George Bennett was typically to-the-point when asked to sum up seven eighths of his time at the recent Critérium du Dauphiné. "I was pretty sh*t-ass," he said after the final stage.
But it was that final stage that saw him turn things around and, in the context of a season of setbacks, hit some of the right notes in time for the Tour de France.
George Bennett was in the day's main breakaway and survived longer than any of his companions on the brutal final climb up to the Plateau de Solaison. Even if it only earned him a front-row seat for the show of dominance from his former team, Jumbo-Visma, he'd done enough to convince himself he'll be able to play his role for Tadej Pogacar at the upcoming Tour.
"I really struggled here," Bennett told Cyclingnews, explaining that his spring - and by extension his first season with UAE Team Emirates - had been derailed by sickness.
"I had so much time off in the spring and I've only been back on the bike for four or five weeks. I was hoping to be better but the reality is the level is so high that it has taken the whole week. It took me [stage 7] to really suffer through to find my legs on the final day. I felt very good out there.
"I'm happy to leave the race with a bit of confidence, actually, because you start to doubt yourself, of course you do. I had that feeling back - the feeling I need for the Tour."
Few had a better view than Bennett of Jumbo-Visma's superiority on the final day of the Dauphiné, where they took a one-two on the stage through Jonas Vingegaard and Primoz Roglic to seal a one-two overall in the opposite order.
And few are as well placed to assess that performance as Bennett, who spent seven years at the Dutch team and numerous Grand Tours supporting Roglic.
"I saw the whole thing. I was there in the Tour de l'Ain in 2020 - I was one of the guys pulling on the front there. They dominated every race going into that year's Tour and we didn't win that Tour," Bennett warned.
"They are very very good, especially Primoz and Jonas who are on a super level, but I have so much faith in Pogacar. Not just him but the guys around him - Brandon [McNulty], [Marc] Soler, [Marc] Hirschi, [Rafa [Majka] - these guys are unreal in the mountains. They have a super strong team but we also have a super strong team.
"It's important we don't get locked into a Jumbo vs UAE battle. That's dangerous for everyone. There are so many good riders and teams. If we just turn this into a two-team battle we risk a lot. For us, Jumbo are very very good and of course we look at them but we try not to look too far outside of what we're doing."
Bennett is currently sharpening his form ahead of the start of the Tour de France in Copenhagen on July 1. With a few weeks of "monotonous" base training done, along with a week of racing at the Dauphiné, he's moving on to
"I'll be doing a bit more altitude, but essentially now I start the VO2 stuff, the short sharp stuff, maybe get behind the moto. That’s how you really hit your peak.
If he does hit his peak, and Pogacar does win his third Tour title, Bennett's early-season struggles will be quickly forgotten.
"The spring was super frustrating but in the end you judge the season the season by the Tour," he concluded.
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.