Stage 12 was George Bennett’s much needed proof; his top 10 overall is no fluke. While stage 9 was an exceptional day, today was affirmation that he belongs with the big boys. Tomorrow is a new challenge but the Kiwi can go into it with new-found confidence that not only can he match the best of them but he really is one of the best of them himself. All this after battling glandular fever early in the year.
After taking 8th across the line at the summit finish in Peyragudes George looked back with satisfaction on a long day well tackled. “Today confirms for me that I can ride with these guys,” Bennett said on the LottoNL-Jumbo team website after the stage. “I did not know if Sunday was just a good day. I was unsure. I still made a few mistakes, but this is a good learning curve. The most important thing for me is to stay consistent.”
George’s mistakes were few and far between as he tackled the 214.5km of racing that took in the clibs of the Col de Menté, Port de Balés and Col de Peyresourde before the final climb to the finish. He put himself in a good position in the yellow jersey group and stayed there, not doing any unnecessary work; and not attacking prematurely until possibly the final kilometre where he did try and produce something even more special.
We had expected the fuse to light up on the final category 2 climb to the line, but it never did. This really played into the hands not only of George Bennett but also of Chris Froome; the race leader. In fact while Fabio Aru and Daniel Martin might have been considered the likely lads to attack and take the stage, it was George himself who attacked just after the 1km to go banner.
The sting of the climb was in the tail and in retrospect we can say that George went a fraction early, and that his efforts then proved a little costly as he just missed out on 8th overall by 3 seconds as he drifted back in the final sprint. If he’d held on and kept his powder dry he might have fared better and overtaken Nairo Quintana overall. But if you never try you never know.
Speaking of the decision to attack, Bennett said, “I had really good legs. A good stage result here would have been nice. Against these guys it is not very realistic to win, but you got to try.”
It seems but a distant memory now, but the journey this far in the Tour de France comes off the back of fighting glandular fever which disrupted his pre-season training. “The year started pretty bad for me with glandular fever. After that, almost everything went well,” George said. “I was always near the top-10 in the other races and I am hoping to build on it. There is no better place for that than here in the Tour de France.”
What a difference a few months can make! Who would have thought back in January that in the middle of July we would be talking about George Bennett staring at the possibility of knocking on the door of even the top 5 in the Tour de France?
Stay strong George. New Zealand stands with you!