Cycling: Kiwi George Bennett predicts tough challenges at Vuelta a Espana

Kiwi cyclist George Bennett.
Kiwi cyclist George Bennett. Photo credit: Getty Images

There's no Geraint Thomas or Chris Froome. But don't be fooled as the upcoming Vuelta a Espana looms as an absolute dogfight for the best cyclists in the world, including New Zealand's George Bennett.

"I think it's the best field I've ever raced against in my life, which is quite crazy", he told Newshub.

"You look at [Ritchie] Porte, [Rigoberto] Uran, three Movistar guys; it's just the most ridiculous field I've ever seen assembled."

Add in the Yates brothers, Michal Kwiatkowski and David de la Cruz from Team Sky, plus Frenchman Thibaut Pinot, and Italians Vincenzo Nibali and Fabio Aru - and you've got a field that's as head -spinning as the eight summit finishes in the three-week race.

The Spanish Grand Tour is another momentous occasion for Bennett - who's keen to build on his eighth-place finish in the Giro d'Italia earlier this year.

"I'd love to come home somewhere in that top five. I think that's the next step and the next big goal for me to reach."

While the 28-year old was the sole leader of his LottoNL-Jumbo team in Italy, he's sharing the leadership in Spain with experienced Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk - who finished fifth in the Tour de France.

"It's definitely a bonus to have another guy there we can work with if we do it properly.

"It obviously has the potential to make things more complicated, but I think in our case it should be a plus."

Taking two leaders into the race helps the team hedge their bets, and provides an insurance policy of sorts. It's the modern trend of cycling.

Going all in on one rider can be costly - especially if they're hit with bad luck like Bennett was in Italy.

George Bennett.
George Bennett. Photo credit: Getty Images

"Ideally you go into the last week with two guys in the classification, and you can really make a play for the win.

"If you have a guy in fifth and a guy in seventh and they're both close enough to the overall leader, when the group gets small enough, and no one has teammates left, you can start doing things like sending one of us up the road and really putting the pressure on, you basically have more moves."

This is the fifth time Bennett's tackled the Vuelta - with his best result a 10th-place finish in 2016. He was forced to pull out after eleven stages last year due to illness.

After mistiming his build-up to the Giro in May, Bennett's taken a slightly different approach into the Vuelta.

There have been the usual altitude adventures in Andorra - but he's used just the Tour of Poland as his one chance to tune up.

The Nelson rider was front and centre in that race, managing to spend plenty of time in the mix despite some climbs that weren't exactly his cup of tea. Bennett finished fourth and came away pleasantly surprised by the form and power in his legs.

After skipping the Tour de France, that freshness could come in handy. The Spanish Grand Tour is an action-packed, full-throttle slog - that throws you out quickly if you're not up to the task.

"I think on Stage One we have a prologue, Stage Two we have an uphill finish and Stage Four we have another uphill finish already, so you'll know straight away if you're good or bad.

"As a general classification rider, there are so many stages where you have to be switched on in.

"It's literally 21 days of full gas racing, and you have to be good every day."

The summit finishes are sure to create plenty of havoc, while there are also two-time trials to think about.

The second TT, a 32km sprint against the clock on Stage 16, is likely to be decisive. Bennett's expecting significant time gaps of "two to three minutes."

His LottoNL-Jumbo squad is mostly settled, bolstered by the promotion of young American Sepp Kuss, who's earned a call-up to his first Grand Tour after a dominant showing in the Tour of Utah.

"I'm happy that he's come over, he's a huge talent.

"The rest of the guys were pretty much there from the start of the year, and I think we've got a pretty well-rounded team."

The Vuelta a Espana starts on Sunday morning (NZ time), with an 8km time-trial in Malaga. Bennett is the only New Zealander in the field.

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