One of New Zealand’s brightest new talent’s is road cyclist George Bennett. George has recently been in the news for his success in the Tour de France where he got as high as ninth in the general classification before surrendering to illness.
Bennett was born and bred in Nelson and is a member of the Tasman Wheelers cycle club based in Nelson. He is currently New Zealand’s best cyclist and if his career continues to develop and improve the way it has over the past few years he will be the best ever. George rides for the Dutch professional cycling team LottoNL-Jumbo and specialises as general classification rider (GC) as well as being very strong in the mountains as shown by a number of strong performances over the last few years.
The pathway for most professional riders in New Zealand is through the track program, which has produced some of New Zealand’s best cyclist shown by the likes of Hayden Roulston and Greg Henderson. This has been a major reason why New Zealand has never produce a pure climber or general classification rider as these riders tend to be bigger, stronger riders. For George, this wasn’t the case. In his childhood, George used cycling as a way to keep fit for his main passion of Rugby, which seems incredible given how small George is now.
The early part of George’s career was focused on mountain biking and he spent the majority of 2008 representing New Zealand. He completed in a range of events around the world but his stand out event was the World Championships where he just lost to current World Road Cycling Champion Peter Sagan.
After a pretty successful season mountain biking George turned his attention to road cycling. He spent the next few years riding for a number of amateur teams in France to gain experience and develop his skills. In 2011, George made the big decision to move to America to continue his development after securing a deal with Trek-Livestrong.
George had a number of strong performances, which included winning the NZ Cycle Classic, coming second at the Ronde de l’Isard, a major amateur race on the road-racing calendar and third at the Tour de Vineyards. He also made a name for himself racing in major American races like the Tours of Utah and Colorado. These results had put him on the radar for the big World Tour Cycling Teams and in contention to move up to a professional contract for the 2012 season.
In 2012 George Bennett signed a two-year deal with Team Leopard Trek, which started up after Team RadioShack disbanded.
George’s first year as a professional was in 2012 and was a frustrating year for him, as he suffered a number of injuries, most notably a knee injury that had him struggling to compete in back-to-back events.
2013 was much brighter for George. He started the season successfully at the Tour Down Under, the biggest stage race in Australia.
George then moved onto the Giro d’Italia in May, which would be his first Grand Tour. But it wasn’t the dream debut he had hoped for with illness striking him down during the tour. It was an achievement just to finish the race with George coming home in 122nd place.
George took time off to fully recover. When he was back to full fitness, Bennett bounced back to produce a number of impressive results. It started off in the Tour of Colorado, where he finished 8th in the GC and he recorded two-fourth place finishes at the Tour of Utah before finishing the year strongly at the Tour of Beijing.
After a strong 2013 season, George decided to move to follow World-Tour Team Cannondale Pro Cycling. Bennett’s form continued into the 2014 season, where he recorded some impressive results for his new team. He had another strong showing at the Tour of Utah where he finished 9th in the general classification. George was selected for his second start in a Grand Tour at the Vuellta a Espana. George performed strongly and peaked at 7th place after stage 4 in general classification. Bennett showed off his climbing ability on a number of the tough hillier stages with some eye-catching performances.
After a strong 2014 season with Cannondale Pro Cycling Team, George moved again, this time to Lotto NL Jumbo.
George had excellent early season form, which rewarded him with selection into the Giro d’Italia but unfortunately had to withdraw a couple of days prior to the race due to low cortisol levels. George spent the next few months preparing for the Vuelta a Espana where he produced his best performance at a grand tour. He again performed well in the mountains and capped off the tour with a 4th place finish on stage 16.
Bennett had a quiet start to his 2016 season with his first notable result coming at the Tour of California. George recorded a third place finish on stage three and finished 7th in the GC.
The middle part of the year was extremely busy for George. It started with the Criterium du Dauphine in June, which is an important lead-up race to the Tour de France. After the Criterium du Dauphine was the Tour de France just a few weeks later and would be the biggest race George had been selected for. The Tour was pretty quiet for George with his only stand out showing on stage 9. On the toughest stage of the race, George would finish in 7th place.
The next major event for George would be representing New Zealand at the Rio Olympics. The course was brutal. George would race for more than six hours in temperatures topping 30C. He would negotiate numerous steep climbs, technical descents, and rugged cobblestones. George put in an impressive performance in what he described as the toughest race of his career. George ended up finishing in 33rd position after attacking on the final climb to trying to catch the leaders before running out of energy.
To finish off his 2016 season was the final grand tour of the year, the Vuelta a España. This is where George started making a name for himself. His stand out performance came on stage 14 where he finished 4th, setting up his teammate to win the stage. But the most impressive result for George was becoming the first New Zealander to finish a Grand Tour in the top 10.
If George thought 2016 was an impressive season he was in for a treat in 2017. His season started off at the Tour of California. He had two standout performances on stage two and five. In the final breakaway on the both stages George would just miss out on stage victories to finish in second and third. But his best performance was on the penultimate day in the time trial. Not known for his time trailing ability he surprised everyone to come fourth give him a 35 second lead over his rivals going into the final stage. George would go onto win the Tour of California and become the first New Zealand rider to win a major cycling event.
After celebrating his achievement his next assignment was the Tour de France. As most people are aware George performed incredibly well. George had a number of stand out performances highlighted by the fact day in day out in the mountains he competed with the best riders in the world. His stand out performances came on stage 9 and 12 where he came 7th and 8th. On stage 12 he attacked on the final climb with 500 meters to go before being caught just before the finish. After these impressive stages, it put George up into 10th in the general classification. Unfortunately, on stage 17 he had to withdraw after becoming very sick over the previous days.
His performances in the tour show how bright his future is. George was tipped by disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong as a future winner of the Tour, which shows how much talent he does have.
When we look at the remainder of the season for George he has one major race left, the Vuelta a España. He was selected as co-captain meaning he would try to do well in the GC, but he has struggled to get over the illness that caused him to withdraw from the Tour so he will be a support rider and be going for stage victories.
In the long term, we could see George achieve some results that we have never seen before. The next step for George is to continue to develop his skills against the best riders and get a team that is there to support him. At this year’s Tour de France, he got as high as ninth with one support rider. By having teammates that are there to support you it means you don’t have to waste as much energy positioning yourself in the peloton and chasing your rivals down. Your teammates can do it for you. One of the biggest advantages a rider can get over a grand tour is preserving energy and not wasting any energy.