"I feel good, I mean I'd be a fool to say I was really confident I was going to win, but I'm quietly optimistic," Bennett said before the start. "I think it is a different climb up there, and we won't have an element of surprise or anything like that.
"Everyone knows we are going to go full gas, and everyone knows we are going to put the boys at the front and light it up. We won't control the race, but we will try and break it if we can."
Thursday was not Bennett's first time up Mt. Baldy. While racing for Radioshack-Nissan in 2012 Bennett was part of an early attack driven by teammates Chris Horner, Jens Voigt, and Gregory Rast. Bennett laughed recounting how little of the experience he could remember. After watching a video the night before to study the final climb up Mt. Baldy, he still could not recall any of the previous race.
Bennett's lack of recall did not appear to impact his performance as the 27-year-old Kiwi made the final selection and finished in third place.
After catching the day's breakaway at the base of Mt. Baldy, the GC contenders, including Bennett, Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe), Ian Boswell (Team Sky), Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Drapac) and Lachlan Morton (Dimension Data), separated from the field and began climbing towards the finish in the race-winning move. Bennett, Majka, and Talansky dropped the remainder of the move and were the last riders standing in the final 1km. Bennett attacked but was edged into the fence allowing Talansky and Majka to sprint in for first and second place, respectively.
Bennett was irate at the end of the race.
"I was really frustrated with today," Bennett said. "That was my chance to do something special, and it call came undone in that corner. I went, they came across, there was a really tight right-hand corner, I had to take the inside, and the fence came out further. I had to hit the brakes, or I was going to crash everyone.That was the race over, in that half a second."
Bennett's remaining chance to capture the GC win will be at the time trial at Big Bear Lake on Friday. Bennett placed 10th at the time trial stage of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, but admitted the flat course in Big Bear did not favour him against other GC contenders like Talansky and Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing).
Before Thursday's stage, Bennett predicted he would need more than 1:30 over Talansky if he wanted a shot at the GC win. Bennett also pointed to Majka as unknown quantity, having never gone against him head to head in a time trial.
Bennett lives in Girona, Spain for most of the cycling season but spent a large portion of his offseason at home in New Zealand due to glandular fever. He returned to racing at the end of February and his making his fourth appearance at the Tour of California. Bennett started his professional cycling career with Trek-Livestrong, before moving to other American teams, including Radioshack and Cannondale. Bennett is comfortable in California but was apprehensive about returning stateside for the first time since the 2016 US election.
"After our friend, Donald Trump got in I was thinking maybe it's not the best place to come back," Bennett said. "But it's been good to come back and see that it is not a full representation of America and that it is a great place full of great people. Especially in California, it's really a relaxed place."
Bennett now sits in second place in the GC, six seconds behind Rafal Majka and 44 seconds ahead of Talansky.
Though angry with the outcome of Thursday's finish, Bennett was ready to get to the next stage, regardless of how he felt.
"A time trial is a time trial, man," Bennett said. "You just go full gas anyway. It doesn't matter what you are thinking."
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