Talking about the Tour, team work and ‘The Stitch’ with George Bennett from the Jumbo-Visma team.
Some interviews offer insight into racing, others provide a glimpse of the personality of the rider, or a hint at what their hopes and ambitions are. And then there’s the kind of chat that coughs up some information while providing a few laughs… the latter is a rarity in pro cycling.
When it comes to George Bennett, however, I’ve learned that it’s a mix of all of the above. Frankly, it’s simply good fun.
After eight stages of the 2019 Tour, George is still ranked fourth on GC. He is a most capable rider, a great speaker, and a joy to talk to.
Below is a verbatim transcript of a chat we had with the fourth New Zealander to win a stage of the Tour de France. Throughout his cycling career, the 29-year-old has been battling the pain of a persistent problem with a stitch – ‘The Stitch’, as he calls it.
We spoke about the issues earlier this year in a long, enjoyable impromptu interview done in the Hilton in Adelaide during the Tour Down Under. A wide range of topics were discussed including how the stitch problems have hindered him in racing (and how he is desperately trying to find a remedy), as well as music, rugby, and his relaxed attitude to his job. “I honestly don’t remember the last time I was stressed,” he told me.
And so it’s quite natural to have a casual chat with one of cycling’s good guys – even when he’s about to tackle a tough stage of the Tour de France.
The latest theory about his stitch issues relates to an issue with his ribs. It’s not solved but he has been eternally optimistic that he can find a solution. In the meantime, he’s racing the Tour with his typically great attitude – even though he knows that he must sacrifice any hope of personal glory for the good of the team…
– Click the SoundCloud link to listen to the interview in Mâcon and/or read the transcript below. –
Click the link above to listen to the interview, done by the Jumbo-Visma team bus in Macon before the start of stage 8 of the 2019 Tour de France.
RIDE: I’m with George Bennett before the start of stage eight. And he’s sitting fourth on GC, so I thought I’d find out a little more about how he’s going through the year, and one particular topic/question: ‘The Stitch’, bro…
George Bennett: “Oooh.”
is the stitch still killing you?
“Yeah, the stitch is still getting stitched up. But, that said, I think we might [have found a solution].
“Oh well, we also thought we had a reason many times.
“But we think I’ve got a bit of a weird rib cage. [That’s what] we’ve found out.
“I’ve been doing a lot of tests, a lot of scans, and I’ve got some extra cartilage that is broken off and moving around in there, so that might be something that could be causing it so we have to investigate that further later in the year.
“But there’s no easy cure for that, short of surgery and things like that.
“So, we’re going down that wormhole at the moment.
“From all the tests and everything we’ve seen, that is currently the leading, sort of, diagnosis. But, like I said, we thought we had things before and they haven’t worked out.
“I’m never too optimistic now when it comes to it, but it has still been pretty bad and pretty hindering, but… here we are.”
Here we are. And you’re still coping. But you are just accustomed to the pain, evidently.
“Ah, yeah. I’m used to it. I know it comes. Sometimes it cracks me and I just stop pedalling. But now, with a new diagnosis… and a prospect of potentially getting better from it, it makes it a bit easier to deal with it, you know?
“You think, ‘Right, I’ve just got to suck it up for these weeks…’ or whatever, and that’ll be the last time you have to suffer with it. And you can go, ‘Okay, it’s just a bit of pain. Whatever. It hurts already, so…’
“But you know, if you get to the points where there’s no cure, and you think, ‘Oh, this is it forever.’ Then you’re also thinking, ‘What’s the point?’”
Watch RIDE Media’s interview with George Bennett from January 2019 (above).
When I posted the story about the stitch, people would chime in with their assumptions…
Exactly, like: ‘Oh yeah, it’s the diaphragm.’ ‘It’s this…’ ‘It’s that…’ And it could be cartilage? That blows my mind. Is it a little like Henk Vogels, for example. He raced with spondylolisthesis, do you know what that is?
“No, I don’t.”
It’s a floating extra vertebrae.
“Oh right. Okay.
“Well this is… okay, this is not a vertebrae but this is a floating extra couple of ribs, I guess.
“I’m not going to do it now [he says, gesturing to lift the base of his jersey up to show me his abdomen], but when I breath, I have these bits that are broken off down there. [He points to a place roughly between the base of his right ribs and his pelvis.]
“I don’t know what it was from, maybe a bit of impact as I was growing up, or I was born like that. Or… who knows?
“But… ah. Yeah.”
Weird. We’ve seen a lot of cosmetic surgery over the last few years. I think the Kardashians had a rib removed or… but I don’t talk about them. I’ll bleep that out when I publish the interview.
“I think it might have been Marilyn Manson, so he could…”
[And he stops the sentence, safely, before finishing it… but laughs at the thought of what he was going to say.]
Reach certain areas?
“Yeah, yeah. Yeah.”
But we won’t go there.
“No, don’t go there.”
