George Bennett: “You can’t be scared in this game”
There’s a climber from New Zealand contesting the Tour de France for the second time… and he’s ranked 10th overall after nine stages. We talk to George Bennett the morning after the first rest day.
He’s the winner of the Tour of California and 27-year-old who seems to have been on the cusp of success for most of his career. George Bennett’s breakthrough win in the USA earlier this year has served him well. He’s attracting attention… from fans, the media and other teams. But Lotto NL-Jumbo recognised his talents early and ensured that he had a long-term contract with the team he joined in in 2015 after a few season with American teams.
He finished last year’s Tour ranked 53rd overall.
Andy Schleck had once referenced him as a rider capable of finishing in the top five of the Tour de France.
Currently ranked 10th on GC, Bennett is earning some headlines for his efforts in the opening half of the 2017 Tour.
The original team leader, Robert Gesink, was second in stage eight but crashed out after sustaining a broken vertebrae from a fall in stage nine. (He is now in a body brace and able to move and he is expected to be transported back to the Netherlands in the coming days.)
It means that Bennett has become the GC rider of the Dutch team, by default.
What can we expect from hereon in?
We spoke to him before stage 10 and here is what he had to say…
(Click the SoundCloud file to listen to the interview and/or read the transcript below.)
George Bennett, all smiles before the start of the 10th stage of his second Tour de France…
Photo: Rob Arnold
George Bennett Q&A
RIDE: I’ve got the man of the moment from New Zealand with me; George Bennett – you’re sitting 10th on GC, are you ready to win this yellow jersey?
George Bennett: [Laughs] “I’ll be happy to make it to Paris at this rate. They’re dropping like flies but I’m still in the game so I’m optimistic.”
You’ve got the form of your life but how does it go when you have anxious moments like the other day? Do you manage yourself mentally okay?
“Yeah, normally it doesn’t really [affect me]. I just don’t think. But I actually have to say, when I saw Richie on the ground the other day it did get to me a little bit.
“I was saying to someone else, ‘I was flying down the hill for the first half – really fast. And then I saw the crash and I just couldn’t go down the hill after that…’
“You know, I was like over-braking every [turn] and just trying to hang on to Dan Martin down the hill because I just… it had all gone to shit, really.
“But you put that behind you, put on a new set of kit… fresh day and we’ll see what happens, you know?
“You can’t be scared in this game.”
Does it feel like you’re pinching yourself? You’re in the Tour de France, you’re 10th on GC, top 10 [placings] in mountain stages… is it real?
“I try not to think about it. I try and think about the here and now… ‘Today I’ve got to go 180km between here and there – and not lose time and not crash.’
“I [try] not to get too excited about it because that’s when it starts affecting you and your recovery.
“I mean it is pretty amazing when, every now and then, I think about it – I get goosebumps and I think, ‘Shit, I’m on the Tour de France, in a mountain stage….’ But I just try and suppress all that emotion and be a good bike racer.”
Bennett’s girlfriend and sister, Caitlin and Holly, at the Lotto NL-Jumbo team bus before stage 10.
Photo: Rob Arnold
Do you feel like a cycling ambassador for New Zealand?
“Yeah. Well, I don’t feel like it but we need one.
“It always gets to me… what gets to me the most is the attitude of drivers.
“There are two big problems. There’s the attitude of the drivers and there’s also the… not the ignorance but the unawareness, the lack of awareness of cyclists. And they are two completely different problems but they both end up with cyclists getting hit and killed on the roads.
“I guess it’s something that does strike close to home with me now that my family is starting to rider and my friends are starting to ride.
“[New Zealand] is such a beautiful country to ride in but it’s such a terrible place to ride a bike sometimes with the drivers.”
Ladies and gentlemen, bike riders and motorists, just show a little bit of respect – that’s all we ask, really, isn’t it? It’s a simple message.
“Yep. Give us 1.5 metres and get on a bike yourself. And save the planet.”
– Interview by Rob Arnold