 when he tallied his 13th lifetime win, he was el capo among the Zealots, the Big Boss in the peloton. In fact, Murphy’s 13 WBL wins was a record which was only surpassed recently by future Hall of Famers Thomas Brown and Frank Travieso. The Kid went on to have one of the most successful careers of any U.S. professional racer of his era, racing at the highest level for 17 years both home and abroad, for the most dominant domestic pro teams as well as a UCI World Tour Team (BMC). In addition to his 13 WBL wins, including being one of only four riders who have won the Alto World Cup twice (2004, 2006), the Kid twice garnered wins at the two most coveted criteriums in the United Sates—the U.S. Professional Criterium Championship (2009, 2014) and the Athens Twilight Criterium (20017, 2018). He’s won road stages in UCI races and national level races that have finished in mad gallops to the line including the U.S. Pro Challenge (2015), The Colorado Classic (2017), The Tour of Utah (2017), The Tour of Langkawi (2016), The Herald Sun Tour (2016), Circuit des Ardennes (2018), Fitchburg Longsjo Classic (2008), and the Joe Martin Stage Race (2015) to name only a few. The Kid retired at the end of the 2020 season and remains today, as he did throughout his career, the kind-hearted, affable kid-at-heart he always has been. He lives in Asheville with his wife Ally, their two bambinos, ages 4 and 11 months, and two rescue dogs, and we recently checked in with the Murphy clan.

Humble Chronicler: How are you Murph? It is great to check-in with you. Congratulations on your retirement after a tremendous 17-year career. Tell me about life these days for you and Ally.

The Kid: Thanks, it’s always great to check-in with my friends at the WBL. My wife Ally and I live just outside of Asheville, North Carolina, where we moved when we left our adopted home in our beloved Athens. We both love the Asheville area and there is a lot of great riding in the beautiful and rugged North Carolina mountains, not to mention it’s a hotbed of breweries with several phenomenal ones. Ally and I have two kids, a 4-year-old boy named Liam and an 11-month-old girl named Marley. Ally and I are working in digital marketing centering around paid/organic search engine marketing as well as marketing in social media spaces. I am also involved in organizing some events here in the Asheville area, including working with the organizers of the Belgian Waffle Ride to host a race here, but unfortunately the pandemic has put those plans on hold for the moment, but as soon as we can all safely travel and compete again, which will hopefully be this year, we will charge forward faster than ever. We also have two incredible rescue dogs, so our house is busy, noisy, full, and always exciting. After spending 17 years on the road traveling, I am enjoying spending more time at home these days, and though I’m grateful for the time I spent traveling the world, I’m stoked to be in control and at home with my kids on a regular basis.

H.C.: Tell me a little about Ally’s cycling background and how you met.

The Kid: Yes, Ally also had a fantastic cycling career and is a strong cyclist. Her rise through the ranks was meteoric to say the least and it started as a high school project, which eventually lead to a cycling scholarship at Lees McRae College in Banner Elk, North Carolina. Lees McRae was recruiting national level talent and she met, rode and raced with a strong group of cyclists, which kickstarted her career. Due to our mutual interests, we both found ourselves in Athens riding in the WBL, and fellow Zealot and Athenian Brent Bookwalter, who also raced for Lees McCrae College, introduced us. Ally and I clicked instantly and were partners a short time later. Two kids later, we are still happily married.

H.C.: Tell me a little about your kids.

The Kid: Our kids amaze us every day. First, I’m so surprised at how fast they can learn something, and I’m also surprised at how good their memories are. In fact, Liam, our 4-year-old, doesn’t forget ANYTHING, which can lead to funny and awkward situations. Liam loves to play ping pong and just watching his hand-eye coordination evolve and improve is remarkable. The love that Liam and Marley naturally have for each other is also extraordinary and drives home what is truly important in life.

H.C.: How did you get into cycling and what teams did you race for during your career?

The Kid: My brother bought a mountain bike first, and he started riding with some friends, and I took it up shortly after. In my first incarnation, I was a mountain biker, and would have remained one except sponsorship and financial support were difficult to find. Luckily, a road team sponsored by Krystals out of Chattanooga picked me up, which allowed me to continue racing and launched my career on the road. During my career I raced for Jittery Joes (2004), Health Net (2007-08), Ouch (2009), BMC (2010-11), Kenda-5 Hour Energy (2012), United Health Care (2013-16), Holowesko - Citadel p/b Arapahoe Resources / Hincapie (2017-18) and I ended with Rally Cycling (2019-20).

H.C.: How did you consistently maintain the focus and the intensity needed to remain at the pro level for 17 years?

The Kid: I love winning, plain and simple. I trained harder because I didn’t want to lose. I trained an extra hour because I didn’t want to lose, I trained in the cold because I didn’t want to lose, and I trained in the rain because I didn’t want to lose. I rode every WBL not only for fun, but to practice winning. Do you see a trend here? I was motivated to stay focused and do the work needed to win because winning is in my DNA, it’s part of my genetic makeup, and second place was always such a bitter pill to swallow. Also, a huge driving factor keeping me in the sport so long as a pro was the fact I needed to win Athens Twilight, I would not be able to close the door on my career until I had added Twilight to my list of wins. I came oh-so-close several times but was derailed by fate and circumstance until finally, in 2017, I took the win. 2017 was late in my career as far as winning the Athens Twilight so it definitely drove me for most of my professional life. In 2017 I was riding for George Hincapie’s Team based out of Greenville and he and Thomas Craven and a few others, as well as my parents, were here, so it was especially sweet. Though I didn’t live in Athens at the time, it still felt like I won my hometown race because all my family and so many friends were there. It was just as sweet when I won again in 2018. I could retire at that point knowing I’d checked the last box.