Moving right along, next question: I’ve just spoken with [Frans Maasen – not Marc Wauters, as you can hear in the sound file], and he’s told me that, yeah – you’re fourth on GC and that’s great… Hartelijk gefeliciteerd, and all that… but that doesn’t change the strategy. You still have to race for Steven [Kruijswijk]. Is that right?
“Yeah, 100 percent.
“They gave me a free kilometre. They said, ‘If we arrive at the steep in a good position, in the Planche des Belles Filles – at the gravel – you know, the last 900 metres there? Then I could give it a go.
“If Alaphilippe cracked, and the break maybe had [less of an advantage], then it was a dream of getting into yellow but Alaphilippe was just so strong.
“So, they said I could go for it there and I gave it a good shot but… back to work today – or yesterday already – and back to the day job, I guess.”
After 8 stages of the 2019 Tour, Bennett is ranked 4th and his team leader, Steven Kruijswijk, is 7th.
Okay. I see. Talk to me about that dirt road. On television, it looked spectacular. [Afterwards] I was bashing out this story, getting all emotional about how it was changing the aesthetic of the Tour and blah, blah, blah… and then I looked at the time splits and it wasn’t massive.
“It was just so hard, we couldn’t really do much, you know…?
“The dirt was hard but the gradient in the last 300 metres was crazy.
“I was looking at the time gaps and they were close but I’m surprised there were even gaps; guys who looked like you could touch them, were still 10 seconds in front of you – so it was really steep but it was good.
“I actually liked it. I liked the spectacle. I think it brought a lot to the race actually.”
And: steep or long climbs? I think I’ve asked you that before…
“Long, but not crazy steep, which is quite counter-intuitive for a guy of my weight [58kg]… but steep, but not crazy steep, you know?”
A little bit like Tour of California, I suppose.
“Yeah, something like that. That’s good.”
Which is why you might win that race once in a while…
“Yeah, that’s good, something like that. Keep ’em like that.”
On the podium in Brussels (above).
That’s a good little chat. I’m glad we caught up. Is there something else I should ask you? Something that you really want to share with the world?
“Not really at the moment. I’m just trying to keep a lid on things, keep it very low-key.
“I think two years ago, I was a bit ah… I was suddenly at the Tour and I was going really well and then it was just this crazy thing and then, I think that made me really tired.
“So this year, I’m just… it’s quite nice just being [a domestique].
“A bonus to being just a helper is that, every day, you just wake up, look at the road book and then you get told what you’ve got to do in the bus. You do that, and then… [that’s it].
“It’s an interesting approach this year but it’s definitely a bit calmer, that’s for sure.”
You told me in January that you don’t remember the last time you’ve been stressed. Does the Tour de France, maybe, elicit a bit of stress?
“Ah, it hasn’t yet. Oh, actually, the team time trial was a little bit of stress. Yeah, that was a bit of stress. But apart from that? Not really. Not genuine stress. Not that I go to bed at night and am thinking about the next day, you know?
“There’s moments: ‘Oh shit, I’ve got to get to the front here…’ but not genuine stress.”
Bennett was part of the winning team in stage 2 (above) even if he freely admits that he didn’t contribute too much to the pacesetting… (Photo: ASO)
Interesting. I forgot to even reference it, but you’ve brought it up: the team time trial, that makes you the fourth Kiwi to win a stage at the Tour de France, bro.
“Oh yeah. That’s a stretch.”
It’s true though: Chris Jenner (2001), Julian Dean (2011), Paddy Bevin (2018)… and now you.
“Ah yeah, I can’t say I contributed too much, but ah… alright, it goes on the palmarès. But I’d like to get my own one.”
Can that happen?
“Not this year, probably. I don’t think I’ll get the chance but you never know what happens.
“If a chance comes up, I’m feeling good enough to try it.”
And a message for your compatriots who are sitting up at god-knows-what-time in the morning watching what you do in France?
“Yeah: good stuff! I mean they’ve already had to suffer the World Cup, six weeks of watching the cricket. And now they’ve got the Tour de France. So, it’s a hard year for Kiwi sports fans. But it makes a difference, knowing that people are staying up.”
[Laughs] “The greatest game in the world.
“No, it’s not actually.”
What’s the greatest thing in the world?
No, no. Let’s go more generic.
“Oh, the greatest thing? Shit, that is a difficult one.”
Time with the guitar…?
“Oh, okay. My personal thing?”
What’s The Thing that makes you happy?
“You know what I love? Getting on the bus after a stage, and you just have 20 minutes where you just have, like: ‘Ah, no media. No people. I just put my earphones in…’
“Twenty minutes, and you know you’re going to [relax] – that’s like, your little moment in the day.”
It’s your reprieve. So what do you listen to in that 20 minutes?
“Podcasts. A bit of music. A bit of everything really.”
Thanks for sharing a bit of your life with me.
“Thanks. I better go and get ready.”
– Interview by Rob Arnold