The last time Ben King raced in the US he was soloing off the front at the World Championship road race in his home state of Virginia. 2015 had been a successful season for King, which included a stage win at the Criterium International, second place at US time trial nationals, and his second Grand Tour finish. Unfortunately, King's preparation for the 2016 season suffered a setback last January when he crashed while training near his home in Virginia.
"It was really a silly crash, I wasn't even going fast," King said. "I put my foot down to try and stop the fall, and since I was already at an angle I put my foot down and rolled my ankle and it broke the fibula. I heard it and felt it when I fell so I knew it was bad. I got my shoe off and tried to stand on it, I was like 'Aw, it's broken'.
"But that was the good thing about being in Virginia I could call my Mom for a ride. They live 20 minutes from where I live so I sat on the side of the road and waited for them to take me to the hospital."
King had worked closely in the months leading up to his crash with Cannondale manager Jonathan Vaughters on developing a new training program. King had been layering more intensity and weights into his schedule and was hoping to see how it translated on the road at the Tour de San Luis.
His broken fibula required surgery and the subsequent recovery time kept him off the bike for weeks. King estimates that he had about "a month of nothing" after the operation while his body healed. King started training as soon as he could resulting in some marathon, WorldTour length, trainer sessions.
"Before it was even weight bearing, before I was even allowed to walk on it, I was allowed to spend loads of time on the trainer," King said. "I couldn't do intensity because the tendons were too weak and if I did high intensity then I'd start to overcompensate with the other leg and didn't want to cause or exacerbate any other imbalances. I wanted to respect the healing process."
King was grateful that Cannondale let him pursue an ambitious spring program with limited pressure. He returned to racing at the Volta a Catalunya followed by a busy schedule that included Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallonne, and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
"I had to readjust my own expectations in those races," King said. "Catalunya, I knew I would be just suffering through it but they needed to fill the roster and I was happy to be there. And in the Ardennes I felt like, 'I trained a lot and I have one stage race in me so I should be ready.' But I was still a step or two behind the other riders in terms of what they had been able to do over the winter for preparation. I wanted to be better than I was in the Ardennes but it wasn't realistic."
Comeback at the Tour of California
With revised expectations, King rode through the Ardennes Classics and even scored a top-20 finish at the GP Indurain, but it is at the Tour of California that he is starting the next phase of his comeback.
"I've always had my eye on California and it will be the first race where I will be back on my level," King said.
King arrives at the Amgen Tour of California with modest personal aspirations, and is primarily focused on riding in support of team leader Lawson Craddock. King's main objective is to prove he deserves a spot on Cannondale's Tour de France squad. He intends to make his case by slotting into whatever task is required of him, and doing it as well as he can.
"I think the gregarios and domestiques have a lot of opportunities to show their qualities," King said after the first day of racing in San Diego. "We are here with a clear cut leader in the overall with Lawson Craddock and clearly Wouter [Wippert] is riding really well. He was second place today and the team rode really well around him - we got off on the right foot."
King's commitment to his recovery is not unlike the tenacity he has demonstrated on the road, an attacking, driving will focused on getting the job done. It is a style that has earned him respect and a handful of opportunistic wins. It is the same characteristics that have helped propel him back to into the pro peloton after an early season injury.
"I had worked so hard over the winter, and obviously it's a contract year for me, and after the World Championships and a good end of the season last year I feel like I have a lot of potential that is still untapped," Kind said. "I still don't think I've been as good as I can be as a rider. That's what drives me."
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