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Ted King Q&A: Retirement, maple syrup, and domestique life

One of the peloton's well-loved domestiques, American Ted King, talks about what's next as he is set to retire at end of this season.

Ted King has ticked off countless miles at the head of the peloton. He has developed a cult following on social media for his keen sense of humor and enthusiastic affinity for maple syrup. And aside from being a likable personality, he’s been a gritty and determined domestique who has ushered champions to the podium for over a decade.

The New Englander has decided to hang up his wheels at the end of the 2015 season, concluding a career that has been quite a success despite the way it may look on paper. King has enjoyed his life as a pro, and his laid-back attitude is evident in his Twitter tagline, “I rock the party that rocks the piñata.”

A domestique throughout his entire career, Cannondale-Garmin’s King has zero pro wins on his resumé, but the resumé of the riders he has guided to victory is prestigious. He made a living working for others, embracing his riding style and ability, and found joy in seeing others succeed. That attitude says more about the person he is outside of the sport.

Perhaps his most memorable moment in the spotlight was a valiant solo effort in the stage 4 team time trial around Nice at the 2013 Tour de France. He was controversially time-cut by seven seconds. King’s turn on that grand stage was different: It was heartfelt, and it was devastating.

VeloNews tech editor Dan Cavallari caught up with King in Austria before he made his rounds on the North American racing circuit. He opened up about his early retirement, his legacy, and what the future holds for his maple syrup company, Untapped.

VeloNews: Your retirement is coming up. What precipitated the retirement?

Ted King: People will often tell me that I am young to be retiring, which is true in the relative scheme of things for riders, but I have been racing professionally for 10 years. I’ve been racing in Europe for seven now and the tipping point was at team camp in Mallorca. Everything is coming along perfectly, new team, really stoked with the camaraderie at that point. I just looked around at the team and on paper we are the youngest team — period — in the WorldTour, so my teammates are these 21-, 22-year-old kids who are incredible, so much talent. And I look at my career and trajectory, and I like what I do in the sport as domestique, yes I’m always happy when we have success, but every year is very similar, and so I hung along with the status quo. And this is a really wrong way to say this, but I’m really just ready for something new.

VN: Has the sport changed, in terms of growing and structure since the early days of your career? It seems there is more guidance and mentorship than when you entered the sport.

TK: I look back and my first year in Europe and it was sort of trial by fire. I do the Ardennes week, straight to Romandie, straight to the Giro. That Giro was awesome; we won five stages, pretty good for a neo-team. The past four years have been fantastic working with Peter Sagan and I’m proud to have raced world championships. I mean it has almost come full circle to be on this team and the mentorship role and sort of segue.

I think there’s the young talent, because, especially in America, I think they are starting younger. I started cycling in college, and that was a good jumping and a way to kind of test the waters and get into it, which obviously puts you on a something of a back foot. The Europeans are racing as soon as they are eight years old. And we are seeing that, over the course of my career I feel we are seeing more young, real youth development.

VN: What are your plans post-retirement?

TK: Good question. When I first got into the sport I figured I would race three or four years and then go back to my college degree and study finance. But still go into the world of economics and kind of leave cycling behind. But cycling has given me a ton. It has given me an incredible lifestyle and I get to see the world and go to places like Austria and Spain, and all these crazy adventures.

I’m excited to stay in the sport. There’s a handful of sponsors who are perfectly parallel with how I feel about the sport in general and the direction of cycling, which is going on these massive rides and riding for the sake of being able to go on these huge rides. So, I’m picturing fondos and charity rides and ‘200 on 100s’ and just crazy big rides. At the same time I have started a sports nutrition maple syrup company and I would like to take that to another level next year as well.

VN: Your maple syrup-based product company, Untapped. How did the idea to put maple syrup in an energy packet come about?

TK: I’m a New Englander racing in the WorldTour, which is rare in itself, and it started as me trying to teach people as to what maple syrup is, compared to flavored maple syrup. I don’t want to name names, but corn syrup-based alternatives are fake.

As I was pushing that, I did a tiny bit of research, and you realize a ridiculous amount of things come from all-natural syrup. All the electrolytes are there, all the amino acids, antioxidants galore. It’s in the same super category as red wine, flax seeds, green tea, berries, all these super foods. The caloric content is about the same that you are going to get in a traditional gel. And I thought, whoa, why don’t you put maple syrup into your tradition energy packet?

VN: What does the future hold for Untapped, now that your are retiring and will have more time on your hands?

TK: We will expand our line, for sure. In the next few weeks we are going to come out with our Untapped maple waffle (waffles are now available -Ed.), which is our equivalent to a bar. The only difference is, there is going to be maple syrup or maple sugar. Yeah, we plan on expanding out our line to more than just a mono-ingredient product.

VN: Going back to retirement, where do you plan to settle down? Will it be North America or possibly somewhere in Europe?

TK: It’ll be North America. I’m still trying to figure out where. I got my geography covered. I have narrowed it down to three places: San Francisco, Boulder, Colorado, and Portland, Maine. I’ve got multiple reasons to convince myself to end up in any one of those places.

VN: One last question and then I will set you free. We discussed earlier what you have accomplished in the sport, but what about your legacy? Do you think at all, or care at all, about any legacy you may leave behind in cycling?

TK: I thought about that a tiny bit. Someone asked me this maybe three years ago or five years ago: ‘Do you want to be known as the social media guy?’ And I was like, ‘no, no.’ But then I think, what is actually my legacy? I mean I raced for 10 years. I’m flattered with the following that I have inadvertently created. I use social media. I use Twitter, Strava, just because I think they’re fun to organically communicate. I won’t be known for winning a lot of bike races. I’m perfectly fine with that, that’s the way the cards fall. I mean, that is why this sport is interesting, the ‘what have you done for me lately’ mentality. Say I won a race every year. I would have 10 wins to my career, which would be incredible, but people always want more. I just want to remembered as someone who raced the right way, did things the right way, and just had a good time with it. I just have really enjoyed bike racing. I mean it’s a crazy, crazy lifestyle and that’s another reason why I am retiring.