George Bennett has outlined three major goals for the 2018 season - the Giro d'Italia, the Vuelta a España and the World Championships. As a result, the New Zealander won't defend his Tour of California title and will skip the Tour de France. The 27-year-old is also opting out of the Commonwealth Games in April due to the flat parcours.
Bennett's race programme has been planned with and by his LottoNL-Jumbo team to ensure he can record his best general classification result to date in a Grand Tour at May's Giro. After his breakthrough 2017 season, following on from tenth overall at the 2016 Vuelta, Bennett isn't resting his laurels as he looks to build on that success and continue his progression as a general classification rider at the Grand Tours.
Although on paper there appears a solid plan for 2018, Bennett's year started in uncertain terms with late December surgery to treat median cruciate syndrome, the cause of side stitches that Bennett has suffered from. Fourth place in the nationals and 11th overall at the Tour Down Under in January early signs of successful surgery.
"It is good to pencil in a bit of a mishap every December, January. It is ideal really," Bennett recently told Cyclingnews. At the end of the 2016 seasons, Glandular fever also ensured a slower than planned start to the following year's racing.
With his first races of the season done and dusted, including a thorough testing of his off-season surgery, Bennett's focus turns to May and his first Giro since 2013. With Steven Kruijswijk and Primoz Roglic headed to the Tour de France, Bennett and Robert Gesink headline LottoNL-Jumbo's general classification aims at the Giro. The pathway to the 4 May start to pass to include a handful of traditional pre-Giro races in Italy.
"The Giro is 100 per cent GC focus and probably the Vuelta as well at this stage," said Bennett. "That is the plan and I am quite looking forward to starting a Grand Tour as a GC leader and having a bit of a team around me. It looks like a really cool course actually so I am quite excited."
Curious about Israel and hopeful for the World Championships
Asked about the Giro's first start outside Italy, the first three stages take place in Israel, Bennett was careful in choosing his words and formulating a diplomatic response.
"At this stage, keep sport and politics aside. I have heard great things about Israel and I have friends in the Israeli cycling team have gone there and said it's awesome," he said. "It is probably the only chance I will get to go there and see it, I am actually quite looking to going there and I hope Trump and the external politics doesn't get in the way of bike racing."
Post-Giro, Bennett will "shut it down", before a "real big build up to Vuelta, Worlds, Lombardy" as his goals for the second half of the season.
The hilly World circuit in Innsbruck particularly intriguing to Bennett as the first course since he turned pro that suits his climbing capabilities.
"I am quite excited about the Worlds this year because it has been a while since I have ridden it and it is probably a course you get once a decade or something and the only course, I am not saying I am in contention, but a result for me is top-ten. That would be an amazing result. It is probably the only course I am going to get close to that," he said.