Tour de France: Kiwi George Bennett sitting out French classic

 George Bennett
Kiwi George Bennett during the Giro d'Italia. Photo credit: Getty

In three weeks, from Israel to Italy, Kiwi cyclist George Bennett got the stitch, "rode like a f***ing idiot", cursed his bike as it played up like a rebellious child, started to get sick… and made history.

This year's Giro d'Italia was easily one of the most chaotic Grand Tours he's taken part in, culminating in New Zealand's best finish in one of the showpiece races - eighth in the general classification.

Yet the cycling world moves quickly - from cobblestones to mountains to slick streets.

Bennett’s name is missing from the imminent Tour de France, as he uses this year to build a team around him and sink his teeth into the other Grand Tours. It's about assembling all the right pieces, before launching an assault on the cycling world next year.

So it's with some relief that he's finally got a chance to detox from the sport, after a hectic start to the season.

"I've finished 50 race days already, I think," he told Newshub. "There's been so much racing and so much time away from home, I think I've only had five nights in Girona this year or something like that."

The recent Giro was the first time he led his LottoNL-Jumbo team into a Grand Tour. His historic eighth-place finish, which the 28-year old called "par", was soured by mechanical problems.

While it would be easy for him to sit back and reflect on a more-than-respectable Italian campaign, that's not his style. Instead, he's pulling out a magnifying glass, and meticulously working out how he can improve for the rest of the year and beyond.  

"I think I got a few things wrong with the build-up to the Giro," he said. "I felt like, after a few days in the race, I was one of the strongest and then by the last weekend, I was just hanging on.

"I was happy I didn't explode like a lot of the other guys, who completely crumbled in the last week, but that was where I really planned to step up and make a run at the race."

There are also plenty of other things he's picked up on, including losing time to his rivals in unexpected places. It was the "unsuspecting, really explosive, uphill sprints" that did the damage, more than the gruelling mountain days.

Data provides the best insight into his performance. There's no need to spend hours locked away in a dark room re-watching each stage.

"You look at the power files and we have every pedal stroke I did in the whole three weeks. Every calorie, everything is recorded in this programme and you can look at not just how hard I pushed the pedals, but how efficiently I pushed them."

Bennett and the team noticed his pedal stroke got less efficient towards the end of the race.

"That's something we can look at and what part of the pedal stroke was losing out, and then go away and do exercises for that muscle group."

The path to a big performance at the upcoming Vuelta a Espana has already begun. It's almost Bennett's home tour and one that he’s extremely familiar with, having ridden it four times previously.

There'll be some more tinkering in his preparations before the Spanish race rolls around in late August. Bennett's thinking of doing just one race - the Tour of Poland - before the Vuelta.

There are also little things like nutrition and nutrient intake that he's likely to tweak.

Something that he hasn't been able to change is his side stitch. It's become a constant and evil companion on the bike and surgery last year has been unsuccessful.

George Bennett
George Bennett finishes the Giro d'Italia. Photo credit: Getty

He's now looking at things like nerve blocks to try and help the problem, and he's consulting his surgeon again to come up with another solution.

But there's no quick fix, with surgery impractical in the middle of the season. So it's been added to his "admin" list, which also includes things like working on his aerodynamic position in Holland.

For now, though, his focus is on resting up.

"I’m really lucky, I have a massive break and not many other people get that, so I'm pretty happy my team have given me that. The plan was actually to go on holiday when we got back from the Giro, but I realised I hadn't been home and so we said 'stuff it, we'll have a holiday here and catch up with our friends, and just be a bit social'."

His break was almost cut short, well, in his mind anyway. There were a few injury scares in his team and he started to wonder if a call-up to the Tour de France was on the cards.

"I was thinking maybe I'm next in line, but I talked to the team and they said 'nah, no way'.

They said, after the Giro, it's best just to stop. You can’t do the double... it's a good way to put yourself in a crisis for a year or two."

His holiday won’t last long. He’ll go from the beach to the mountains, hammering away at altitude in Andorra. The Tour of Poland in early August looks like his next race and then straight to the Vuelta, before the world championships in the hills of Austria.