George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) says that fighting for the overall win in the Tour of California will be more difficult thanks to the race officials' decision to award current leader Tejay van Garderen the same time as the peloton on stage 4 to Morro Bay.
The EF Education First rider was chasing back from a mechanical and ran into the remnants of a crash outside the 3km mark, but the jury deemed he had made contact before the crash blocked his way.
At the time, Bennett was 51 seconds up the road, finishing with the main bunch behind winner Fabio Jakobsen, and stood to be in a strong position just 29 seconds behind Jakobsen's Deceuninck-QuickStep teammate Kasper Asgreen, who would have been in the race lead.
Van Garderen, who had a mechanical, then got on teammate Lachlan Morton's bike, lost control on a turn and went off-course because the brake controls were reversed from his own. When he came upon the crash in the peloton, he and his teammates had to slowly pick their way through the fallen riders.
The decision to give van Garderen the same time was heavily criticized, with Deceuninck-Quickstep manager Patrick Lefevere calling the jury "incompetent". Bennett said he spoke to the head of the UCI's race jury and agrees they made the wrong decision.
"I talked to the Belgian guy, I think he was a little sheepish about it. He wasn't ready to admit that he was wrong but I think he knew he'd cocked it up," Bennett told Cyclingnews. "He wasn't quite ready to admit that to me. He was pretty evasive and tried not to give a direct answer. By the look of him he'd been given shit all morning by a lot of teams and a lot of people.
"I think if he had a chance to make a difference decision, he would. Without that decision, I'd be in the driver's seat, but we have to do it the hard way now."
The 127km stage to Mt Baldy on Friday is the final opportunity to gain real time, and the 2017 Tour of California winner is motivated to have a go if EF Education First show any signs of weakenss.
Bennett said "I'm always pretty motivated, but don't need the extra motivation" of that decision to try and take some time back, but he was pessimistic about his chances for the overall.
"35 seconds is a long way back. I think it's going to be really hard, but you never know. Maybe Tejay won't have a great day," he said. Knowing Mt. Baldy from the year he won the overall in 2017, Bennett thinks the steep final kick to the line is the place to possibly get an advantage.
"When you get to high altitude if you crack you can really lose a lot. But if [EF Education First] ride conservatively and they have a strong team to do it, if they decide to go their own pace it's hard to make a big difference, then you really have to be strong.
"We can just hope for the best."
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