Big Feature: Interview with Ted ‘Maple Syrup’ King

I caught up recently with Cannondale-Garmin rider Ted King, who was looking happy and relaxed and in an expansive mood, ready to talk about sticky subjects, such as maple syrup!

Sheree: So tell us how you got involved with Untapped Maple?

Ted: The genesis is as follows. I discovered that a lot of people didn’t appreciate the difference between 100% maple syrup and maple-flavoured syrup – 12 ingredients, chiefly high fructose corn syrup. I made it my mission to teach people that maple syrup comes from a tree in New England or Canada – great stuff, single ingredient, natural product.

The wholesome Ted King (image: Cannondale-Garmin)

The wholesome Ted King (Image: Cannondale-Garmin)

Shortly thereafter, I made the same conjuncture with maple syrup to the sports nutritional gel market. Gel is often a dozen ingredients artificially flavoured, coloured et cetera. I’ve had the idea swimming in my head for some time to bring maple syrup to the sports nutrition market. It’s a really good sugar, which breaks down into fructose and glucose, and it’s low glycemic, very high in amino acids, electrolytes and antioxidants.

In the off-season, I would go to farmers’ markets across New England and start pitching my ideas to these lumberjacks who were selling maple syrup out of the back of their trucks. They mostly didn’t understand what I was talking about. Friends in the industry said I needed to speak to the Cochrans, a three-generation family of elite Olympic skiers from Vermont, a couple of guys about my age who’d already started a maple syrup business. So they have maple syrup down, distribution down and athletic perspective perfectly in line. I pitched my idea to them with a mutual friend and the rest is history. It’s taking off at a phenomenal rate and we’re really, really excited about it.

The real thing (image: untapped.cc)

The real thing (image: untapped.cc)

Sheree: When will we be able to buy Untapped Maple in Europe?

Ted: We are trying to get distribution in Britain where the benefits of maple syrup seem to be better understood than in the rest of Europe. We are a small nascent company so we want to be sure that we’re doing everything properly, correctly, selectively, and most certainly getting it to Europe is high on our priority list. Of course, you can get it online from www.untapped.cc and have it shipped internationally – worth every penny. I just had to throw that out there!

Sheree: Do you see yourself pursuing this business post-cycling?

Ted: I think so. I would like to. I graduated ten years ago from college with a degree in economics and entrepreneurialism has always been one of my interests. Ever since I was six years old and I would say I want to be an entrepreneur, I want to start a business, but I have no idea what I want it to be. And lo and behold, within the past year we’ve launched this business which is perfectly aligned to my general ethos in life of whole natural foods and healthy living. Who knows the direction it’ll go in? I would like to see it grow tremendously, but one day at a time.

Sheree: Tell me about how you started cycling?

Ted: I grew up playing a lot of [ice] hockey and skiing. I played hockey through high school and, when I went to college, I figured I’d pursue academic studies.

Sheree: Really?

Ted: Okay, fun first, some intra-mural hockey, and then study. My older brother Robbie, who’s three years my senior, went to college in Colorado, half a country away, and had been cycling for a while. The University of Vermont, about 45 minutes up the road from where I was at college, staged the US collegiate national championships, which was a big thing in the US, especially in the late 1990s and early 2000s. US junior cycling is a relatively recent addition to the market. If you didn’t get into cycling when you were eight or nine years old, collegiate cycling is often where you get into it. It’s really fun; a great atmosphere which mixes academics with the discipline of training. I went to the championships in Vermont, effectively the first bike race I ever watched. I manned the feed zone and got scolded by my brother because I didn’t know how to “feed.”

Sheree: It’s harder than it looks!

Ted: Exactly, and in the heat of the moment I got told off. Fast forward another two hours, my brother won the race, the first of his three championships and, somewhere along the line, I said well I have some of these genes so maybe I’ll pursue a career in cycling also. So collegiate cycling was my entry into the sport, for which I chiefly thank my brother. Three years later, I graduate from college and start straight away racing a bike professionally. I did three years on the domestic pro scene and then came over to Europe with Cervelo.

