Interview: Ted King’s Groad to Kanza Leads to DK200 Title Defense – Cyclocross Magazine

After moving back to Vermont to be closer to his business UnTapped and his family, defending Dirty Kanza 200 champion Ted King decided to take a different approach to prepare for the 2019 DK200.

It’s a path he is calling the Groad to Kanza.

“I think I’ve done almost 30% less training by time and almost 40% less training by distance [compared to last year],” King said. “Being in Vermont, I’ve largely been doing other things. I spent some time skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, spending time in the gym, which I really didn’t do when I lived in California. Then the distance, on a fat bike or riding around in super cold temperatures, you just ride less far.”

Thus far this year, King’s Groad to Kanza has taken him to a 600km fat bike backpacking adventure in Ontario, the Fat Bike Birkie in Wisconsin’s Northwoods and more “traditional” events such as the Land Run 100 and Belgian Waffle Ride.

“Every event I go to, I call it a test. Each test, Belgian Waffle Ride and others, has gone really well. I’m really happy with how it’s gone,” King said about his Groad to Kanza so far.

With several events now under his belt, King now faces the challenge that all the groads have led to—Saturday’s Dirty Kanza 200. King enters as a two-time winner of the famed Kansas race. Last June, he slowly whittled the field down to just him and Josh Berry before riding to the win at “the dirtiest Kanza yet.”

When he gets to the start line in Emporia—heading north this year—King faces the toughest field to-date, with former winners, WorldTour riders, professionals and even a former NFL player set to race the 202-mile course.

“I feel confident, and I know it’s going to be, hands down, the most competitive race,” he said about this year’s field.

Ted King returns to defend his DK200 title in 2019. Ted King’s 2018 Dirty Kanza 200 Cannondale SuperX. © Z. Schuster / Cyclocross Magazine

No matter what happens out on the course, King said that he always looks forward to the annual trek to Emporia. “It was really that welcoming, fun, convivial community that struck me from the beginning. And I want to make sure that continues as gravel is in this state of fluid change,” he said.

We got a chance to chat with King during a break while he was working in the UnTapped office. We asked him about the Groad to Kanza, his own race Rooted Vermont coming up later this summer, the 2019 DK200 and more. Read on for a transcript of our interview.

For more from Emporia, see all our coverage of the 2019 Dirty Kanza.

Cyclocross Magazine: How has the Groad to Kanza been going for you so far this year?

Ted King: Thank you for posing it that way. It has gone very well, in an atypical fashion. I was comparing some numbers from last year to this year doing some back-of-the-napkin arithmetic, and I think I’ve done almost 30% less training by time and almost 40% less training by distance.

Being in Vermont, I’ve largely been doing other things. I spent some time skiing, hiking and snowshoeing, I’ve spent time in the gym, which I really didn’t do when I lived in California. Then the distance, on a fat bike or riding around in super cold temperatures, you just ride less far.

That all said, I have a much more concise schedule this year. I’m not racing week in and week out. Every event I go to, I call it a test. Each test, Belgian Waffle Ride and others, has gone really well. I’m really happy with how it’s gone.

CXM: Just for the record, you embrace the groad” term? You’re pro-groad?

TK: I think it’s kind of funny and tongue-in-cheek and sounds ridiculous. I think it’s a fun way to put it.

CXM: I’m partial to the Groad to Kanza because you did the Fat Bike Birkie here in Wisconsin, but is that a program you worked with a coach on or did you put it together by yourself?

TK: I am very much winging it solo. I very much retired from traditional racing in 2015. I’m enjoying doing these other things and really enjoy dropping in on gravel events whether they’re hyper-competitive or not. A big aspect of that is I wanted to remove the regimented behavior that comes with coaching.

On top of that, I coach a half dozen people; I have a small coaching business. It’s fun to share the knowledge I’ve gained. As a result, I can understand macro trends of what I need to be doing and when I should rest and when I can ride hard and put in particular intervals.

That’s a long way of saying no, I definitely do not have a coach.

CXM: I don’t blame you after being a pro for so long. It’s probably nice not following a training plan and all that other stuff.

TK: Exactly.

CXM: How has the move to Vermont gone? You’re taking on a bigger role with UnTapped now?

TK: The impetus for the move east was becoming more involved with the company. Playing a bigger role in the company I co-founded in 2013 and being closer to family. My family is over in New Hampshire.

Vermont has been incredible. The community here, the people, the pace of life, the way of life are all really refreshing. Being able to embrace winter was a huge thing. When I was living in California, we literally rode more than necessary.

Whereas now, it’s nice to just have a more laid-back frame of mind. It means I’m at the UnTapped office at every free moment. I’m literally here right now. I get to spend a lot more time with my co-founders and make decisions together we used to make over the phone, text and email. All trends are in a really good direction.

CXM: That includes putting on your own event this year? Is it the first year for that?

