Editor’s note: Ben King is a first year professional with Team RadioShack (Related: Ben’s previous VeloNews diaries)
Tour of Utah recovery merged with Tour of Colorado taper. We crashed at the TLS U23 house in Boulder, Colorado. One day we splurged on burgers and ice cream. One day we trained hard. Each of the seven days we tapped our fingers waiting for the familiarity of racing to settle our nerves.
Tour of Colorado: 7 days
Prologue: 9 km
I felt sort of betrayed by the promotional ads focusing on crashes and carnage. Fans and/or sadists clustered around a high-speed corner hoping for some bloody action. Nobody crashed. But we plunged through that turn like roller coaster cars. Once we plunged out of the scenic Garden of Gods, we drag-raced a straight 5 km through downtown to the finish. The early starters had a stronger tailwind and clocked the fastest times. Levi and I raced late. We finished seventh and 17th respectively.
Stage 1: 160 km
Levi smashed everyone. A break of four went. We raced over Monarch Pass, an 11,321-foot summit, in slow motion. Riders hopped on their tires, certain that they must have a flat; the slow pace felt too hard. Oxygen, please. After the climb, one lonely road brought us to the finish. I fought boredom.
With 5 km to go we ripped through Crested Butte and launched into a 2 km climb. Riders exploded. When the pack strung out in town, I slipped back too far to influence the finish. I could, however, watch my teammate, Ivan Rovny, stand up with an almost casual bearing, click down a few gears, and wring the power out of his legs with Levi in his draft. With 500 meters to go Levi launched for the finish and claimed the stage victory and yellow jersey.
Stage 2:210 km
After his untouchable victory, we felt confident in Levi. We just had to get him over the gravel Cottonwood Pass (12,100 ft elevation), and deliver him into Independence Pass (12,000 ft) 110 miles from the start. For an hour we followed breakaways and chased them down. We wanted no more than seven riders in the breakaway. More than seven would have too much horse power for us to chase. I drifted back to recover from dragging back an attack. Just behind me Levi said, “great job. Keep riding strong.” The next second we hit a cattle guard. The rider to my right caught his wheel in a gap. He went from 40 mph to a standstill- deep face, chin, and lip lacerations, less teeth, two broken hands, concussion. Riders plowed into him. I panicked and looked for Levi. He survived.
The riders collectively neutralized the race for ten minutes. Then seven riders attacked and were gone. Murayev, J-Mac, and Hermans rode tempo for the next sixty miles. The team wanted to save me to help Levi on Independence Pass, a big responsibility. I went back and forth from the car to the front of the peloton getting information and water bottles from our director. He recommended pulling the breakaway back to two minutes before the climb.
On the first gradual slopes of Independence Pass, Bennet and I swapped pulls. As soon as the road pitched up 8 km from the summit, Vande Velde and Colombian bottle rocket, Henao, attacked. I suffered in fifth position on Gesink’s wheel. Then Levi said, “go, Ben.” Way above my limit, brain oxygen-deprived, my vision narrowed. I emptied myself pulling back the attack in three minutes. The world spun, as I regained my breath and settled into a comfortable pace, leaving Rovny and Deignan to fend for Levi.
Massive, out of control, crowds parted to reveal the road, as we climbed the last mile through the rain. They shouted, “Levi’s on a great ride!” Lightening licked the mountains below us. We shivered on the wet 20-mile descent into Aspen.
A small group had escaped on the descent and Levi lost the jersey by 34 seconds. Murayev suffered from altitude sickness on the climb and abandoned the race. Tomorrow is the time trial. Levi is hungry.
Stage 2: 16 km Time Trial
I rode easy tempo, along with the other domestiques, banking on Levi’s ability to reclaim yellow and call on every bit of our strength to defend. We watched Levi’s dramatic ride on TV and a cheer went up from our bus when he hit the line to win the TT by half a second and win back the yellow jersey. Big days ahead for us.
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