Behind every great rider is a great set of domestiques and Ted King is a solid deluxe.
At the Tour de San Luis, the American laid down his own ambitions for 2013 and this year he wants to ride the Tour de France. To get there, he will have to muscle his way onto the boat to Corsica through a mix of consistency, level-headedness but, most of all, devotion.
As a domestique, King rarely makes the headlines – his skills as a writer set him apart from the pack more than his punch on the climbs or his sprint – but last year he formed part of Liquigas' core of success. According to one statistic, he was sixth in 'assists', meaning that in the entire peloton he had helped a teammate win more than all but five other riders. It's a slightly easier task to accomplish when Peter Sagan is your team leader but nevertheless, in a sport where domestiques are obliterated by the UCI points system, it's a high achievement.
"It’s hard to make things tangible," King says when discussing the position of the rewards a domestique can receive.
"You can’t often quantify things and it’s hard to separate. You can always be doing your job and you can get a pat on the back and maybe some prize money but you’re not on the podium, or in the limelight but that’s 95 per cent of the peloton. But if you consistently do your job you’re going to get the respect of the team and you'll have people notice you.
"I’ll never be able to do what Sagan can do and I’ll never be able to mix it in the bunch sprints or on the toughest climbs. So you recognise your capabilities and your goals in the greater spectrum of cycling and you do what you have to do within that window."
King was rewarded for his hard work with a new contract at the end of 2012. His first two years at Liquigas may have passed without an individual win but a one-year extension was agreed. A one-year deal may raise eyebrows to some but King is relaxed with the situation.
"What’s my reasoning for taking one year?" he asks himself before a long pause.
"I’ve lived and experienced cycling in what I think is a unique way. I feel like a have a different philosophy to a lot of riders. I picked up cycling when I was 20 years old, I’d done sports in my youth but they were never endurance sports and I wasn’t tailor made for cycling compared to some guys with these phenomenal genes and who have been riding since 8 and know they’re going to turn pro from the age of 12.
"I went to university, I was studying economics and I was three months away from graduating when I was given the opportunity to race my bike professionally. I spent three years in America, which I happily did and then I wasn’t really expecting a call to go to Cervélo. My point is that the way my career has unfolded, and I know it’s cheesy, is that it has been organic, it’s unfolding in a fashion that is atypical and that you might not expect. Maybe the average rider goes for two or three years, I went for one.
"It’s not my intention for you to think that I’m going to stop in a year. You never know what’s is around the corner, but sport is an interesting dynamic and it’s a what have you done for me lately environment and one result can make you double your value, but this is an adventure and you never know the real plot line."
King's adventure has taken him all over the world: from the cobbled classics, to the plains of Oman, to the rich tapestry of the Giro d’Italia and the World Championships. He describes his position as the only American on Cannondale as an “honour, and a privilege” and even though the team has globalised in the last year, he has immersed himself with the European culture.
To match that one-year deal King has one ambition, a ride in the Tour. If he does his duties and picks up those assists it's certainly possible. Cannondale's commitment could certainly help the cause but King knows that his legs will have to get him to Corsica.
"The Tour, it's the biggest race in the world and it's the 100th anniversary. I've done the races I wanted to do but not the Tour. Remember I come from America, where cycling is only so big. I get asked all the time 'so you race bikes in Europe, you must have done the Tour?’ I have to say 'no but I've done Roubaix, Flanders, and the Giro but they don't mean as much. The Tour is as big as it gets.
“I want to race the Tour de France. With very few exceptions I’ve done everything I’ve wanted in the sport. Not everything, but I’ve done most of races on the calendar, a Worlds, the cobbled classics, two Giros, so the big show now is the Tour. That’s my goal and that’s my aim.
"There are nine spots, I’m not Peter Sagan and I’m not a shoe-in spot so I’ll have to earn it and prove myself in the first six months. It’s early season now but this a lead-in to Paris-Nice, and the Classics where Peter has lofty but attainable goals. If I’m doing my job then that could lead to California and I hope we can smack that race like we did last year. If it all goes to plan, I’ll be in France in July."