The Tour Down Under has been the regular season opening race for George Bennett but the LottoNL-Jumbo rider is approaching the 2016 edition of the WorldTour event in unfamiliar condition. Set for his first classics campaign this season, including a start at Liège-Bastogne- Liège, the 25-year-old explained to Cyclingnews that he is struggling to adjust to being underdone compared to 12 months ago, when he finished tenth on the general classification.
“A few years ago, I put a really big circle around this race and trained hard for it. I was hoping I’d get by on a bit of power work and stuff before this race but I guess it just shows, you can’t hide if you haven’t done the miles. You get exposed but it’s not over yet, I’ve limited my losses pretty well considering how bad I went up the hill [on stage 3 – ed.] and I’ll try again on Saturday,” said Bennett who sits 32nd on GC before Saturday’s queen stage up Willunga Hill.
Though Bennett’s season objectives are later in the year, he is a racer by trade who wants to be at the front, making the race on his favourite terrain.
“Keep my head on and not panic that I am not ripping it up the hills just yet and know that I can do it,” he added of his adjustment for 2016. “I was doing it at the end of last year and I know what I need to do to get there, if I can just get the timing right and show it in the big races.”
With his eye on the Ardennes and a place in the New Zealand team for the Rio Olympic Games, Bennett explained that he enjoyed a calmer off-season than previous years which didn’t require him hitting peak form for early-January.
“There are a lot of things up in the air at the moment but it’s definitely shaping up to be a different year and bit more of a relaxed summer,” he said of what 2016 is looking like. “A lot more time off the bike than normal, a lot of recovery days and I am definitely suffering for it now but I think I’ve made the mistake before of being awesome at his race and really paying for it when it came to the Giro or something later in the year so I am trying to avoid that mistake again.”
While trying to keep the bigger picture in mind, Bennett added that he still adjusting to explaining why he isn’t at peak form for this week.
“It’s really hard to hold yourself back here and especially things like New Zealand nationals. I have a lot of support here and Kiwis are coming to watch … It’s live on TV in New Zealand in the same time zone so everyone knows about it and people are really interested in it. In the cycling world, obviously it’s a huge race, it’s WorldTour, but to New Zealanders and Australians it’s really huge and it’s difficult for me in their eyes not to perform and to deal with that. “
The three-kilometre Willunga Hill climb set to decide the overall of the Tour Down Under suits the characteristics of Bennett and although he’s not flying, he’s not just in Adelaide for pictures with the local wildlife.
“I think the GC’s probably never been this tight going into it and that might actually allow someone like me say who lost 30 seconds yesterday to try and go early,” he said of the queen stage. “Definitely one scenario is that if someone goes early they might survive, or you’ll just see Richie and Rohan run amok on the hill. Rohan looks in pretty awesome nick so I think he could be it.
“By March or May, I am not thinking about Tour Down Under or whatever. That said, it’s not even over yet, I am not throwing in the towel, I am having a crack on Saturday and hoping it turns out."