Another Vuelta a España summit finish, another searingly hot stage and, amazingly, another Ben King win, as the Dimension Data rider fended off a late charge by Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) to double his victory total.
With five kilometres to go, as the gap dipped to less than 20 seconds between King and Mollema, it looked as King, struggling on the steepest slopes of the hors category Covatilla, was out for the count.
But instead, as the roads eased slightly, King could stay away alone, claiming a second, even more spectacular, win to add to his victory in last week's Alto de Alfacar.
“I’ve never suffered so much in my career,” King, who lay slumped against the barriers after the finish for long seconds afterwards, told Spanish TV.
Asked if he could consider himself the best climber of this year’s Vuelta, though, given his hit rate on the summit finishes, King was under no illusions.
“Best climber? No way,” he told reporters. “On both stages that I’ve been victorious it was a tactical game.”
“Getting away early,” - on the cobbled section of the unclassified ascent immediately preceding La Covatilla - “was very important.”
“I know what my capabilities are on a finish like this, so I know what I have to do on a day like today,” King said.
“I tried to be attentive when [Thomas] de Gendt (Lotto Soudal) attacked, and as I know Luis Mas (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) from other races and what he can do, when he went on that cobbled section in the town, I knew I should follow him.”
King said, with a smile, that his main objective on overtaking Mas at that point had been to get through the cobbled section as quickly as possible, and to his surprise, he found himself ahead “with a nice advantage.” But he then tried to exploit that unexpcted gap as best he could.
“I laid it out there on the downhill section on some of those [technical] corners to try and extend my lead and hoped for some disorganisation behind,” he said.
As for the Covatilla, King said it was very difficult and steep in places.
"Mollema is a pure climber and I have a ton of respect for that guy," King said.
Indeed, Mollema finished second on the same ascent back in 2011, taking the race lead for one day, so King was probably right to feel that.
“I knew that to have a chance against him I’d have to take a big advantage,” he said.
Leading by nearly 90 seconds at one point, Mollema slowly but steadily reeled the rider in and King believed, in fact, that his number was up.
“I really expected him to get back to me," King said. "Alex [San Vega] kept on telling me to focus on my own race and time trial it to the finish, so I tried to do that. I just suffered a lot.
“I kept the faith and thanks to my team, my wife, my family and people close to me who believe in me more than I believe in myself sometimes, I was able to go that deep and hold off a rider with class like Mollema.”
That might explain how he had won, but as for why King has won twice in less than a week in a Grand Tour after - with all due respect - such a scant success rate beforehand in his professional career, the American said it was a question of persistence.
“You have to put yourself in situations to win," King said. "Last year was a really rough one. I really struggled. But I was in a breakaway in every stage race I did and none of them came to the line. So far, in this Vuelta, I’ve been in two breakaways and both have made it to the finish.”
“It’s rolling the dice, and taking a chance and believing that it’s possible.”
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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