Ben King (Dimension Data) is one of the true nice guys in pro cycling. Go on twitter and you’ll read tributes on his Vuelta stage win from people all over the cycling world — a class act, one of the good guys, well-deserved.
“I set winning a grand tour stage as a goal for myself at the beginning of the year,” said King. I kept believing that I had that potential. It’s affirming. I worked so hard for this.”
On a hot day in Andalusia, King had launched himself into a strong breakaway of nine riders that at one point had almost ten minutes on the over-heated peloton as they headed for the summit of Puerto de Alfacar.
He was on a magical ride with exceedingly good legs– and he made all the right decisions as the escape group whittled down until it was just him and Nikita Stalnov (Astana Pro Team).
The duo worked fairly well together, racing through narrows streets in several towns and along the wider roads and then up the final challenge of the afternoon, the category one climb of Puerto de Alfacar.
Their gap began to shrink rapidly when Lotto-Jumbo decided to put the hammer down. In particular, young American Sepp Kuss set a punishing temp at the front that strung out the peloton and kicked Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) out the back.
The pace was so high that race leader Michal Kwiatkowski lost all his Sky teammates and was forced to fend for himself. There was nobody in Sky to close down Simon Yates (Mitchelton Scott) when the Briton attacked with four kilometers to go.
Meanwhile, up ahead, the lonely figure of Pierre Rolland (EF-Education First) tried to catch King and Stalnov. The Frenchmen closed to within 15 seconds, then lost ground again before making one last massive effort, almost reaching the back-wheel with 500 meters to go. However, he was too exhausted from the chase to contest a sprint and finished in third place.
The veteran King forced Stalnov to lead out the sprint, then ripped around him with a decisive acceleration ended any discussion of who would win.
“I just put myself in the right position to have the best chance possible and I hit them early at the bottom of the climb and then time-trialed to the top,” said King. “I was able to out-kick Stalnov at the finish.”
It’s the biggest win of his career and King could hardly put it all into words. “It’s a dream come true — I can’t believe it. I didn’t start believing it until the last kilometer,” said King. “Spirits are high and we’re looking for more. For me personally, I’m still in shock.”
Kwiatkowski rolled in a little over three minutes behind King, along with Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo), Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) and Fabio Aru (UAE-Team Emirates).
Pro cycling can often be a cruel and hard sport but today in the Vuelta a Espana, a good guy who’s always ready to sacrifice his own chances for the good of the team earned his first grand tour stage win.