Dimension Data’s Ben King won the 200km stage nine of the Vuelta a Espana in thrilling fashion on the summit of La Covatilla today.
Courtesy of an 18km final solo run to the line, the American completed the gruelling stage in 5:30:38, beating Trek-Segafredo’s Bauke Mollema by under a minute. BMC Racing Team’s Dylan Teuns completed the podium.
Groupama-FDJ’s Rudy Molard lost his race lead as Mitchelton-Scott’s Simon Yates, who was fourth on the general classification before the stage, leapfrogged the Frenchman to take hold of the red jersey.
Yates is now just a second ahead of Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde.
Within the first 20km of the race Luis Angel Maté, Kenneth van Bilsen, Bauke Mollema, Dylan Teuns, Thomas de Gendt, King, Reto Hollenstein, Tom Leezer, Luis Mas, Aritz Bagues and Jesus Ezquerra comprised an 11-man breakaway.
The group extended their lead to three minutes 10 seconds, with DiData’s King the best-placed rider on the general classification among the escapees. But at that point he was still six minutes 34 seconds behind race leader Molard.
About 43km into the race, on the lower slopes of the stage’s first climb, their lead grew to four minutes 20 seconds. Groupama FDJ were controlling the pace at the head of the peloton.
After two hours of racing the average speed was 35.3km/h, with the peloton, still led by FDJ, five minutes 25 seconds behind the 11-man group.
The gap extended to six minutes with 106km remaining. Heading up the La Covatilla, a 13km climb, their lead grew to six and a half minutes.
Following a long descent, the gap grew to nine minutes with 72km left. With 50km to go the gap was almost 10 minutes.
Approaching the final steep La Covatilla climb, King went solo as the break started to disintegrate. The peloton were just over six minutes back.
King increased his lead to over a minute as he took on some tricky narrow roads. Mollema was giving chase in an attempt to catch King. He reduced the gap to a minute.
King felt fatigue set in on the above-10 per cent gradient sections of the climb and the timing of his attack began to look suspect as Mollema closed the gap to 30 seconds with just more than 5km left.
The pursuit continued, with Mollema cutting King’s lead by a further nine seconds. At this point there were no attacks coming from the GC contenders, with their group numbering about 20 riders. Molard’s lead looked in trouble, however, as he continued to lose time.
As they took on gentler gradients, Mollema had King in his sights and, with just over a kilometre remaining, Mollema began to sit up and sprint.
However King, though in pain, managed to outlast Mollema in the final few hundred metres to secure victory over the Dutchman by 45 seconds.
Behind them, the GC group exploded into action as Yates sought valuable seconds. The Briton did just enough to overtake Valverde, finishing the stage in ninth position. Molard, however, fell out of the top-10 altogether.
“To get one stage win was a dream come true. 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,” a delighted King said afterwards.
“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 was.”