Sheree: Amazing how many people get into cycling because of an older sibling. What do you really love about bike racing?

Ted: I love the adventure of it. It’s my tenth year of racing, seventh in Europe, I just love the places I’ve been able to go and the people I meet. I’ve never been to Laigueglia before. This is fun, what an adventure! Funnily, I thought I knew this race and then, as we were driving in from the airport, I realised I was thinking of GP Lugano, the other “L” race. In cycling there’s a complete dichotomy, one lot of riders memorise everything about the race and can tell you exactly what happened at kilometre 32 in such-and-such a race, and then there’s the rest of us where everything just gets melded into this amorphous blob of bike racing.

Ted racing in Laigueglia (image: Sheree Whatley)

Ted racing in Laigueglia (Image: Sheree Whatley)

Sheree: You never really get to see too much of a place?

Ted: Sure, but it’s a lot more than I’d see if I was working back in the US in a job where you stare all day at a cubicle wall. I can’t imagine I’ll ever be able to work in an office. When the world is your office, it’ll be hard to do whatever’s next.

Sheree: How are you finding the set-up at Cannondale-Garmin?

Ted: I am absolutely loving it! We’ve had a few get-togethers including the one sailing in the British Virgin Isles which was incredible. In terms of team-building, you take 26-28 cyclists and put them in an alien sporting environment where they can’t move the boat forward unless they’re all working in harmony. It was a great idea and the location in BVI just made it hands-down the best team camp ever.

My first race was the Tour of San Luis, down in Argentina. We had a six-man team, a good atmosphere, a relatively casual race then back to a great training camp in Majorca. Just in terms of organisation, equipment, camaraderie, fun-loving staff and riders, it was everything I could’ve hoped for and truly more.

Sheree: I read a recent interview with Sir Bradley Wiggins where he gave a brutally honest run-down on the teams he’s ridden for. He was very complimentary about the Slipstream (parent company of Cannondale-Garmin) set-up.

Ted: For me it’s about like-minded personalities. An American coming to an American organisation helps my perspective and appreciation. But I also have an overseeing role, I don’t want to call it mentoring, to help the young Italian riders acclimatise to the team and get into a totally different mindset to that which they were raised on racing in Italy, for an Italian team. These young guys are loving it, particularly the great, great atmosphere. Everyone had a smile on their face throughout the camp in Majorca and that’s something you rarely see.

Sheree: You’re now based back in Girona with a number of other Cannondale-Garmin guys.

Ted: In terms of logistics, everything is simpler in Girona. There are more professional cyclists there than anywhere else on the planet. Something like 90 and it’s a growing group. I did two years in Girona then two in Lucca, to improve my Italian. But, when there was a bit of an exodus from there to Nice/Monaco, I went back to Girona and I didn’t realise how much I’d missed it until I came back. There’s good training, good weather, good people and an airport nearby. What more do you need?

Sheree: You’re enjoying your new role on this squad?

Ted: Well, I certainly won’t be scripted into every bike race to ride for Peter Sagan. Although I value those four years riding with him, I’m just really so excited to be riding with such a young team. We have the lowest average age of all the WorldTour teams. I’m the third oldest guy in the squad. There’s just so much young talent. It’s fun having a mentoring type role. Though, on the bikes, these kids are just so talented. It’s fun, it’s fascinating, it’s humbling, it’s a really good role [for me]. But this team races with a different script, trying to animate a lot of the races.

Sheree: Will you still be riding the classics?

Ted: Yes, on paper it’s Paris-Nice followed by the majority of the cobbled Belgian classics. Then I’ll be getting ready for the Giro d’Italia.

Sheree: Do you have a one or two-year contract?

Ted: I signed a one-year deal. I’m perfectly happy with that and I love the team. I’ve been on one-year contracts for a while and it keeps you hungry, keeps you curious but that’s bike racing!

Ted, thanks for your time today and good luck for the rest of the season and, of course, with Untapped Maple.

If you want to keep up with Ted, read about his racing and other adventures on his website www.iamtedking.com   or follow him on Twitter @iamtedking.

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