1 Oct 2018

George Bennett 18th at World Road Cycling Championships

7:26 am on 1 October 2018

The Nelson cyclist George Bennett has finished 18th in the men's race at the World Road Cycling Championships in Austria.

Spain's Alejandro Valverde edged a sprint finish to win the race.

George Bennett

George Bennett Photo: Photosport

Valverde finished just ahead of France's Romain Bardet, Canada's Michael Woods and Tom Dumoulin of the Netherlands in Innsbruck.

The 38-year-old had previously finished on the podium a record six times.

Valverde, Bardet and Woods raced the final few kilometres of the 258-kilometre mountainous route together, before being joined by Dumoulin going into the final kilometre.

Spaniard Valverde led the final sprint for the line and remained unchallenged to beat Bardet by just over a bike length, with Woods third.

"It's incredible, after missing it for so many years. It's a victory for the team," said Valverde, who had twice finished second, with four third place finishes, at the World Championships.

Bennett fought bravely to secure a top-20 finish in one of the toughest tests at the ski resort of Innsbruck.

The Lotto NL Jumbo professional went with a powerful surge that attempted to bridge up to the two remnants of the early break 25kms from the finish, but were caught and ultimately had to fight up the ginormous Hell Hill with the bunch.

It was an impressive performance from the brave Bennett on one of the sport's most brutal tests of 265kms and close to seven hours that came down to this final near-vertical climb of the narrow brute known locally as Hell Hill.

"In cycling more often than not the stuff you try doesn't work more than it comes off. We decided as a group that we wanted to gamble for something really special," Bennett said.

"The break that I thought to get away had no more than one rider from any one country so I thought it could stick. In the end the Spanish were riding for Valverde and we had the wrong Spaniard in our break and it got closed down.

"It's disappointing especially riding for your country but that's bike racing. I was never going to feature on that final climb. It was filthy. I could not follow Valverde, that's not my type of climb. I did try to come back but a couple of guys were sig zagging across the road in front of me trying to stay upright and that stalled me."

Bennett, as planned, was the last Kiwi standing, hoping his push with a small break on the final climb of the Olympic circuit would prove fruitful. However when it was swallowed up by the peloton, he fought on to finish in the third grouping of what had been the peloton a few minutes earlier.

"The biggest thing was riding with a great bunch of Kiwi guys. This was the big difference to be well supported here. The race was super-hard from the start which surprised us. It meant that Paddy (Bevin), Dion (Smith) and Sam (Bewley) had to work harder much earlier. But they looked after me and it was a really well-run team. That's the big positive for me."

The New Zealand campaign overall showed that New Zealand has some well-respected professionals on the World Tour, but importantly experience in Europe is vital to development of the road programme.

"The goal for New Zealand is to have as many riders make it on to trade teams or good clubs in Europe. This is where the racing is the toughest and where you learn the trade," said Cycling New Zealand's Jacques Landry.

"We do not have budget to send people to Europe for the road but we can help open doors and share some experiences for young riders.

"It was been an eye-opener for our younger riders here. Perhaps many riders see getting to a world championship as the prize, but honestly that investment would be better spent getting experience racing day-in, day-out in Europe.

"Overall the programme went well here and certainly at the top end we have some good professionals now and they did a good job in the elite men, with Georgia and also the two under-23 women who showed they have potential."