George Bennett’s achievement in holding a top ten position on the general classification as the Tour reaches its first rest day is a huge one, and if he can maintain it he will continue to topple records for best Kiwi finish in the Tour de France. We got to talk to him after the stage to Chambery as he changes targets to a dream top ten finish in Paris.
So here’s how things stand at the moment. Chris Froome continues to lead the Team Sky dominance of the yellow jersey, holding an 18 second buffer over Fabio Aru of Astana. Froome though has lost the support of Geraint Thomas in a crash that has resulted in a broken collarbone. Romain Bardet is in third place and stage winner Rigoberto Uran tucked in fourth just behind him.
George Bennett’s 7th place on the stage now sits him in 10th place overall but he too has lost two teammates in Robert Gesink and Jos van Emden. Gesink was lost to a crash that saw him break a vertebrae, while van Emden arrived home outside of the time limit along with none other than Mark Renshaw of Dimension Data, and former green jersey, stage winner and reigning French national champion Arnaud Demare.
As it stands there is a handy 1.07min gap between George in 10th and Louis Meintjes in 11th, with Alberto Contador – heard of him? – in 12th place 1.22mins behind Bennett. So things look good for Bennett overall, but Bennett is careful to keep things in perspective. Looking back on the stage today he said, “It’s still two weeks to go so it was good day for me but a bad day because we lost two guys, and they were a big loss. But today was the first big mountain test and I think I passed,” Bennett said.
There are many talking points on the whole after a treacherous day in the mountains. One of those was the decision of Fabio Aru to attack the yellow jersey as he raised his arm to inform those behind him of a mechanical problem. It was a clear breaking of the unwritten rule that says you do not attack the yellow jersey when he has a mechanical issue, and the move was quickly closed down by Richie Porte, Daniel Martin and co; with George in the group. “As soon he got brought back everyone had a few words to him. You can’t do something as blatant as that,” George told RoadCycling. Fabio Aru has since said that he didn’t see Froome’s raised arm.
The descent down Mont du Chat will be another major talking point, and while George was able to descend successfully and safely along with Brit Simon Yates in the best young rider jersey, the pair had to pass the wiped out Richie Porte who’d crashed shortly before. It was a sight that had a strong effect on Bennett. “It was a bloody scary downhill. We were full gas for the first half, but then when we saw Richie and Dan Martin, I was with Yatesy [Simon Yates] and we just decided to get to the bottom. There was certainly a lot more use of the breaks after that, because when you see something like that it’s hard to get it out of your head.”
Before the Tour de France, a top ten in Paris was far from the objective. In fact shortly after the Amgen Tour of California, Bennett announced that he was going to try and lose enough time to be allowed the freedom to get in a breakaway. But now that’s changed. “Yeah now I’ll definitely step up and give it a go,” George told us, speaking of a shot at the top ten overall. “A position in the top 10 in Paris is a dream, but if it all goes south then to still go for stages is a good back up plan. But the focus now is definitely to get a top ten.”
With just 3.53mins separating him from the yellow jersey don’t expect George to enjoy any freedom to go out on the attack, with not just Team Sky set to be on the defensive, but so too the teams of Astana, AG2R La Mondiale, Quick-Step Floors, Movistar and co who will be interested in defending their top ten positions themselves.
Looking at what’s to come it makes for interesting reading. There are only two more summit finishes ahead in stage 12 to Peyragudes and stage 18 to Izoard, but there are another three mountain stages in stages 13, 15 and 17 to come. We wanted to know what George anticipated from these mountain stages. “It just means guys have to start racing earlier, they can’t wait for the final,” George explained. “At some stage someone’s going to light it up early and try to isolate riders. Hopefully I can be on the right side of the split when that happens.”’