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Twelve months ago, Ben King (Dimension Data) roared to a breakout performance at the Vuelta a España, winning two stages from breakaways that served both as redemption and inspiration for the American. Flash-forward a year, and King is back at the Vuelta — and back to chasing the breakaways.
In what’s been a very competitive Vuelta, King has yet to punch into a winning move. But Dimension Data is slotting riders into breaks and King will keep getting his chances. One sport director said King is now a marked man after his Vuelta success last year, with teams not so quick to let him get away.
“I don’t know if it’s so much about the target on the back. It’s been very difficult to get in a breakaway,” King told VeloNews. “But all you can do is keep trying.”
It’s not for a lack of trying. The art of the breakaway is something mastered by such riders as Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) and stage 12 winner Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-Quick-Step). There’s a science to reading a stage, the wind, the terrain, and having the nose to pick the right moment to attack and following the correct wheels. And on top of all that, packing the racing chops and legs to finish it off with a W.
King, 30, proved himself a worthy candidate to join that club last season, winning out of moves in stages 4 and 9. When you win, it looks easy. But just as Lawson Craddock (EF-Education First) found out Wednesday, being the strongest rider doesn’t always equate to victory.
“There are a lot of things that you have to consider to get into the right break and to win,” King said. “Even last year, it’s not like I was on the best form of my career. I was in very good shape, obviously, but tactically things played into my hand.”
The victories meant the world to King, who had been banging around the WorldTour since 2011. He’d won races before in the United States and Europe, but never in a grand tour. In what was his sixth grand tour start, the stars aligned with two emotional stage wins.
Yet as he was reminded this season, victories only beget trophies and memories for the end of a career. The hard work must continue for any pro looking for that next triumph.
“Those wins are something that I’ll have with me for the rest of my life. But in cycling, in terms of the business side of it and the career side, you’re really only as good as your last race,” King said. “That’s a difficult thing, when you’re always having to judge yourself based on your last race. So you keep focused on improving and trying to reach your full potential.”
Thanks to those Vuelta wins, King earned leadership roles in some key races, such as the Amgen Tour of California, and punched his ticket for a return to the Tour de France. But despite solid form and good results, additional victories have proven elusive so far in 2019.
“I’ve worked really hard this season but the results haven’t been like last year,” he said.
The long overdue grand tour success was a just reward in many ways, but it also lit his inner fire for even more. King explained how that Vuelta success also fueled new ambitions that led him to train harder than ever before. King, who lives and trains in Lucca, Italy, came to realize that more work doesn’t always mean more success.
“I think it led me to make a few mistakes over the winter,” King said. “I was feeling like I’d made a breakthrough, so I think I trained a little bit too much and I was playing catch up most of the spring, trying to recover. I paid little bit of a price for that.
“I believed that I could bump up an even higher level and be more consistent even in overall classification,” he continued. “In the end, it turned out to be kind of a mistake, just kind of straying from what I’ve been doing best and what was working for me.”
At this Vuelta, King is back to doing his King thing — helping his teammates and looking for opportunities when conditions permit. And for a rider who lives for the breakaways, the best tactic is to keep attacking.
“At the end of the day, if you’re not in the breakaway, once it’s gone and you see the break’s going to make it and you’re not there, well, then it’s too late to do anything about it,” he said. “So the best thing you can do is just keep rolling the dice and trying to be up there and see how it plays out behind.”
The final half of the Vuelta is packed with opportunities for breakaways. Expect to see King on the move.