8 May 2021

George Bennett ready to lead his team into Giro

9:46 am on 8 May 2021

George Bennett is ready to capitalise on a big opportunity when he makes history at the Giro d'Italia.

George Bennett is all focus for the Giro d'Italia.

George Bennett is all focus for the Giro d'Italia. Photo: Photosport/LaPresse

The Nelsonian was set to become the first New Zealander to lead a team in one of cycling's prestigious Grand Tours when the event started in Turin on Sunday (NZ time).

With Jumbo-Visma star Primoz Roglic sitting out the Giro to prepare for the Tour de France, the Dutch team had made Bennett their protected rider going after general classification (GC) honours.

The 31-year-old had spent the last two years riding in support of Roglic and others, meaning the next three weeks were a chance to prove what he could do as the recipient, not provider, of that support.

While he was targeting a top five finish, Bennett was also aware it was a high quality field with a sizeable list of GC contenders.

"On this team, to lead a Grand Tour is such a special opportunity and you want to seize it...," he told the cyclingnews website. "But at the same time, I'm not lying awake at night thinking that this is my one opportunity because then you can start to overthink things.

"I know it's cliché but I just want to get there in the best shape possible and then just go with it. Sometimes things can just mature into these wonderful streaks of form and you can just surpass all expectations and sometimes it can go the other way.

"I just want to time it so that one of those magic runs of form that I can go on line up with a Grand Tour. That's what I'm hoping for. I want to ride hard to the finish every day."

Bennett arrived at the Giro confident his preparation, despite having not ridden since pulling out of the Volta a Catalunya with illness in March.

Jumbo-Visma had opted to have their group for the event prepare with training camps in Andorra and Tenerife, rather than competing in races.

Bennett told cyclingnews that approach to the Giro had been locked in for a long time.

"Maybe if you were going to a one-day race you'd miss the racing or would need the racing in your legs but I think that [with] the three weeks without racing is only a good thing.

"I think that there's the Covid risk, and that was one of the factors as to why we didn't do Tour of the Alps, and then pre-Giro you can do Romandie or Tour of the Alps and it can be snowing and raining every day. It's easy to get sick or crash. It's uncontrolled.

"We took the approach of just trying to train super hard and tried to control every aspect."

New Zealand cyclist Patrick Bevin (centre) after finishing third in a bunch sprint at the Tour of Romandie behind Peter Sagan (left) and Sonny Colbrelli (right) on April 28, 2021.

Patrick Bevin, centre. Photo: AFP

Bennett's shot at leading in Italy was an additional upside to another of his main goals for 2021.

Having taken a liking to the look of the course for the Tokyo Olympics, he opted to ride the Giro instead of the Tour de France, which would have meant a very tight turnaround for the road race at the Games.

Bennett said it would have been silly not to opt for the scheduled he had.

"I love being part of the Tour squad, and in the years ahead, I'll go back in there and it will be the centre point of my season," he told VeloNews.

"But the Olympics is a once in a career opportunity, and the course works for me. It's hard, and will be very hot, which has always been my strength.

"Doing the Giro rather than the Tour offers up some great things for me - an opportunity to get a great result [at the Giro] and a far better run into the Olympics.

"I can control the build-up and start fresh by choosing the Giro. There's no way you can do that riding the Tour first."

Bennett would be joined by one other New Zealand rider in the race, with Patrick Bevin part of the Israel-Start-up Nation team.

The 30-year-old arrived in Italy with form behind him, having bagged top three finishes in the two opening stages of last week's Tour of Romandie.

Bevin, though, would have just two chances to utilise his time-trial prowess in Sunday's first stage and the final stage into Milan on May 30.

Israel Start-Up Nations' focus would be centred around Irishman Dan Martin, who came into the event in strong form and was viewed as an outside contender for overall honours.