Ben King (Dimension Data) took his second stage win of the 2018 Vuelta a España, soloing to victory on the summit finish of La Covatilla.
The American had been part of the day’s main breakaway, but had got away on his own with 19km to go on the early slopes before the official final climb.
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Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) was the main rider in pursuit, but couldn’t do anything to bridge the 20-second gap and it was clear King would hold on for his second win of the race after taking the win on the race’s first summit finish on stage four.
In the GC, leader Rudy Molard was dropped early on the climb and saw his stint in red come to an end. Surprisingly, the likes of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) were unable to compete with the attacks of some of the other contenders, with a group of Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) and Ion Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida) all getting away in the closing kilometres to finish close together.
It was Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) though who took the overall lead from Molard, finishing nine seconds behind the Quintana group and 15 seconds ahead of Valverde to take the red jersey by one second over Valverde.
How it happened
The Vuelta peloton face a huge mountain day ahead of the first rest day on Monday, with 200.8km on the cards taking in three categorised climbs before an especial classified summit finish.
As per usual, there were some riders who fancied a slog out in the breakaway, but the group of 11 that slipped away will be pleased that they weren’t made to work hard for it by the peloton.
Luis Angel Maté and Kenneth Van Bilsen (Cofidis), Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), Dylan Teuns (BMC Racing), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), Ben King (Dimension Data), Reto Hollenstein (Katusha-Alpecin), Tom Leezer (LottoNL-Jumbo), Luis Mas (Caja Rural), Aritz Bagues (Euskadi-Murias) and Jesus Ezquerra (Burgos-BH), were the riders who formed the break early on.
Things remained fairly calm for much of the day as the break were allowed to establish a maximum advantage of 10 minutes.
The race only began to heat up as the riders approached the final climb of La Covatilla. Classified on the profile at 9.8km, the break really began to ascend with around 30km to go, and the attacks soon started to fly.
Thomas De Gendt was the first to try, but their was no panic from his breakaway companions and he was brought back.
The gap was now gradually slipping, but they still had seven minuted when Luis Mas went away, followed by Ben King with around 20km to go. King then dropped Mas with 19km to go, and began a long solo effort with no-one able to stop the American establishing a decent gap.
Behind Astana, led the peloton towards the final climb with the pace now increasing. King held 1-25 over the chasers when he hit the official climb of La Covatilla with the peloton still over five minutes back.
Bauke Mollema then took up the chase, languishing just under a minute behind King for some time. The leader then began to show signs of struggling as he hit a steep section of the climb with around 6km to go, but the gap to Mollema stayed at 45 seconds.
Bora at this point were taking up the chase on the front of the peloton in aid of Emanuel Buchmann, with red jersey Rudy Molard now dropped off the back.
Entering into the final few kilometres, King still led with around 20 seconds, however Mollema was gaining ground.
But as King hit the easier part of the climb towards the top, he continued to hold off the Dutchman and it quickly became clear the Dimension Data man would hold on for his second victory in the first week of the Vuelta.
In the peloton, LottoNL-Jumbo set the pace into the final 4km, with splits soon coming as contenders tried to get away. A group of Uran, Izagirre, Lopez, Kelderman and Quintana battled it out up front with numerous attacks, however no-one could get away within the final 1.5km as Yates chased on just behind.
Michal Kwiatkowski was notably absent from the group, dropping way off the pace, while Valverde fought on behind in a group with Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo).
In the end, that lead group finished more or less together, with a final sprint putting three seconds into Uran and six seconds to Izagirre from Lopez, Quintana and Kelderman.
Yates trailed in just behind at nine seconds to grab the overall lead, with Valverde coming in a further 15 seconds back.
Team Sky’s overall hopes took a major blow with David de la Cruz finishing a further 28 seconds down on Valverde and Kwiatkowski a further 1-40 down.
The Vuelta a España hits its first rest day on Monday, but riders will return to racing on Tuesday with a flat stage of 177km from Salamanc to Bermillo.
Vuelta a España 2018, stage nine: Talavera de la Reina – La Covatilla (200.8k)
1 Benjamin King (USA) Dimension Data, in 5-30-38
2 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo, at 48
3 Dylan Teuns (Bel) BMC Racing Team, at 2-38
4 Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana Pro Team, at 2-40
5 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team
6 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team Sunweb, all at same time
7 Rigoberto Uran (Col) EF Education First-Drapac, at 2-43
8 Ion Izagirre (Esp) Bahrain-Merida, at 2-46
9 Simon Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, at 2-49
10 George Bennett (NZl) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 3-02
11 Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, at 3-04
Overall classification after stage nine
1 Simon Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, in 36-54-52
2 Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar Team, at 1s
3 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team, at 14s
4 Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 16s
5 Ion Izagirre (Esp) Bahrain-Merida, at 17s
6 Tony Gallopin (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale, at 24s
7 Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana Pro Team, at 27s
8 Rigoberto Uran (Col) EF Education First-Drapac, at 32s
9 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo, 43s
10 George Bennett (NZl) LottoNL-Jumbo, 48s