George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) has said he doesn't want to be an authoritarian leader in his Giro d'Italia bid this year, as he prepares to open his WorldTour season in support of Primož Roglič at Paris-Nice from Sunday.
Bennett passed on his own shot to race for the maglia rosa last year in favour of being part of an A-list support cast at the Tour de France, where his Jumbo-Visma team watched in disbelief as Tadej Pogačar swiped the yellow jersey from Roglic on the penultimate stage.
However, this season the newly crowned New Zealand champion is set to compete in the Giro and not line-up at the Tour, in which he, despite breaking ribs and injuring his shoulder and foot in a heavy crash on stage 1, endured to finish 34th overall after supporting runner-up Roglič.
Bennett, following Paris-Nice, is set to start the Volta a Catalunya before returning to altitude ahead of the Giro d'Italia, which starts May 8, when his faith in others is due to be repaid. Competing in the Giro instead of the Tour will also allow him to focus more closely on the Tokyo Olympics, if they go ahead.
"We've got some young guys and as much as we'll see how the Giro evolves, I'd also love for them to have some opportunities to go for, you know I'm not going to be an authoritarian leader like that's, 'everybody stay with me every day.' I think it's cool there's these super strong young guys that will also be able to take their chances as well," Bennett said from a team training camp last week.
The 30-year-old, who competed at the Vuelta a España following the Tour last year and finished 12th overall behind title winner Roglic, underwent a mandatory two-week hotel quarantine upon return to his native New Zealand during the southern hemisphere summer. He then went on to win gold in the elite men's road race at Nationals and bronze in the time trial last month, before landing back in Europe for an altitude training camp.
"Normally I'd be in New Zealand all the way to Paris-Nice. We took the decision to leave paradise early really to come and hang out at the top of a volcano for a couple of weeks.
"But it is the level now. To be really competitive as a GC rider, or as a climber, you want to be with the best three or four guys in the race, you need to do it [altitude]," Bennett said.
"It's all a bit weird to come out of New Zealand and then you come back here and it's just like, 'oh yeah, COVID's real.' Little adjusting but in general [I'm] really good."
Bennett, ahead of his Giro assault later this year, is gauging his ability not so much from his Grand Tour performances last season but the form he had in the month-long lead-up to what was one of the most competitive Tours in recent memory.
"The last time I rode GC intentionally was in the Giro in 2018 and I feel like that was a cool experience," he said.
"I started off the first sort of 10 days quite in contention for the podium and then amongst mechanicals and sickness and everything sort of fell down to eighth.
"After that I questioned it, have I got the engine for this? But then in the last two years since then a lot has changed and a lot has just developed, in terms of training."
Bennett finished fifth at the Vuelta a Burgos last July, behind winner Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep), in what was his first race back following the long, COVID-19 related competition shutdown.
He then placed fifth behind winner Roglic at the ensuing Tour de l'Ain before winning Gran Piemonte in August, ahead of Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates) and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix). Three days later he ran second at Il Lombardia behind Jakob Fuglsang (Astana-Premier Tech) and then moved on to the Tour.
"Now, if I look at last year's results, before I crashed in the Tour, you know, the start of the year was really good – Bourgos, Tour de l'Ain, Piemonte, Lombardia – that block there was just a super good block for me," Bennett continued.
"The team actually said to me, ... 'Look, if you are going to ride at the Giro true to these numbers, then you'll be in the hunt, at least close to the front.'
"So, I don't know. I think I'll be able to do it, but I also look at the Giro start list and I see [Egan] Bernal, [Thibaut] Pinot, [Mikel] Landa, [Emanuel] Buchmann, Remco, there's so many guys there it's just becoming like I think everyone just got over the Tour and decided they wanted to do the Giro.
"We'll see what happens. I'm looking forward to finding out myself."
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