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A look at the school, the races and the future of this unique 'sport'
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George Bennett (RadioShack Leopard) opens his season at the Santos Tour Down Under
Young Kiwi to support Kiserlovski in high mountains
Second-year RadioShack Leopard professional George Bennett admitted the freezing conditions on the final mountain stage at Tour de Romandie were a little too much for his dimunitive build to handle but don't let the results sheet fool you. Bennett was riding at the front until the final climb in what eventuated as the tour's most decisive day. His job was to look after Robert Kiserlovski for as long as he could. A large number of riders pulled out that day but it was never an option for the climber from New Zealand. He was there to do a job and that's exactly what he'll be doing in his debut grand tour at the Giro d'Italia.
The recently-turned 23-year-old was empty at the bottom of the final ascent on Stage 4 where the race's yellow jersey Chris Froome (Sky) attacked with Simon Spilak (Katusha) who eventually won the stage and says that while he wasn't overly impressed with his condition in the pre-Giro WorldTour race, he should bounce back for the start of the three-week race this weekend.
"It was pissing with rain and really cold before we started climbing and then we went up to 1,700m," Bennett told Cyclingnews. "There was snow and ice on the roads and I'm sure it was bad for everyone but I seem to be particularly bad when it's that cold.
"When I hit the last climb I was just empty from trying to stay warm. I ended up sitting up and riding to the top. There were plenty of guys worse than me who didn't finish but I never really thought of giving up because I was still right at the front of the race until the final climb. I was still helping out Robert."
Coming into Romandie with a heavy block of altitude training that finished just a few days before the race meant his "stomping" form was gone but he is putting faith in the advice of the team's sports directors and his coach Dan Healy who say he will raise back up to a level higher than he was before the camp. With that in mind the young Kiwi is heading to Italy on a high of excitement, with a touch of nervousness.
"I'm really excited because it's my first grand tour. That's why I wanted to be a pro. To ride these races that I've always watched on TV. Excitement is probably the biggest emotion and then I'm a little bit nervous.
"My form is really good, Romandie wasn't great for me physically because we had a big altitude camp that finished a couple of days before the race. We suffered the first few days but then started coming good the towards the end of the week. I'm buzzing to go to Italy and see what it's all about, to join the grand tour club," he said.
Some grand tour rookies are given a bit of freedom to find their feet in their first three-week test but not Bennett. The team has been grooming him into a tour rider from the moment he signed for Team RadioShack in late 2011 and his role is definite at the Italian race: look after the team's general classification hope Kiserlovski for as long as possible. Then 'roll' it into the finish.
"I've definitely got a job, there's no free pass. It's all, 100 percent to go and help Kiserlovski. Especially for me, it's going to depend on the last week and whether they say I need to be aiming specifically for those high mountain stages and be there for Robert as much as I can. As soon as my job is done, sit up and save what I can for the next day," he told Cyclingnews.
That being said, a lot can happen over a three-week race and if the right situation presented itself Bennett may look for a personal result. For now however, that's the furthest thing from his mind.
"You never know if it all goes to the dogs in the last week I can go look for a breakaway or something but I'm not planning on it. I'm just entirely focussed on being there for the team and doing what I can. Surviving really.
"We are going to put it all in for him and see where we end up. I think making a goal, or stating a goal, no good really comes of it. We may as well give the maximum and see what happens."
The rumour mill suggests RadioShack Leopard will close its doors at the end of this season and that places an additional emphasis around WorldTour points, results and gaining attention from other teams. For a young, developing rider such as Bennett however, he believes if he's doing his job exactly to plan then his 'results' will be worth more than a placing at the end of the day. For the moment, all that matters is getting it done at the Giro then, with time to think he may put his attention toward his movements for next season.
"For me, performing isn't necessarily winning a race. Well, it is in a sense. People read the results sheet but those who matter also watch the race. They will see if I'm there in the mountains in the third week, helping somebody or pulling on the front. If I finish 10 hours down it's not going to really effect me. My job isn't to really win a race...yet.
"I don't really know too much about the situation with the team. I'm not thinking about it yet. Maybe it's something to worry about after the Giro."