George Bennett and Tom Scully made it through 21 days of some of the most entertaining racing in recent Tour de France history with very different races, but the duo lit up the final stage in Paris and can come away with their heads held high.
Between three Kiwis our hopes were high of a first Tour de France stage win. Patrick Bevin of CCC Team, Tom Scully of EF Education First and George Bennett of Jumbo-Visma had us daring to dream that we would see a Kiwi on the podium as a solo winner of a stage at the Tour. That dream continues on to next year as our own what-ifs come to the fore. But for George Bennett and Tom Scully the Tour provided success in its own way.
First a word on Patrick Bevin. He was our big hope of a stage win with it being made known before the race began that he would have freedom in breakaways and that he’d be targeting stage 13’s individual time trial. Sadly that was not to be as a crash in stage 4 left him with broken ribs that he limped his way through in stage 5 and then decided to withdraw prior to stage 6.
It seemed that our stage hopes had died when Bevin dropped out. George Bennett had made it known that he was in France to work for Steven Kruijswijk, while Tom Scully was there to work; it just wasn’t quite clear whether that would be for Rigoberto Uran, Michael Woods or Tejay van Garderen. But then a new dream emerged; not of a stage win but potentially of a Kiwi wearing the yellow jersey.
Bennett did take to the podium, a winner amongst his teammates after Jumbo-Visma’s sensational race against the clock won them stage two’s team time trial. It was a day that summed up Bennett’s Tour, a Tour of punching above his weight. He was one of the riders Jumbo-Visma hadn’t banked on to be there to the end, but there he was. Spurring the team on, taking each turn, and his impact on that stage could best be summed up by the elated slap on the backside he received from team leader Kruijswijk with just a couple of hundred metres remaining.
George spent eight days in the top five on GC and NZ cheered him all the way. 10 seconds after stage 2 was all that separated the Kiwi from the maillot jaune. That stretched to 25 seconds after stage 3 as Julian Alaphilippe rose to prominence. Again, sadly, we must ask what might have happened if George hadn’t gone back for bottles in stage 10 as the crosswinds bit. He did have a go at attacking, but even if he had done and taken the yellow jersey he would have done so as a caretaker for what he would have hoped would pass to Kruijswijk.
After the mishap of stage 10 Bennett did what we’d expected him to do from the start. Time and again he put his body on the line in the mountains, putting all and sundry on the ropes and lining up his leader for a shot at a Tour de France podium; doing what Bevin did for Rigoberto Uran in 2017. It was a workload that would come at personal cost as two nasty crashes in stage 18 had us wondering if we’d even see him make it to Paris or whether Scully would be flying solo.
Meanwhile Scud was busy taking good care of Rigoberto Uran’s top ten aspirations. Not a climber, but one of the most reliable men in the EF Education First outfit, Scully’s work went unheralded, unnoticed by the cameras for the most part; but it was no less valuable. In fact it was Scully of the Kiwi trio who managed to enjoy breakaway freedom. His big day came in stage 17 from Pont du Gard to Gap where he infiltrated an enormous breakaway group of 33 riders who would survive the day out in front.
After initially making the decisive split the miles in the legs caught up to him and he faded. However, he still succeeded in withholding the peloton. Scully survived his day in the break, crossing the line 33rd on the stage but still finishing 10.47mins ahead of the peloton.
Scully and Bennett have two very different stories to tell but their different stories came to a head in stage 21 on cycling’s most famous finish line. The Champs-Elysees always delivers entertainment in spades. A couple of years ago it was Dion Smith of Wanty-Groupe Gobert on the attack, this time Scully had one final chapter to write as he made the break of the day in the company of Jan Tratnik, Nils Politt and Omar Fraile.
Breakaways on the final day face a pretty damning attempts-success ratio and Scully and co surely knew that they were fighting a very, very difficult cause to win. Nevertheless they tried and they tried hard, but it was a case of Kiwi in the break vs Kiwi in the bunch as both Scully and Bennett went out in a blaze of glory.
While the laps ticked away and Scully continued to fight on the front, George did what he’d done in the very first stage of this year’s Tour de France. The climber turned rouleur, went all ‘Sam Bewley’ on the peloton, and dragged them along in pursuit of his compatriot and the breakaway up ahead; all to try and line up teammate Groenewegen for one last dance at another stage win. There’s something awesomely and beautifully odd about the sight of this slim, slight Kiwi powering away in a sprinter’s stage, pushing speeds of upwards of 50kph. But Bennett did, with his fellow Kiwi finally succumbing to the pace and being swept back into the fold with 13km to go.
The story of the day around global cycling will be that of Caleb Ewan taking his third stage win and Egan Bernal making history for Colombia. But as Ewan finished punching the air in sheer ecstasy, and Bernal finished hand-in-hand mentored-turned-master with Geraint Thomas, two Kiwis quietly came to a stop after crossing the famous finish line side by side. The results from stage 21 will read that George Bennett and Tom Scully finished 151st and 152nd, 2.30mins behind the winner; but their marks well and truly made on stage 21 and on the month of July.
Chapeau George and Tom. We salute you.