• George Bennett at the 2018 Tour Down Under team presentation (Getty)Source: Getty
George Bennett (Lotto NL-Jumbo) surprised himself at the Tour Down Under, climbing into the top 11 on the general classification as he looks to rebuild from a troublesome end to 2017.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

Cycling Central
22 Jan 2018 - 7:51 AM 

Bennett enjoyed some great success last year, taking a maiden World Tour stage race victory in the Tour of California but struggled in the back half of the year with post-viral fatigue. The New Zealander also had an operation to try and fix a mysterious side-stitch that has plagued his career.

The exercise-induced searing pain down his side has not reared its ugly head since but has left the 27-year-old coming into the start of 2018 with little to no form. He surprised everyone, not least himself, by coming out and stringing together some strong performances against World Tour opposition.

"I didn't think I'd be even riding at the Tour Down Under," said Bennett after the Willunga stage. "Or if I was I'd be riding around the back. Not sure if that ride puts me in the top ten or close to it. It's all good stuff."

"Everyone was excited about yesterday (the stage finish in Uraidla), but yesterday was all about having a high VO2. Today you had to be fit, sections in the gutter then a long power test. You have to train for that, you can't just do it off ability."

Bennett was left in the wake of Richie Porte's (BMC) attack on the second ascent of Willunga Hill, as was the rest of the field.

"I went after him but there was a headwind and I just parked the truck halfway across to him and then suffered to the top. I tried to go across a few more times, but once that gap was there, I just didn't have any power.

The Kiwi is a rising star of the World Tour scene, a climber with star potential he is already beginning to realise against some of the best general classification candidates. Left in the slipstream of Porte this time, he took consolation in the fact the troublesome side-stitch didn't show up.

"I don't really compare at this stage," said Bennett. "If I'm in really good form and he's in really good form I still can't hang it with him. Today feels like a bit of a win, I went really hard up the climb and didn't get a side-stitch.

"It's already looking good for the year. Hopefully I can eventually close the gap to Richie. He's got to slow down or I have to get faster."

The year ahead for Bennett is shaped around his major goal of the Giro d'Italia, where he hopes to excel as a GC leader for Lotto NL-Jumbo.

"I'm just coming back from quite a big lay-off," said Bennett, "so it's about getting the power back into the legs and having some fun. Then I go back to New Zealand in February and put in some big work there."

Bennett comes out to play on Stage 12
George Bennett is having the ride of his life and is on his way to producing a best ever Tour de France result from a Kiwi rider.
Bennett breaks through in California
Kiwi climber George Bennett has come of age taking out the Tour of California in a season that illness just months ago, threatened to totally wipe.