For talented youngster George Bennett the next few weeks are crucial. Currently riding with the RadioShack team as a trainee, the 21-year-old is hoping he can do enough to earn himself a professional contract for the 2012 season.
The opportunity with RadioShack was certainly a deserved one. Along with teammate and friend Dale Parker, Bennett has enjoyed an impressive 12 months with RadioShack feeder team Trek-Livestrong, that has seen him win the Tour of Wellington, as well as taking an impressive second overall at the Ronde de l’Isard. However his transition from Espoirs racing in Europe to the US scene took some initial adjustment.
"When I came over for my first US races [Redlands, Gila] of the season I definitely struggled a bit," said Bennett. "The racing over here was not as much my style; it really suits guys with a lot of power."
Compounding this, the New Zealander was unused to having long breaks between races. Sojourns of nearly a month between the opening events on the US calendar made it hard for Bennett, who was used to competing on a weekly basis in Europe.
"I’ve definitely stepped up this year from years before - but I was finding that I wasn’t quite where I wanted to be [in terms of performances]," explained Bennett. "I’d finish one race and have a pretty long time until the next one. It made it a lot harder to string together any sort of momentum.
"In hindsight I think the schedule at Trek-Livestrong is really good, it’s just that I’ve come off two years of racing in Europe where you ride yourself completely into the ground.
"Since May, I’ve really been able to work out how to structure my training and it’s going a lot better."
Bennett showed his strength in the Tour of Utah riding is support of winner Levi Leipheimer. Not just making up the numbers, he played a crucial support role on stages four and five as the Gobernacion De Antioquia-Indeportes Antiquia pair of Henao and Sevilla tried to unseat Leipheimer from yellow.
"I was really happy with how I rode and how I was able to help Levi [Leipheimer] with the win. Everyone at the team pushed me, and that helped me hang on when things got a bit tougher.
"When you come in as a stagiaire from the under 23s you throw away any personal ambition, for the white jersey or whatever and you ride entirely for the team. When you have a guy like Levi who’s able to win the race - it makes it a lot easier."
Has it been enough? Bennett is still unsure on whether or not he will be offered a contract for the 2012 season with RadioShack, but is hopeful that an announcement will be made soon.
"Nothing’s been announced yet, Livestrong’s been really really good. It’s been an awesome year with them.
"I’ve talked to a lot of teams and I’m keeping my options open - but RadioShack is definitely the natural option. In terms of the staff and the riders it’s all a lot more familiar and it would make the most sense. We’ll just have to see what happens in the next few weeks."
Bennett will next race the USA Pro Cycling Challenge where he will aim to help RadioShack leader Levi Leipheimer take his second stage race victory in the same number of weeks.