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King rules at Tirreno-Adriatico — for a few painful moments

GUARDIAGRELE, Italy (VN) — Ben King (Garmin-Sharp) nearly pulled off what would have been a perfect day in southern Italy on Sunday. He escaped and led onto the steep (30 percent) muro at the end of Tirreno-Adriatico stage 5 but was out-muscled by Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo).

“My family is here, all the way from Virginia in the USA. They arrived last night, so it was a special day,” King said afterward. “It’s my first podium finish in a WorldTour race and so I’m pretty happy about that. Having my family here gave me some extra motivation and it was cool to be out front to let them see me on TV.”

The smell of burned clutch filled the air while King tried to catch his breath. The last kilometers zapped him so much that even hugs from his family were unable to encourage him enough to lift his head from where it rested on his handlebars. When he did raise it, he could see the crowd. The fans in front of him roared when he led the race onto the muro, or wall of Guardiagrele.

The 2010 U.S. champion King, who turns 25 in six days, followed Contador but took charge and shot ahead before he began climbing the wall. The 610-meter climb averages 22 percent and kicks up to 30 percent.

Given the slow motion-like speeds, it seemed as though 30 minutes had passed from the start of the climb until Contador and Simon Geschke (Giant-Shimano) reeled in King 200 meters later. King kept pushing his bike, which was outfitted with a 36-tooth small ring in the front and a 28-tooth rear sprocket.

He crested the climb, turned left, raced on the flat, and turned right. He covered the last 250-meter ramp, whose 9 percent average seemed easy compared to the previous grade, and placed third.

“I was thinking of a top three or even two. I also like to attack; it’s more exciting that way,” King said of his bold move.

“I hit the steep part and it was lights out. I honestly thought about getting off and running. It was that steep.”

The race officials ushered Contador to the podium to accept his kisses and Prosecco. King rested quietly on the side street with his mom, dad, and team helpers for company. He smiled as if he had won.

King attacked with Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol) and David De La Cruz (NetApp-Endura) as the race left Amatrice, home of the famous Amatriciana pasta sauce. He led over the highest climb of the day, the Passo Lanciano, 54 seconds ahead of an approaching Contador. With nine kilometers to race, he saw the five-time grand tour champion.

“I knew he’d go better than me on the steep part, so I tried to get out front,” King added. “I’ve never ridden a climb like that in a race before. My arms hurt as much as my legs. It was so steep.”

He failed to hold off “El Pistolero,” but he did give the King family plenty to talk about when they return home from their vacation.