H.C.: Sprinting has been in the news recently, especially with Fabio Jakobsen's terrible crash and the complaints from riders about the dangerous finishes. How did you consistently muster the courage to mix it up and bump shoulders at over 40 miles per hour with the fastest sprinters in the world?

The Kid: Yes, field sprinting is nerve wracking, dangerous and thrilling, but can also be downright stupid at times. I was good at blocking the negative thoughts out of my mind while winding up for a sprint and narrowing my focus so it centered solely on the job at hand. It’s much more dangerous for a sprinter who’s scared and lost his nerve - other sprinters can sense it, and like sharks that smell blood, they zero in for the kill. My time ripping around as a mountain bike racer taught me how to handle the bike, so I have always been confident in my bike handling skills, and this helped me avoid countless crashes throughout my career. I’ve been lucky too, something all sprinters need. Crashes as horrific as Jakobsen’s are always in the back of your head, but you can’t let that affect you as a sprinter, otherwise you’re finished. It’s true that to be a field sprinter in the professional peloton, you have to be wired in a certain way, but I was also extremely lucky in my career to always have great teammates who helped keep me safe in the sprints, and my desire not to let my teammates down was also a strong motivating factor. Sprinting is a gamble though, a roll of the dice every time, that’s for sure.

H.C.: What are some of the more memorable races or places you have traveled?

The Kid: Oh man, there have were so many memorable races in so many incredible locations! Paris Roubaix will always be near the top because of its iconic status and the fact that so many big stars toe the line, and as you’d imagine, it is insanely hard. I’ve never experienced anything like the winds in Qatar, they are nuts, so strong they blow you backwards at times—even the famous winds in Belgium don’t compare. The hardest race I ever did was the Giro D’Italia in 2010—the speeds on the climbs were so insane I only made it 8 days! Quinhai Lake, China was the first time I ever saw a trash river and it was startling and the image has stuck in my memory, though being in Beijing was super cool. I loved the Tour of Turkey because he country itself is so beautiful with both rugged mountains and pristine, blue-water beaches. Of course, no matter where I was if I was traveling with Ty ‘Lil Beav’ Magner, Karl Menzies or Floyd Landis, I knew it was going to be a good time – those guys are riots to hang out with, in a good way, of course.

H.C.: How many career wins did you have and which do you consider the most significant?

The Kid: That’s a good question and the truthful answer is I don’t know. [Editor’s interlude: A person has to win a helluva lot of races before he can start forgetting the total number.] I won a lot of junior mountain bike races which is what lit a fire inside me and showed me I could win races. As far as wins while racing as a professional on the road, I probably have around 30 to 40, 10 or so of which were UCI races, which are the ones people remember. I won a lot of crits though, and most significantly, I won the Athens Twilight in 2017 and 2018. It was a career goal of mine to win it, so that was by far the biggest achievement as far as I’m concerned. I would trade my pro crit national titles for a Twilight any day. (Editor’s interlude: Kid doesn’t have to trade because he also won the U.S. Professional Criterium Championship in 2009 and again in 2014. Don’t let anyone tell you that your choices are limited.]

H.C.: When was your first WBL ride and what do you remember about it?

The Kid: Oh man, it was 2004 and I remember it because I won. I don’t remember what route we rode but I do remember it was the Pink Church finish. I was young, 19 years old, and when Crowe found out my age he coined the nickname “the Kid” for me and has called me that ever since—pretty awesome. I was hooked on the WBL after my first ride and was a regular for the next 6 years.

H.C.: What is your favorite WBL ride?

The Kid: Alto is at the top of the list and has always been my favorite WBL ride. It’s the most coveted of the WBL rides and the course is classic with rugged terrain, relentless hills and rural roads over the course of 115 miles. It’s a true hardman’s course and the 9-mile Final Attack with the finishing sprint on Nowhere Road is perfectly suited for me. Alto always leaves everyone entirely stoked but completely blown, and if you win Alto, because it’s late in the WBL season and so close to the start of the race season, you know you are on track to have a great year. To win Alto twice is an honor.

H.C.: There’s been a rumor floating around that after one of your Alto wins you spent your $200 in prize money on a group bar tab that night. Any truth to that bit of gossip?

The Kid: Ha, I can neither confirm nor deny that rumor but can say at one point we had a rule among the WBL pros in Athens that any cash winnings had to be spent on group drinks that night. It was only a fair fight if we went out Friday night as well, and if you stayed in and rested, we would gang-up and make sure you didn’t win. I can also neither confirm nor deny these were mostly my rules.

H.C.: Who were some of the others riding in the WBL during your era?

The Kid: There are so many others any list is only a partial but a few were Big Jon Atkins, the Blade Tony Scott, Tim Henry, Brian Bibens, Phil Southerland, Frank Travieso, Larry Waters, Jacob Fetty, Tina and Chris Pic, Todd Henriksen, Thad Dulin, Jeff Shirey, Erin Winter, Cleve Blackwell, and Rob Gianinni. The list goes on and my time in the WBL forged a lot of lifetime friendships and remains a highlight in my life of cycling.

H.C.: It was great to check in with you Murph and I hope you and Ally and your family have a great year! Keep knocking them doors down as you move into the next phase of your life.

The Kid: Thanks for checking in and Ally and I hope all the Zealots have a great 2021 and we’ll see you all in Asheville soon. And stay tuned for more info about Asheville’s version of the Belgian Waffle Ride.

The Humble Chronicler
(January 2021)