George Bennett frustrated as 'accumulation of errors' shoves him down Tour de France standings

Amid the celebrations at the Jumbo-Visma bus on Monday in Albi, where Wout Van Aert had given the team their fourth win in 10 stages at this Tour de France, it was easy to forget about George Bennett.

The New Zealander had started the day fourth overall, but the crosswinds that split the race and allowed Van Aert to sprint from a reduced bunch sent him tumbling down the general classification.

Bennett was not just caught on the wrong side of the key split, like Thibaut Pinot, Jakob Fuglsang, and Richie Porte; he was left at the very back of the race, finishing nearly 10 minutes down.

Although he came into the Tour knowing his sole role was to work for Steven Kruijswijk, he nevertheless said it was "frustrating" to lose the time, compounded by the manner in which it was lost.

"It was a strange situation, there was a bit of confusion. Basically, what happened was I got a bottle from the side of the road. We had four guys giving bottles and I got one so I had a spare bottle, so I said over the radio, 'who needs a bottle?'," Bennett explained in Albi on Wednesday.

"There was one understood each other for a long time on the radio, we didn't know, and then for some reason the team car was under the impression we really had to get bottles and everyone needed a bottle, that we'd missed them all, because normally they hear from the guys on the side of the road how many guys took them, and then I was there and they said 'come get bottles'. Then shit hit the fan and it was game over.

"It was frustrating for me personally. It was kind of an accumulation of errors. I wouldn't say it was unlucky, because luck is something completely out of your control. It was probably more unfortunate than anything."

With Bennett a top 10 finisher in both the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana, it begged the question: what was he doing ferrying bottles? The answer lies in Jumbo's success up to this point. With so many options for success, it doesn't leave much room for pure workhorses.

"In that situation, Stevie obviously isn't going to get bottles, then we had Tony [Martin], who was keeping the guys at the front, then we had Dylan [Groenewegen] and his lead-out train. So that kind of leaves me. It's one of the downsides of being in a really stacked team. Dylan can win, Wout can win, Stevie can win, and then a guy like me who would be a GC leader on maybe another team, you're on helping duties," he said.

"I knew that before I came to the Tour. They told me a long time ago already to leave any ambition at home, so I'm doing my best to do that. It's always hard because we're natural racers, you always want to go for a result, but you just have to play your part.

"If it didn't happen two days ago, I'd have been called upon to wait for Stevie at another moment in the race and lost time anyway. It was inevitable it would happen before Paris, even though it would have been nice to go into the rest day sitting second."

Bennett's time loss does mean Jumbo-Visma can't exercise the sort of tactical versatility that led Primoz Roglic and Kruijswijk to fourth and fifth at last year's Tour. Kruijswijk that time found himself in the wildcard role, memorably attacking from range on the stage to Alpe d'Huez.

Bennett said he "floated that idea before the Tour", but the team decided to go with a "one horse approach". However, on the first and only mountain stage of the race, at La Planche des Belles Filles on stage 6, Bennett outperformed Kruijswijk by 17 seconds.

"That didn't change anything," Bennett explained. "On that day I got given 900 metres of freedom. They said if can get him to the bottom in a good position, then I can keep going on the gravel. I did that and I had good legs.

"It's just part of being on such a great team - you need to make these sacrifices. I think it's important to make them, because I would be asking the same of people in different situation."

Bennett can't wait for the mountains to come, after a long opening week of bottle grabbing and other domestique work. The race hits the Pyrenees on Thursday, with two summit finishes at the weekend, before the Alps form the climax to the race in the final week.

While Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) leads the general classification, Team Ineos sit in the driving seat with Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal second and third, respectively. Bennett sees the chances of beating Ineos as "possible but probably not likely", and his role will be to shepherd Kruijswijk as they take more of a back seat.

"I think he's really good. I see him racing pretty conservatively, just following and trying to get a good result that way. I think that's his strength, just not getting tired. I don't think you'll see anything like Alpe d'Huez last year from him. We have to let other teams take the work.

"I really hope there's an opportunity for us to show ourselves and try something, but we're not going to do something like that just for the TV. We need to go with a smart strategy, and just not have a bad day and not get tired."


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Patrick Fletcher

Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist, and former deputy editor of Cyclingnews, 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. 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.