George Bennett's Tour of the Alps was almost over before it began after he was hit by a car on the eve of the race last Sunday. The LottoNL-Jumbo rider said afterwards that he was lucky to be alive, but he has bounced back with aplomb to take second on an explosive stage 4 into Lienz.
Bennett was one of the main protagonists in the early jaunts on the opening climb, and though he was caught, he remained in the peloton before launching another move on the final ascent.
It has been a tough few days for the Kiwi, and he is not out of the woods just yet, but his performance is a big boost as he progresses towards the Giro d'Italia.
"A stage win would have been nice," he told Cyclingnews after the stage. "I'm a bit happier because I have been feeling a bit shit all week after being hit by the car. I've had some really bad days. I'm a long way from being really good but I'm getting better. I think I gained about three kilos through swelling and holding water and it's slowly going down.
"I thought that I'd cooked it because I went really early. I went on the first climb and jumped across to the break, and then they caught me and I was already in a bit of trouble. I was feeling really strong in the last climb."
Bennett made it into the final selection of 14 riders at the foot of the Bannberg with around four kilometres to go. When Luis Leon Sanchez made his race-winning move with two kilometres remaining, Bennett set off in chase but ultimately crossed the line six seconds down on the Astana rider. He admitted that catching Sanchez was a tall order but added that the additional draft that Sanchez gained from a motorbike ahead made the task nigh-on impossible.
Sanchez wasn't the only rider to gain a helping hand from a motorbike getting too close to the group, and Bennett said that he too was given a draft when he made a move on the Bannberg. He said that he agreed with Quick-Step Floors boss Patrick Lefevere's comments on the matter from earlier in the week but added that it was not down to the riders to take evasive action when race motorbikes sit in front of them.
"Today, Sanchez went and he had the motorbikes and they didn't move. I think it's crazy. He was a lot stronger and I probably wouldn't have caught him anyway, but once the motorbikes get there you don't stand a chance," he explained. "I read what Lefevere said the other day and I totally agree. I watched the last 10km of Brabantse Pijl and it's just insane. There's a wall of motorbikes. Nothing against Tim Wellens - I would have done exactly the same thing, 100 per cent. He went and for sure he was the strongest but there was a wall of motorbikes and the others didn't even stand a chance.
"Something has to be done. Today, it wasn't as bad but you get into the draft. It was the same with me when I attacked. It pulled me halfway across but as riders, it's not our job to get out of the way of the motorbikes."
Bennett's teammate Koen Bouwman also played an active role in the finale of stage 4, leading the chasing bunch home to take third place just 11 seconds behind Sanchez. Bouwman, who won a stage of the Criterium du Dauphine last season, is part of Bennett's support line-up at the Giro d'Italia next month. Bennett says that it has been good to race together this week and points to his 24-year-old teammate as one to watch in the coming years.
"It's just awesome racing here I really love it because it's short stages and everybody goes absolutely apeshit from the start," he said.
"Koen is a boy for the future and he was third on the stage. I think that it's really important to come here with the Giro team and help get these clicking and he’s going to be a big asset."
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