SANTA CLARITA (AP) — Ben King climbed to the top step of the podium at the Tour of California on Monday, four months after a broken fibula from a training crash kept him from being able to climb anywhere.
King out-sprinted Evan Huffman to win Stage 2 and assumed the overall lead from Peter Sagan after a lumpy 92-mile ride from Pasadena.
King, a former U.S. road race champion, became the first American stage winner at California since Taylor Phinney two years ago in Santa Barbara. He thrust his arms into the air as he crossed the line ahead of Huffman, giving his U.S.-based Cannondale team a victory on home soil.
Huffman finished second for Rally Cycling. Alexander Kristoff out-sprinted Stage 1 winner Peter Sagan for third, finishing with the peloton 8 seconds back of the two-man breakaway.
King and Huffman spent most of the day with Will Barta before dropping the 20-year-old with about 5 miles to go. Their lead at that point dipped to about 2 minutes, but King and Huffman worked well together — rather than playing a cat-and-mouse game — to keep the charging peloton at bay.
The victory was especially sweet for King given the way his year began.
He was on a training ride near his hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia, when he hit an ice patch that caused him to fall.
King was just a couple weeks away from making his season debut at the Tour de San Luis, and was coming off a breakout season that included a stage win at the Criterium International.
Not all was lost for Huffman, who earned the King of the Mountains jersey.
The overall standings should begin to take shape on Tuesday, when riders trek 104 miles from Thousand Oaks toward Santa Barbara. The stage concludes with a wicked climb up Gibraltar Road about 6 miles from the finish, where an 8 percent grade will separate the contenders from the rest of the field.
Fans and teams have asked for the finishing climb for years, but it wasn’t until this year that road conditions made it possible for the race to finish on the twisting mountaintop.