George Bennett's national champion's jersey 'shut down' by Cycling New Zealand

George Bennett
George Bennett rode solo to win his first New Zealand Elite Men's Road Race Championship in early February (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

After fighting for nearly a decade to become champion of New Zealand, George Bennett’s celebrations have been dampened slightly after he was told he couldn’t wear the kind of national champion’s jersey he’d envisaged.

The 30-year-old, together with his Jumbo-Visma team and his wife, artist Caitlin Fielder, rendered a design, but it was rejected by New Zealand’s cycling federation in what he dubbed ‘the great jersey debacle’.

Bennett, who claimed a solo victory in the elite men’s road race 10 days ago, wanted to wear a black jersey with the national symbol of the silver fern for the 2021 season. However, speaking on The Social Distance Podcast, Bennett said he’d been ‘shut down’ by Cycling New Zealand.

"Agu and the team produced this amazing jersey - man, it was just the coolest jersey - then Caitlin did a couple of tiny little touches and we were like ‘sweet’. We were all excited, we emailed Bike NZ and said 'hey guys, we’re really proud to show that this is the jersey we’ll be wearing this year', and Bike NZ were like ‘nah’," said Bennett about the team's clothing partner collaborating with Jumbo-Visma and Fielder on the original design.

"It was black with a silver fern, and they said 'we’re too worried it’ll get confused with the national jersey'. I was like ‘what, in case the national team start the Giro d’Italia?’ 

"They just shut it down so hard. We went to the UCI and they basically told the UCI ‘no, we’ve registered a white jersey with a black fern’. They just crushed it, and now we’ve ended up with… the jersey’s all right but it’s not striking. It was an awesome striking jersey that looked so cool."

In response to the comments on the podcast, Cycling New Zealand said they appreciated the work George and his team had done on a concept change for the New Zealand National Championship jersey but that the current design – a black fern on a white shirt – had already been registered with the UCI for 2021 so with the year underway a change to that registration was not possible.

"We have National Champions across all of our disciplines and events who wear the same shirt with the same registered design,“ Cycling New Zealand CEO, Jacques Landry, said in a statement sent to Cyclingnews. "It is simply not possible nor is it the correct process to make such a fundamental change to the jersey design two months into the year on the request of one national champion.

"That said, we are more than happy to discuss a potential change to the design of the national champions jersey going forward which would need to go through the correct process, including input from the Athletes’ Voice Committee members who represent all of our Olympic and soon to be Paralympic codes."

Jumbo-Visma team manager Richard Plugge published the proposed design of the jersey on social media.

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Kit fines versus road dividers

Later in the podcast Bennett went on to explain that it was put in writing that if he wore the redesigned jersey he would be sanctioned and the team wanted to avoid any further kit-related trouble with the UCI after receiving multiple fines last year for the rainbow bands stitched into certain kits. As former time trial world champions, Tom Dumoulin and Tony Martin can wear the bands on the collar or cuffs, but they received fines for the placement and the fact the bands didn’t extend the whole way around the arm. 

Bennett drew upon the ongoing debate surrounding the rules and regulations of pro cycling, echoing arguments made by other riders that there’s over-policing of trivialities while bigger issues are left unaddressed. The UCI recently unveiled a new package of safety measures, which included new standards for finish line barriers, but it was overshadowed by the bans on certain aerodynamic positions.

"Every TT they [Dumoulin and Martin] started, they got [fined] 2,000 Swiss francs, so it just became this ridiculous thing," Bennett said. "Some dickhead is walking around looking at gaps on bands and sock heights and things like that, meanwhile we’re hooning down finish straights with road dividers in the middle. 

"It just seems we’re focusing on the wrong thing," he added. "We’re putting too much energy into controlling kits and this and that, when it stands it the way of progression. Make something that looks awesome - people like it, they get excited about it."

Bennett referenced the jerseys worn by Hayden Roulston, a four-time national champion, who wore a full-scale black jersey with a silver fern after his 2011 win, and then a far more discreet design on an otherwise normal team jersey in 2013. 

"How cool was Rouley’s jersey? I said to Bike NZ, ‘Ah Rouley had the most sick jersey at HTC, then the next season on RadioShack he had the champion’s jersey and it was red, white, and blue and nothing to do with black and white’. And they said ‘he didn’t ask us - he didn’t run it past us’. 

"I shouldn’t have asked," he concluded. "I should have just asked for forgiveness afterwards."

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