Having slipped from third overall to ninth in the stage 6 Tour of California time trial, LottoNL-Jumbo's George Bennett came out fighting on stage 7 as the New Zealander ambitiously chased the time he needed to get back on the podium. Ultimately it was a doomed move by the 26-year-old who finished in the front group with the same time as stage winner Alexander Kristoff and his overall rivals in Santa Rosa.
With six catergorised climbs dotted across the 175.5km course the riders looking to salvage the race with a stage win or move up the standings, it was bound to be a tough day in the saddle. With race radio dropping in and out on the twisting tree-lined roads on the way to the coast, the lack of communication favoured an early break that included world champion Peter Sagan (Tinkoff).
Bennett made his way to the front of the race after the Hauser Bridge climb where Sagan put in a show of strength to reorganise the break which now featured six-riders.
"There was so much variation and I guess motives and ability. Obviously I was riding for time to get on GC and the other guys were a bit scared of the climb, the second category, and I probably wasn't scared enough of the climb."
The presence of Bennett in the front group as a threat to the GC was of consternation to Sagan who decided to go for it on his own in bid for the stage victory.
"You can’t criticise Peter because I know what he was doing, he didn’t want me there because of the GC but once he attacked it doomed the breakaway. I just rode too hard and came unstuck on the climb actually," Bennett explained. "I had one bad moment. I actually came back pretty well with Lawson [Craddock] but I wanted to race. Yesterday, I felt bad because the boys have put in a lot of work for me all week and then, I can’t say I had a bad day yesterday, I just haven’t ridden my time trial bike more than there times."
"I felt good but just couldn’t get the watts out on the bike and you can’t be surprised if you haven’t trained for it," he said of the time trial. "I felt a little bit bad after that and wanted to race. Our director this morning wasn’t very optimistic I could make up any time."
Bennett's sports director ended up winning the bet but regardless of his result, it was one of the best days he's ever enjoyed on a bike as he explained.
"I love that small windy stuff and that’s when you really see the difference," he added of the parcours. "The guys that were getting away, that were really at the front were the guys from Europe or the Americans who race in Europe. I loved today. Today was one of the funnest days of racing I think I’ve ever had. Its almost a shame that a stage that hard ended in a bunch sprint. It was incredible and by the numbers it was a really hard, fast day.
"I am surprised it ended [like that]. And there were so many guys there, which is a credit to the Americans and local teams, no disrespect or anything, but they were still there after such an extremely testing day with the roads and stuff like that."
While the move didn't stick and he remains in ninth with one stage to come, a smiling Bennett said the stage simply gives him greater motivation to keep on giving it a crack.
"I had a good time, it didn’t come off but I am always an over optimistic dreamer really, and I try shit like that. One day it will stick," he said.