King of Santa Clarita: Ben King Wins Amgen Tour of California Stage Two, Moves Into Race Lead
American Ben King won a two-up sprint in Santa Clarita on Monday to secure his first victory of the season on stage two of the Amgen Tour of California. The 27-year-old was one of two survivors of a four-man breakaway that escaped the peloton’s stronghold with around 120-kilometers remaining in the 148-kilometer day. Finishing eight seconds ahead of the peloton and snagging a ten-second bonus for the stage win, King now leads the Amgen Tour of California general classification.
“This is my fifth time doing this race, and it’s the first time I’ve won a stage here,” said King. “It’s really exciting for me.”
“I had a broken fibula in January, so I had to restart from scratch to build towards this,” added King, who spent much of January and February logging big mileage on his Kinetic home trainer. “California was the first race that I had marked off with the directors to try to be back at 100 percent so that I could try to make our Tour de France squad. I got my face kicked in a lot this spring in Europe.”
A week out from the race start, King had set his sights on getting into the breakaway on stage two.
“It was the team plan,” said King. “I followed a lot of moves and did a lot of attacking today to make it happen.”
Attacks flew as soon as the flag dropped, and when a dangerous 22-rider group took shape, King was there. Direct Energie had missed the breakaway and immediately took to the front of the peloton. With the first KOM line in sight, the bunch regrouped and the overall contenders contested the category one Angeles Crest climb that topped out at 22 kilometers.
Shortly after the KOM, King forced his away clear again. This time he had Evan Huffman (Rally Cycling), Will Barta (Axeon Hagens Berman) and Sindre Skjostad Lunke (Giant-Alpecin) for company.
“I knew with the uphill start, it was going to be difficult to get into the breakaway,” King noted. “I just went crazy attacking and attacking and attacking and finally slipped off the front with four guys. I thought: ‘Well, this isn’t ideal because it’s less guys to share the work with.’, but in the end, we did build up a significant advantage.”
Eighty kilometers from the finish, the quartet had eight minutes, and Tinkoff-Saxo began to chase in earnest. Trek-Segafredo and Direct Energie contributed riders to the chase, and the gap began to plummet.
“Once you commit, there’s no point in holding back,” said King. “You always do the math in your head. I’ve been the guy chasing the breakaway so many times. I know pretty much exactly what they’re doing in the chase, and I know what I needed to do up front in the hopes of holding off the catch.”
Back-to-back second category climbs on Little Tujunga Canyon Road allowed the peloton to creep closer to the breakaway. Lunke, unable to match the pace set by his breakaway companions, dropped from the group.
“I think a lot of the other sprinter’s teams had their helpers dropped,” noted King. “The other three guys in the breakaway with me were super strong, especially Evan. No one skipped a turn all day. We were super cohesive. Ultimately, that’s what did it.”
“We didn’t have to slow down on the last two climbs but the other teams working for their sprinters had to slow because they didn’t want to drop their sprinters,” King added. “I was just watching my power meter. I’m glad the other guys in the group couldn’t go any harder because that’s as hard as I could go.”
Puncturing on the descent of the final climb, Barta was forced to change bikes. He lost contact with King and Huffman but fought hard to rejoin the move a few kilometers later. Behind, BMC replaced Tinkoff at the head of the peloton.
The trio hit the ten-kilometer mark with a one-minute advantage. Barta dropped off the breakaway as the grueling pace continued toward the line.
“With around five kilometers to go, I was confident we were going to win,” said King. “I knew Evan is a pretty quick sprinter. He smoked me in both the KOM sprints. I was hesitant to let it come down to a sprint, but I couldn’t drop him on the climbs either. In the end, we were both fully committed to making the break stick to the finish.”
King started cramping when he went under the flamme rouge.
“I felt amazing all day and then my legs started to cramp,” King said. “I’m really glad that Evan didn’t know that.”
Forced to the front, Huffman pulled for nearly the entire final kilometer before opening the sprint. King came around Huffman just before the line.
“Evan was super strong all day,” said King. “Hats off to him. He was great company in the breakaway. I’ve been in this situation before and been a little too antsy in the finish and tried to attack in the finish because I didn’t trust my sprint. I wasn’t going to do that again today.”
King will line up in yellow in Thousand Oaks on Tuesday. He starts stage three with an eight-second advantage over Huffman and 14-seconds on stage one winner Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo).
“The timing of how the stage went today put me in yellow, but it doesn’t change the team’s objective of supporting Lawson [Craddock],” said King.
“Having raced around the world all season for multiple years, it’s always a pleasure to come back to the state of California and do this race,” King added. “The spectators, the cycling culture, the roads, the scenery – everything about this race is just about as good as it gets. It’s such a special race to me, and I’m so proud and so happy to wear yellow tomorrow.”