LA COVATILLA, Spain – American rider Benjamin King won the mountainous ninth stage of the Spanish Vuelta, finishing atop the beyond-category La Covatilla on Sunday, while Simon Yates took over the race lead.
King stayed ahead of chaser Bauke Mollema on a long breakaway to win the 125-mile leg in 5 ½ hours, starting in Talavera de la Reina that crested three categorized passes before the final uphill push.
King, who rides for Dimension Data, also won the fourth stage for his first Grand Tour stage win at age 29.
He had time enough to lift his arms in victory as he reached the finish line, only to shortly collapse on the ground gasping for air.
“I feel so bad right now,” Spanish television cameras caught King telling his team as he recovered from the excruciating effort. “I can’t believe that.”
“The climb was really hard, with some very steep sections, and I thought Mollema would come back,” King said later. “I suffered a lot but I kept hoping and I made it.”
Yates of Michelton-Scott was the ninth rider to finish. The Englishman took the red jersey from Rudy Molard, who had led the race for four flat stages but faded early on the brutal last ascent.
Yates leads Alejandro Valverde by one second, with Valverde’s Movistar teammate Nairo Quintana 14 seconds back. Both Valverde and Quintana are former Vuelta winners.
Durango’s Sepp Kuss finished 20th during Sunday’s ride. He was 3:32 behind King. He is now 38th overall in the general classification standings, 15:12 off of Yates’ lead.
Monday is the first of two rest days in the three-week race.