Slow-burner Bennett aims to catch Bardet

George Bennett (Getty)
George Bennett (Getty)

Bergerac - George Bennett admits he's been left behind a bit recently but the 27-year-old New Zealander is determined to catch up. 

Bennett used to rub shoulders with the likes of two-time Grand Tour winner Nairo Quintana and last year's Tour runner-up from France, Romain Bardet in the junior sections. 

But while his two peers have gone on to become two of the best riders in the world, Bennett's progress was slow and steady in comparison. 

However, following a great ride on the brutal ninth stage of the Tour de France on Sunday, he climbed up to 10th in the standings. 

And that comes in a year in which he became the first New Zealander to win a World Tour event, May's Tour of California. 

Bennett knows he's not at the level of Quintana and Bardet now, but he believes he has the ability to get there, as he demonstrated on Sunday. 

"I didn't think I'd be able to go with those guys (the favourites) on Sunday, so that was pretty cool," said the Lotto-Jumbo rider. 

"They attacked and I followed them, and then I was with a couple of guys, maybe five guys or something, and I regretted it instantly and went out the back, and then waited for Yatesy (Simon Yates) a little bit at the top of the hill. 

"We went down there and caught up Nairo (Quintana) and Dan (Martin) and ripped it home."

Although he admitted to being surprised to find himself in the top 10, Bennett insists he's not a fish out of water in such company, particularly when it comes to climbing mountains. 

"I've always been a very good climber, I've always had the numbers," he said. 

"Even as an amateur when I did a 20-minute test, I always had super watts per kilo (kg) but struggled with doing super watts per kilo after doing 100km or up to 200km." 

But a change in training methods has reaped dividends. 

"I think just doing more Grand Tours, doing altitude training, I've changed the way I train - I do hard stuff at the end of long six-hour rides now and that builds up." 

Bennett's not having delusions of grandeur, though, despite a seventh-placed finish at last year's Vuelta a Espana. 

"Tenth would be probably the limit of my abilities, I'd say. I'm hoping for a good time-trial and I'm hoping for no mishaps. 

"I think that's the key - just don't do stupid shit and don't crash and don't get caught out behind splits in the crosswinds. 

"That's the goal, but it's difficult." 

Looking back to his younger days, Bennett admits he got left behind when turning professional.

"I did start quite late, I was a mountain biker for a little bit and then started late on the road," he said.

"It was weird, when I raced in France (as a junior) we (he and Bardet) would go head-to-head and at the Ronde de l'Isard (a top under-23s race) I had the better of him and things like that.

"Then the next weekend, he would have the better of me. 

"But then we would go to the pros and he just blossomed and I didn't, and I'm slowly starting to find my feet now. 

"It was weird, the guys I was with, my generation, the under 23s - a lot of them came to the pros and were suddenly really good, and I wasn't. 

"Even though I was probably as good, and on my days even better than them as an amateur.

"Maybe it's the distance or it was the positioning or the mindset, I don't know."

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