When Ben King (Dimension Data) won stage four with aggressive and smart riding, it was the feel good story of the Vuelta a Espana.
It was nice guys wins for once, domestique gets magic moment in sunshine, genuine, selfless team-first rider actually stands on podium in grand tour, with pretty girls and champagne.
So now what do we do?
What’s the story line when King does it again, on an even harder stage, in an even bolder style and impressive fashion? We’re quickly out of narratives. Where do we go to take the King story now — freakish miracle happens twice, rider rewrites laws of physiology, finds cure for cancer along the way.
“To get one stage win was a dream come true,” King said. “I made winning a Grand Tour stage a major career goal, so today was really nice to show that first one wasn’t a random thing.
Random has quickly become expected for King. That’s just how amazing his win was on the climb up La Covatilla. He’s actually in mythic territory now, no longer just the one-off, gosh I’m so happy story.
He went from the gun, into the first breakaway with eleven riders, drops them before the final climb and then agonizingly hangs on as Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) begins to tracks him down and threatens to kill him.
At the base of the climb he had 1:30 on Mollema and the Dutchman cut it to 15 seconds in a matter of kilometers. With about 5k to go, King looked fried, slowing to a crawl, weaving across the road while Mollema powered along straight and true.
But then when the climb flatted out a bit, King dug deeper and pushed his gap back out to 30 seconds. He said it was the hardest day on the bike in his career but this win never happens without his win on stage four. He had a newfound sense of confidence and that gave him the ability to reach inside himself and find a reserve of power he has never tapped before in his entire athletic career.
“I’ve never suffered that much in my entire life, I’m still a little foggy in my mind, but I’m sure it will sink in soon what an accomplishment this is.” Holy shit, yeah. He was collapsed on the ground at the finish, almost looking like he was about to puke from the effort.
The video of King sitting dazed and glazed inside with his soigneur was a revealing, behind-the-scenes moment. King could barely talk and we were surprised there wasn’t an IV already stuck in his arm. He was as drained as any stage winner you’ll ever see.
Hats off to Mollema whose face was contorted and drenched in sweat as he tried to vain to close that final 15 second gap only to see it go back out to 49 seconds by the finish line. King, being the class guy that he is, was complimentary of Mollema’s efforts.
“Being chased by a guy like Mollema is a lot of pressure and it took a lot to keep believing and keep suffering that much,” said King. “But I know what it means to me, what it means to the team and to the people who support and believe in me. I think it was a mental battle between us in the last bit and 20 seconds is not a big gap. We were just separated by meters on the climb and it just stayed the same and we completely fired, dying a thousand deaths.”
As has been the consistent case, the Vuelta a Espana continues to be the most exciting, unpredictable and hotly contested grand tour. With all due respect to the Tour de France, the Vuelta just knocks it out of the park on every stage. After nine stages, there’s already been more excitement than the entire Tour. The breakaways are working and riders believe it’s worth the effort to attack and there isn’t a stacked Sky A squad to shut them down.
It’s been a joy for cycling fans to see Ben King double up on his dreams. It’s amazing to see what happens when a rider gets the confidence that a big win brings, that alters his belief in what he can accomplish.
Alberto Contador put on a magical show last season in the Vuelta. Ben King has just done the same thing. I’m really proud and happy to be out front again and fly the flag for the team and Qhubek,” said King.. “It was a special day, and a special La Vuelta so far and it’s not even over.