TK: Bingo. We’re super excited about that. The event is called Rooted Vermont. The event will be right here at the UnTapped headquarters, which is at the Cochran’s Ski Area in Richmond. It’s this concept I’ve been talking about for a while; Laura and I want to show off this amazing community that has been so welcoming to us as regular people to the greater cycling community that we’ve built and that has been an honor to be part of.

It’s awesome to see we’ve sold out. We really want to showcase this area to people from across the country. We have registrants from across the country. It’s cool to see the backend of registration because you see where everybody lives. Very diverse geographical registration list.

CXM: Are you going to be doing the race?

TK: That’s a tough balance. We have two distances, and both are really challenging routes in terms of elevation per distance. I’m probably going to end up doing the shorter distance, which will allow me to be part of the event and everything that’s going on, but still be back in time and be able to help out. Laura will be taking charge of the logistics and not able to ride that day.

CXM: We would hate to have you win the long one and get criticized for rigging the race.

TK: We want to put a great deal of importance on the fun aspect because at the end of the day, that’s the greatest attribute gravel has going for it. We’re issuing a Mullet Protocol. It will be business up front with people riding hard, but we want the party to be at the back. We want people to be having a good time before, during and after the ride. We plan on keeping it not too hyper-competitive and hopefully make it a sweet weekend from start to finish.

Ted King gets to put what he’s learned from other gravel races into practice at Rooted Vermont. 2018 Dirty Kanza 200. © Cyclocross Magazine

CXM: I have to say thanks in a way for not winning every event this year because I’ve gotten to meet some different people, but you’ve been in the mix and it seems like you’ve been having a good time. Are you happy with the results you’ve gotten so far and have you been enjoying the bigger events?

TK: Absolutely. From a fitness and results standpoint, I’m really happy with how things are going. If I was getting my teeth kicked in, I would definitely think something needs to be adjusted from a competitive standpoint.

To your point, I don’t want to win every race. Not to say that I don’t try super duper hard. I’m just overall very pleased with the results I’ve had and the amount of fun that has been packed into a very diverse and dynamic schedule. I’ve raced in Southern California,  Oklahoma, Missouri, events all over New England. I’ve got a more limited schedule, but a more well-traveled, super fun schedule.

CXM: Looking forward to the Dirty Kanza, I guess they say heavy is the head that wears the crown. Although, I guess it’s a belt buckle. Heavy is the waist that wears the buckle. How are you feeling going into your second title defense?

TK: I feel confident, and I know it’s going to be, hands down, the most competitive race. I’m not ecstatic about team tactics playing more and more of a role in gravel races, which is unequivocally happening. Basically, I don’t want to see us purely racing road races off-road. I don’t necessarily think that’s the spirit of gravel.

We’re going to have a hyper-competitive field. There are people who are lining up with teams, which is going to make it more difficult to figure out the right moves. There are going to be far more tactics than any time in the past. At the end of the day, I think we just need to see what happens come Saturday.

CXM: Did you feel the team dynamic was present last year at DK or is that something you’re seeing recently?

TK: I think we saw it at Land Run. There are rumors of it happening at races like the Barry-Roubaix up in Michigan. There was a bit of it happening at BWR. If you’re a solo rider, you just can’t compete with teams that have options to throw attacks up the front. The onus is then on you as an individual to follow them. Then the biggest teams are going to survive the onslaught and the biggest teams are going to win.

This didn’t happen at all last year. The parallel of gravel racing booming as domestic racing has fallen by the wayside means a lot of domestic road race teams are sending teams to gravel races to fill their schedules. I see the appeal, I see how it’s fun, I see how the training benefit is there, but I really hope people can keep to the spirit of gravel and race hard and not succumb to purely team tactics.

CXM: Well I guess we saw you and Josh Berry in your Velocio kits get accused of being a team last year.

TK: Haha, yeah. We’ll probably be wearing the same thing again this year. We’re purely ambassadors for the brand. That is a funny contrast. Josh wanted to win as much as I wanted to win. We were absolutely racing against each other as much as we were racing together. I wanted to beat him as much as he wanted to beat me.

CXM: It seems like part of the challenge is the DK has become one of the most prestigious races in the country, and with the domestic road scene fading, it’s hard to blame big teams for targeting gravel events like that.

TK: What is fun about gravel is duking it out and then at the finish hanging out with your buddies. Everyone is there to have a good time. If it gets hyper-competitive, then we are taking the best and worst aspects of road racing and putting them off-road. I don’t want to just do road racing on gravel and calling it road racing.

I think promoters have done a good job putting it in their rules. Don’t be lame. It’s such a good billing for a race. That’s what we’re really trying to institute at Rooted Vermont. We want to stress that everyone is there for a good time.

CXM: I can’t really remember—you’re kind of a DK gravel institution now—but did you get any criticism when you first did the Dirty Kanza?

