The day after he was involved in a high-speed downhill crash that knocked Trek Factory Racing’s Matthew Busche out of the race, Cannondale-Garmin’s Ben King decided to test his health by spending stage 4 in a day-long breakaway at the Tour of Utah.
The 26-year-old American joined six other riders in a 150km escape that the peloton caught just 3.5km from the finish, where Optum Pro Cycling’s Eric Young took the win from a bunch sprint.
Showing the obvious signs of his crash, including bandages on his arms and legs, King was one of the more powerful riders in the group, taking a steady stream of pulls and trying to inspire some of his less-willing colleagues to do the same.
“I crashed really hard yesterday and I just wanted to see how I felt and try to ignore the fact that I crashed so I could do my job for the team,” King told Cyclingnews after the finish at Soldier Hollow. “That’s really what it comes down to for me. If I can’t do my job for the team, then what’s the point of being here?”
Unfortunately for King and his fellow breakaway riders, the group included Hincapie’s Robin Carpenter, who started the day just eight seconds off the lead of UnitedHealthcare’s Kiel Reijnen. Carpenter’s presence in the group meant the peloton was going to keep the escapees in check, never giving them much more than a three-minute advantage throughout the day.
The peloton almost caught the group near the top of the day’s major climb up Wolf Creek Pass, but then they expanded their lead again on the descent.
“It looked pretty futile for a while,” King said. “We came back to 30 seconds on the climb, and then Robin and I pushed the pace really hard just to get to the top so that we could at least not be dropped before the top of the climb. So we went over the top with 30 seconds and railed the downhill and ended up with an almost two-minute advantage.”
During the climb, Songezo Jim (MTN-Qhubeka) lost contact with the breakaway, but as he was falling back, Axeon Cycling’s Gregory Daniel was bridging up to the group. Daniel made contact near the summit and then zoomed ahead for the KOM points before re-joining the breakaway.
But even with the addition of Daniel and his relatively fresh legs, the breakaway couldn’t hold off the charging peloton as they headed toward the finish at Soldier Hollow. As the bunch was closing in, King said, attacks within the breakaway doomed its chances for success.
“We got a little bit disorganised right in the last 8km because guys were starting to think about the finish,” King said. “That’s really something you’re going to run into almost every time you’re out in the breakaway all day.
“No one feels good, so they start to think about saving themselves and skipping pulls, which just adds to the disorganisation. I think in the end that’s what cost us the victory from the breakaway.”
Nevertheless, King took some good feelings away from his day-long adventure off the front.
“It’s nice to get out there and show my face a little bit, just know that I’m not injured that badly,” he said. “I’m pretty stiff, to be honest. It was hard getting out of bed this morning, but when you start rolling, things loosen up.”