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GRANADA, Spain (VN) — Dimension Data couldn’t buy a victory this season. A string of injuries, illnesses, crashes, and bad luck haunted the South African-registered team all season long.
All that changed Tuesday in stage 4 of the Vuelta a España with a plucky attack from Ben King, who delivered his first career grand tour stage win in emotional style. The success immediately lifted the spirits of the entire organization.
“This is a liberation,” said Dimension Data sport director Alex Sans Vega. “We’ve had a rough year and this victory is payback for everyone on the team.”
How bad has it been for Dimension Data?
The win is just the team’s sixth all season and its first at the WorldTour level. In contrast, Quick-Step has won 58 races this year. In fact, Quick-Step has won seven races in the month of August alone.
The usually prolific Mark Cavendish has only won once all year and that was way back at the Dubai Tour in February. Ben O’Connor won a stage at the Tour of the Alps and Edvald Boasson Hagen also won a stage at the Tour of Norway. Beyond that, there hasn’t been much to cheer.
The team struggled in the grand tours as well. Cavendish abandoned the Tour without being a factor in the sprints while GC man Louis Meintjes exited the Giro d’Italia with illness. Road captain Bernie Eisel suffered a brain hematoma this spring and underwent successful brain surgery.
As grim as things might have been, the team kept fighting and came into the Vuelta determined to show their class. Meintjes is targeting the GC and the rest of the team will get their chances. King took his opportunity Tuesday in a Vuelta that is seeing breakaways having more legs early in the race.
“This is very important for the team,” King said. “It’s been a difficult season but the team never stopped believing. We believe in what we do, in the essence of the team. It’s an honor to race for a team like this.”
King rode into the break and even slipped into the virtual leader’s jersey after the group opened up a big gap. As the GC favorites poured it on during the final climb, the victory was still in the cards. King played it expertly and finished it off with a flourish to beat Nikita Stalnov (Astana) and the chasing Pierre Rolland (EF Education First-Drapac).
“I only started believing in my chances in the final 200 meters,” King said. “I was dead at the line. My legs were aching and I had a lot of liquid in my stomach from all that I was drinking during the stage. I knew I had to keep my head strong.”
The victory is also a personal milestone for King, who becomes the ninth American to win a stage at the Vuelta a España (eight if you do not count Guido Trenti).
A former national champion, King also won a stage at the 2016 Tour of California and a stage at the now-defunct Critérium International in 2015. King almost won a stage in the 2016 Vuelta when he was third also on stage 4.
“It’s huge. I’ve won in the States before, but nothing like this,” King said. “There were no successful breaks in the Giro. You have to believe in it. If you don’t try, you won’t win. You have to put yourself in position to win.”
Dimension Data had already re-upped for King for the 2019 season before the Vuelta started. He wanted to pay back the faith the organization has shown in him.
“This is something really big for Ben,” Sans Vega said. “He had great form in the Giro, but he got sick and raced half the race on antibiotics. The breaks never succeeded in the Giro and there was a sense of impotence. Now Ben could show what he could do here at this Vuelta. It is a liberation for him personally as well.”
It’s hard to live and die by the breakaways in grand tour racing. Breaks might only succeed a few times during three weeks and there are dozens of teams and riders chasing the win. King made his play Tuesday and hit the jackpot. One win can go a long way to easing the disappointment and frustration for the Dimension Data team.