TK: To be honest, no. I completely get that perspective, and I tried to tread lightly and not piss people off. Seeing how competitive it is, even in my first year, there were professionals racing, and it’s only gotten that much more competitive. It’s cool because gravel draws from all types. Pro mountain biking, pro road, pro cyclocross, triathletes.

I could have seen where that would have come from, but it was really that welcoming, fun, convivial community that struck me from the beginning. And I want to make sure that continues as gravel is in this state of fluid change.

CXM: From your perspective, what do you think Jim Cummins and Lelan Dains have done well to keep the grassroots feel of the Dirty Kanza?

TK: There is something very special and unique about Emporia in general. They’ve built such a magnet effect that people come out who do not ride a bike because they want to be a part of the festivities before, during and after. The true Emporia community has been instrumental in the event. They’ve done a great job of celebrating the person who finishes first and the person who finishes last.

What Laura and I are saying is we want to do is take all the best of the gravel events we’ve done and bring it to Vermont. It’s that celebration of the entire community, instead of just calling it a pure race. Those are the aspects that have made DK an institution.

CXM: I was really impressed by how much Emporia embraced having all those cyclists who descend on the town. It seemed like pretty much everyone was involved with the race.

TK: It’s kind of like the Birkie in Wisconsin. The whole community embraces it. The sport is changing. Lead, follow or get out of the way. It’s really interesting to see how it will all unfold.

CXM: I looked at the forecast for Emporia and there’s rain in the forecast literally every day for the next week. You’ve had some trouble with flats, but you’ve also stayed flat-free. What role do you think your experience will play?

TK: That’s a hard one to answer because we’re doing a whole new course. It’s not like I can use the course exactly to my benefit. But using my knowledge of the general terrain and using durable tires and particular pressures to run should be a benefit. It’s anybody’s guess just how bad the conditions will be given how wet it has been and what’s in the forecast.

Looking at the year before I won it, Yuri Hauswald won in just horrific conditions. It’s a race of will and discipline and who wants to go suffer that long. It’s been nice working with my tire sponsor Rene Herse, and we have a really great selection of tire options. We’ll see up to the last minute what will be ideal.

Again, that’s the fun of gravel. It’s a crazy challenge, and the course itself levels the field. You don’t have team support, and you don’t have a car behind you. You can’t raise your hand because you need a water bottle. It will be a fun day.

CXM: It was interesting talking to Peter Stetina after Belgian Waffle. He was like, “I have to bring a saddle bag? I need to bring my food?”

TK: He was grilling me with so many questions before the event. I mean, I get where he was. He was asking, “What pressure should I run in my tires?” I was like, “Pete, you and I are different humans of way different physiques. You’re running a different width tire on a different bike. There’s nothing I can answer. I don’t know.” I told him, “Pump it up and take some air out.” That’s a fun aspect of these events.

CXM: Last question. Cannondale is starting to get more and more into the gravel game, but are you still riding the SuperX?

TK: Yessir. Race proven, race winning. I ride that bike all the time. It’s the perfect bike for Vermont. I ride on the road, I ride off-road, singletrack. From the beginning, Cannondale has done a great job having really wide compliance on nearly all its frames. My 2015 road bike, I can fit 32mm tires on. There are bike manufacturers now that you can’t put 30mm tires on their road bikes.

I’m psyched for that bike. Super light, high performing, comfortable as all get-out. Speedy fast. The bike’s awesome.

CXM: Are you still running a 1x in the front?

TK: I have in the past. I’ve been working with SRAM for a decade-plus, and this year I’m running the eTap AXS groupset.

King said he plans on being back on the SuperX, this time with the new SRAM eTap AXS groupset. Ted King’s 2018 Dirty Kanza 200 Cannondale SuperX. © Z. Schuster / Cyclocross Magazine

CXM: I guess I’m kind of partial toward running a 2x for gravel, having the big ring for hammering and the small ring for climbing, so I’m kind of curious to hear about your experience with 1x and 2x.

TK: I’m actually a fan of both. My really quick 1x defense is the gear ratio I ran last year was a 44t front and a 42t in the rear. So you can out-spin anyone on the climbs and then you run out of gearing at around 40 miles per hour. That was a wonderful gear range. Furthermore, if you feel like you’re overgeared or undergeared and the steps are going to be too much, the course is constantly changing during gravel races.

That said, I’ve also been using eTap for four years now. The transition to eTap AXS has been super simple and fun. I feel like I’m playing a video game when I use it. The ratios are incredibly helpful. It’s funny how all the technology going on in gravel is transitioning to the entire sport.

There’s no such thing as standard ratios. Sure there’s 53/39t, that will stay in the WorldTour, but so many other ratios are out there. I run like a 48/35t now. It’s fun being able to mix it up as much as you can now.

Long story short, I love the new SRAM eTap AXS.

CXM: Thank you so much for your time. It was fun chatting with you after you won last year, so you’re allowed to win this one from my perspective.

TK: Thank you, thank you. It will be fun no matter what.