• George Bennett at the Tour of California (Getty)Source: Getty
Former Tour of California champion George Bennett is searching for a chink in the armour of EF Education First as he readies to play a final hand for victory on Mt Baldy tomorrow.
Sophie Smith

17 May 2019 - 11:57 AM  UPDATED 17 May 2019 - 12:00 PM

Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) was an antagonist in stage five to Ventura beach today and jumped from 10th to eighth overall, finishing in the front group that included the main favourites and race leader Tejay van Garderen (EF Education First).

The 29-year-old will tackle the summit finish at Mt Baldy one man down after losing key lieutenant Timo Roosen, who broke his collarbone in a crash that caused controversy on stage four. Whereas van Garderen has two teammates in the top 10, which he confidently alluded to in a post-race press conference today.

Sergio Higuita currently sits sixth overall at 28 seconds and Rigoberto Uran in his comeback from injury is 10th at 36 seconds.

“I feel a little bit between a rock and a hard place in terms of you want to go hard to take time but then they are all still there and they have strength in numbers,” said Bennett. “I’m feeling good, but they have five guys and every time I go hard, make the race hard, I flick myself because say there is 10 guys left, five of them are from EF. Then I have got no teammates and they’ve got five guys who can ride GC.”

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Bennett referred to the first climber’s stage of the tour to South Lake Tahoe in which the rival squad also relied on its depth with the trio and Lachlan Morton finishing the altitude test inside the top 15 places.

“I think they made a great move that day, they really raced well with their numbers and basically took me and Richie [Porte] out of the race,” said Bennett. “There is still a stage win on Baldy. We’ll see what happens, try and go for that. That will be a great result still.”

Van Garderen’s lead has so far only been challenged in a race incident on stage four, which remained a talking point today. He lost and regained the yellow jersey multiple times within the space of a shower as UCI officials deliberated over and then revised the three kilometre rule to his advantage.

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Bennett had recovered from a puncture to be at the front of the peloton in anticipation of the divisive finish that could have but didn’t put his rival out.

“One of the EF guys rode into my wheel and took all the spokes out. Then I got to the front and I made sure I was at the front because I knew there would be gaps, and there were gaps but then there wasn’t,” Bennett said. “I think that was a crazy decision because it sets a dangerous precedent.

"If I was in [van Garderen’s] shoes I’d be happy and I kind of agree with the three-and-a-half k, I mean that’s unlucky for those guys. But if I didn’t get back from my puncture and it was just me and one other guy, say [Gianni] Moscon, would we have been given the same time? I very much doubt it.”

SBS is broadcasting the Amgen Tour of California LIVE, with the decisive Stage 7 to Mt Baldy streaming online and on SBS VICELAND from 6.00 am (AEST) on Saturday 17 May.