George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) didn't get any podium time for his performance during Sunday's 9th stage of the Tour de France, but he did earn Cyclingnews Rider of the Day honours for a gutsy ride that included colliding with a spectator on his way to finishing seventh atop Andorre Arcalis.
Bennett joined a large group that got away over the first mountain pass and then survived to the penultimate climb with a select group that included eventual stage winner Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Rafal Majka (Tinkoff), Diego Rosa (Astana), Matthias Frank (IAM Cycling), Dani Navarro (Cofidis), Winner Anacona (Movistar), Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) and José Herrada (Movistar). Bennett made three attempts to go clear on the Col de Beixalis, only to be chased down by Rosa on each occasion.
"I had the feeling that I was able to win this race today and enthusiasm took the better of me," he said. "I might have done too much at that point, so I have to learn from it. It was awesome that the team gave me the chance to try it. It didn't work out exactly like what I dreamed of, but it's a start. Next time, I will wait to make a move until the final part of the race."
His attempts to escape having failed, Bennett settled in for the sure-to-be-rough ride to the summit finish. Approaching the final climb, the leaders started to attack one another. Finally, with12km remaining, Dumoulin powered away on a relatively flat section. Bennett was able to hang on for seventh behind the Dutchman, Costa, Majka, Navarro, Anacona and Pinot.
Bennett's attacks earlier in the day may have used up valuable energy he needed on the final climb, but he also had to negotiate his way around a man-made obstacle in the finale that none of his rivals had to deal with.
In the beginning of the final climb to Arcalis, as Bennett rounded a right-hand corner, he collided with a spectator who had absent mindedly stepped out into the road.
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"He stepped forward and didn't look at me," Bennett said. "I clashed with him, so he fell. I managed to stay on my bike, but I feel bad that this happened. The fans need to realise that we need a little bit more space."
Bennett will get used to the Tour de France crowds. This is his first Tour after racing the Giro in 2013, followed by the Vuelta in 2014 and 2015. He's currently 33rd overall, 26:03 behind leader Chris Froome of Team Sky.
Bennett rode with Axel Merckx's Trek-Livestrong development team in 2011, signing with RadioShack as a trainee in August of that year. He signed a two-year deal with RadioShack for 2012 and 2013, then jumped ship to Cannondale for a single season in 2014. He moved to his current team in 2015 following Cannondale's merger with Garmin.
Bennett's Tour de France top 10 will look nice on his resume, but so will the Olympic berth the 26-year-old just received. He found out Saturday that he'll represent New Zealand in the Olympic Road Race in Rio.
Pat Malach says: Bennett is an affable guy who always has a spare moment for the media – even after the tough stages. So it was no surprise to see that he expressed sympathy for the spectator he collided with. Since turning pro in 2012 he's been on a steady rise through the peloton. His quick thinking and calm, business-like support for Wilco Kelderman during stage 8 – when he stopped and gave his team leader his own front wheel after Kelderman rolled his tyre and crashed – was evidence he's become a consummate professional. He'll get his shot at Tour glory again, even if he didn't hit the jackpot with this roll of the dice.
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