"Yesterday I got out of bed and I felt terrible," Ben King (RadioShack-Leopard) told Cyclingnews after finishing stage 5 at the USA Pro Challenge, a 16.1-mile mountain time trial in Vail, Colorado. "Before the race I was hit by a car so I'm happy just to be riding."
While the peloton is certainly feeling the effects of hard racing at altitudes not seen in any other professional race, King faced the extra burden of having crashed heavily in training four days prior to the seven-day stage race's start in Aspen.
"I was training and there was a car that just turned in front of me without signalling or anything," said King. "I had no outlet so I could either smash into the side of the car or go off the road. So I went completely off the road and looked for an escape route but the road was lined with boulders. I ended up slamming on the brakes, going over the handlebars and landed on my stomach on one of the boulders."
Just prior to the USA's other marquee stage race, the Amgen Tour of California in May, King also crashed and injured his hands to such an extent that he wasn't able to start.
"A lot of people, after I crashed out before California, said I'm two-for-two, what's going on man? It's not exactly true – I've done about 80 races this year and I crashed twice. My record is still pretty good it's just bad timing.”
"It gets better every day," King said of his injuries. "The directors probably would have called for a replacement but it was too late to fly someone over from Europe so we decided to just see what I could do.
"On stage 2, I had to help the guys pull a break back and that really hurt me but I'm not here just to survive. I don't need to prove that I can finish here in Colorado. If I'm in the race I'm going to be trying to help the team out and do my job as best I can."
Regarding the time trial on Friday, which started just above 8,000 ft. in elevation in Vail Village and ascended to the finish line about 9,500 ft. on Vail Pass, the Virginia native provided insight into the struggles of racing in rarefied air.
"Today I decided to start fast and see if I could keep it going," said the 24-year-old. "I had my minute-man in sight the whole way. I figured Danny Pate's a good time triallist so I kept the pressure on.
"It's amazing – I tried to accelerate and I think I missed out on a couple of places just in the last couple of hundred meters. I just exploded and was weaving across the finish line."
King's effort of 27:51.18 for the course put him in 44th for the day, 2:50 down on stage winner and USA Pro Challenge leader Tejay van Garderen.
"The altitude here is just unbelievable what it does to you. It's not my specialty. Utah is on a slightly lower level – not race-wise or competition-wise but altitude-wise – but this altitude is really something special. It's something different that we don't do anywhere else in the world.
"People ask a lot about racing in Europe but you don't do anything like this in Europe. The answer is definitely no – this is the only place in the world where I think you deal with altitudes like this."
Heading into the stage 5 time trial RadioShack Leopard's best-placed rider on general classification was the 23-year-old New Zealander George Bennett who held 13th overall. King's teammate Jens Voigt nearly pulled off his second stage win in as many years at the US Pro Challenge on Wednesday into Steamboat Springs, but the evergreen German's solo effort was neutralised just three kilometers from the finish.
"It's been a little disappointing but I think George [Bennett] still has a chance - we'll see how he goes in the time trial. He can score a top-10, maybe [Bennett moved into 8th overall after the time trial - ed.]. Jens is as always in the breakaway, mixing things up.
"I think we don't really have a chance anymore for the overall podium but tomorrow (Saturday) we'll see what we can do – go in breakaways."
For King, the USA Pro Challenge may be his last race of the season.
"I'm on the reserve list for the races in Canada and Beijing, but I'm possibly going to have my longest off-season in years. I'm going to think of something fun to do. I want to start my off-season, go mountain biking, stay fit and just enjoy it."