George Bennett’s personal GC aspirations will take a back seat now after dropping out of contention in the Vuelta a Espana. Bennett currently sits 22nd overall, 22 minutes behind race leader Simon Yates after losing time in the last three mountain stages. But he’s still fearless to animate the race, as his breakaway efforts today showed.
For LottoNL-Jumbo there remains a strong GC challenge to be made, but this will now rest on the shoulders of Bennett’s Dutch teammate Steven Kruijswijk. With six stages remaining Kruijswijk sits in fifth place overall at just 1.29mins behind race leader Simon Yates of Mitchelton-Scott.
The damage was done for Bennett in stage 14 to Les Praeres. Nava where Simon Yates emerged victorious – and as the new leader of the race – after four tough climbs and the summit finish all featured en route to the line. Kruijswijk was in great shape, racing to sixth place on the stage, but Bennett’s battle came to a head long before the final climb, and in fact not on a climb at all. The descent of the Mozqueta began with some 45km of racing remaining and the bunch really broke up. Sadly George was on the wrong side of a split and ended up losing 7 minutes and his opportunity to contest the general classification.
Knowing that the general classification was now no longer an option, Bennett now has a little bit more freedom. He can play the role of domestique to Kruijswijk, but as stage 15 showed, he can also go freely into a breakaway with significantly less fear of being marked. That was the case today as he took his place in the break of the day. Alongside him were the likes of Nicolas Roche of BMC Racing, Ben King of Dimension Data, Pierre Rolland of EF Education First-Drapac, Bauke Mollema of Trek-Segafredo and Bennett’s LottoNL-Jumbo teammate Danny van Poppel.
The group did manage to build a lead that stretched to 5.30mins with Mitchelton-Scott taking control of the peloton, but when Astana hit the front a chunk of time was removed from their advantage, however that didn’t stop the breakaway from fighting tooth and nail for their advantage. With 51km to go the gap stood at a shade over 4 minutes.
At the summit of the penultimate climb the gap had come down to 3 minutes with 43km to go. From there the descent and interlude before the final climb saw the break begin to play cat-and-mouse between each other before Ivan Garcia Cortina of Bahrain-Merida went out on a solo attack from the group.
Steadily the breakaway were brought back, with George Bennett and Pierre Rolland eventually succumbing to the GC group with just 10km left to race. Bennett would stick around to support Kruijswijk but eventually he sat up; knowing that his efforts would serve a greater purpose later in the race now than in holding on.
Afterwards Bennett was positive about his day. “It was a good day for me,” Bennett said. “Now that I no longer fight for the classification, I have to try something else. We did not have enough horsepower in the leading group to keep the gap big enough. Even though I think it did not matter much because the peloton rode very fast.”
Bennett may get opportunities to shine later in the race in pursuit of potential stage honours, but will juggle those opportunities with responsibility to protect Kruijswijk. Stage 15 belonged to Thibaut Pinot who ended the stage 28 seconds ahead of Miguel Angel Lopez and 30 seconds up on Simon Yates.