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George Bennett: One clear goal, to win
May 11th, 12. Kiwi neo-pro George Bennett has one goal for the Tour of California - to help his RadioShack Nissan Trek teammate Chris Horner defend his title.
"We all know everyone is 100% here for Horner, there is no B or C option. There are guys in the team who could do a good GC result if they wanted to, but we are 100% focused on Horner," the 21 year old told RoadCycling.co.nz today.
Bennett has been in California for a few days and although he is currently fighting jetlag he is looking forward to the racing starting on Sunday (Monday NZ time).
"The Tour of California is probably our second biggest race behind the Tour de France. We really need to win. Anything can happen, but we've built a team around Horner. He is in really good shape and he looks lean," said Bennett who has yet to race with Horner.
"I'm pretty pumped to have made it to the startline. It was touch and go for a while with the injury, it was pretty good to finally get the nod."
Bennett started the season late after a complex knee injury kept him off the bike for the best part of three months, but when he got to Europe he soon made up for lost time.
He raced well enough in the Castilla y Leon to get the call up for the Tour of Romandie where he rode with the best of the world's GC riders up and over the Swiss Alps.
"Now I'm here, hopefully with some good form - I feel pretty good. I felt like I came up another level after Romandie. I've been training hard and now we'll see what happens," he said.
The RadioShack Nissan Trek team for the Tour of California has a good mixture of experienced riders and fresh faces. Bennett said they are all having a really good time so far with a good atmosphere amongst his teammates.
At dinner last night, Bennett even joked with Horner and Jens Voigt that they were old enough to be his Dad! As expected, Voigt had a good comeback - although Bennett did not share it.
"Jens is full of good comebacks to us young guys," he said.
All jokes will be put aside once the racing begins - but Bennett said he wouldn't expect his team to be doing much in the early stages.
They will, however, come alive later in the week on the hardest stages.
"They reckon it's the hardest Tour of California course for a while - that will definitely help Horner out.
"I haven't looked at the stages too closely, but everyone says all the stages are hard. Even the first one has a few mountains and there might not be everyone together at the finish line."
Horner winning the tour will make the week a success for the team. On a personal level, the Kiwi would like to be able to look back and see the role he played in the team's success.
"I have no personal ambitions at all," he shared. "We've got some good guys for the chasing, it will be interesting to see how I go as a diesel - I haven't done that for a while. I'll let Jens do the flat and I'll wait for the mountains - sounds like a good deal to me!"
One thing on Bennett's side is the weather. When he talked to RoadCycling.co.nz it was 30 degrees centigrade with not a cloud in the sky.
Bennett's teammates for the tour are: Chris Horner, Matthew Busche, Markel Irizar, Ben King, Tiago Machado, Gregory Rast and Jens Voigt.
From continental rider to stagaire to pro-team
As a Livestrong rider and then RadioShack stagiare last year, Bennett got to race in some big events - including helping Levi Leipeimer to victory in the Tour of Utah - but the pro racing scene in Europe has been another big step up.
"The difference between the Utah and Colorado tours compared to Romandie for example, is quite a lot different. I'm climbing as fast as I can, at full gas and there are still 25-30 guys left at the top of the hill.
"Whereas in the American races there would be a lot less. It's definitely a lot faster and I'm still off the pace, but that will come," he said.
Along with the step-up in racing comes a new role. Bennett did his fair share of work last year supporting teammates, but he also got to be the leader a few times. This year he has quite a different role, but one he is adjusting to and enjoying.
"I've taken my place at the bottom, and know that that's my place every week. It's not too bad, I quite enjoy it, but it's definitely harder to measure if you've done a good job or not. Sometimes you finish the race and don't really know if you were a good teammate - whereas if you are a leader the results show whether you did a good job or not. The guys are grateful when you work for them, and that's pretty important."
"The step-up is also on the expectations of you. As a stagiare you do your best, but as a neo-pro it's still do you best but it's also make sure you do something - be strong for the team. You don't want to show up in bad nick as there are so many other guys who could be at the race instead of you."
A big deal to have four Kiwis on the startline
The Tour of California used to be looked at as a training race for goal events later in the season, now it is a major race in itself - which makes it even more impressive to have four Kiwis racing, according to Bennett.
"Now it's a very serious race and to have people like Josh Atkins and Paddy Bevin getting a start is awesome. It's great that as a continental rider you can race against Tom Boonen, Chris Horner etc, I think that's pretty cool.
"Josh is riding very well I hear. I keep in contact with the Livestrong boys a lot. It sounds like he is going really well - I think all the Kiwis are going to be in for a good showing," he said.
For the next few days, Bennett is looking forward to riding American roads. He much prefers training and racing in the US compared to Europe, he loves the openness of the people - whether they are vocal in support of seeing pro-tour riders, or screaming at them to get off the road.
"It's good being back here and catching up with people from this side of the team, and I'm looking forward to catching up with the Livestrong boys in the next few days," he said.
On a final note, Bennett said he is starting the tour the healthiest he has been in a very long time. He has been working closely with team director Jose Azevedo and NZ U23 coach Dan Healey whose scientific approach to training and nutrition has worked well for him.
"Those guys have put huge hours into me in terms of technical stuff, ideas etc it's making a difference. It's been good for me."
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