Last year’s stagiaire getting opportunities to prove himself
Following his successful stagaire role at the end of last season, New Zealand’s George Bennett is finally enjoying his first year in the WorldTour with RadioShack-Nissan. Bennett had a tough start to the year with numerous injures and bouts of illness but that hasn’t stopped the neo-professional from rapidly accumulating over 45 days of racing since his debut at Critérium du Dauphiné.
"One thing the team has been really good with is not pushing me too hard. I haven’t had a long time where I was riding with good form so my motivation is still really high," he told Cyclingnews.
"I had an early season injury, came back and crashed, came back again, got sick. At Tour of Romandie and California I was riding well and then I had a mid-season break. I got bronchitis at Tour of Austria so it was just one thing after another going wrong.
"I just never had a time where I was running the engine until it ran out of oil. It was just stop and start for most of the year. It’s only in the last month or two that I have been able to string it together. I’m sure by the end of the year I’ll be absolutely empty but now that I’m up and running, it’s been good," Bennett said.
The 22-year-old most recently completed the Tour of Utah and USA Pro Cycling Challenge where he finished 14th and 25th respectively and is looking forward to his first one-day races of the year; Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal and Grand Prix Cycliste Québec.
"I haven’t done a single one-day race this year, this will be my first WorldTour one-day race. I’m really looking forward to it because I have a lot of one-day races lined up for the rest of the year.
"I’m a tour rider for sure but it’s going to be nice to just have one day where I have to go full gas and then put my feet up and not have to worry about the day after.
"I watched both of them last year and I thought they look like really good races. I’ve had a few of the guys like Jakob [Fuglsang] helping me to get prepared so I sort of know what to expect."
The focus for Bennett has been predominantly placed on week-long tours having raced Vuelta a Castilla y Leon, Tour de Romandie, California, Tour of Austria and the latest US stage races in Utah and Colorado but that doesn’t mean he’s not interested in the tough one-day races. He knows they are an important part of his stage-race development, especially in regard to bunch positioning.
"I’ve always liked Liège but [Giro] Lombardia is probably the most appealing one-day race. The focus is definitely on stage races but if you can do well in Liège or those types of races then it’s going to be good for everything. I think they are something I could be good at but it’s going to take a bit more time. It’s really mentally tough, there’s much more to those one-day races.
"Hopefully I’ll get to ride Lombardia this year. I’m building up to it and in the mix to go. Hopefully my form's still good. I’m really motivated for Lombardia."
Bennett has been named on the long list for the New Zealand world championship team and while he would love to go, he knows that he will have plenty more opportunities in the years to come. The course, which has an Amstel-like finish could be good for Bennett but with riders like Jack Bauer (Garmin-Sharp), Julian Dean (Orica-GreenEdge), Hayden Roulston (RadioShack-Nissan) and Jesse Sergent (RadioShack-Nissan) all listed for the three-man team, he won’t be too dissapointed if he misses out.
"I really want to get in the team because I think I can do well. If I don’t make it I’m not going to argue and say I deserve a spot over someone else. We are a small country but we’ve got some pretty good riders."
After winding up the season at Tour of Beijing, like many of the non-European riders, Bennett will head home to New Zealand for the local summer. He’ll take a bit of a break and generally catch up with being a "22-year-old".
"I will spend as much time in the New Zealand summer as possible. I’ve got my family and friends there, at Aniseed Valley in Nelson. I just love it, I can train well because the weather is so much better than Europe at that time. It’s a beautiful spot, we’ve got a farm there.
"I’ll take three weeks off and just catch up on being a 22-year-old, you can’t be doing anything too silly but catching up on things I miss like fishing and hunting, family time and just hanging out doing normal stuff."
With such a strong focus on stage races it seems logical that Bennett will line up for his first grand tour next year. He says it’s on the cards with the Giro d’Italia however he won’t be going to simply experience the first week or two.
"There’s a good chance I’ll be doing one of the grand tours next year. I’ve got every intention of finishing. I’m not going there to do a couple of weeks. If I start, you’ll have to pull me off my bike to get me not to finish," he told Cyclingnews.
"I think I really need it. I lack a bit of ‘old-man legs’. Guys like Jens Voigt have done so many grand tours and they are always just strong. I’m currently a bit more of a 2-stroke so I think a ‘Grandie’ would be good for me."