Cycling: Kiwi George Bennett confronts new role at Tour de France

Kiwi George Bennett is typically relaxed, and thoughtful, as he evaluates a slide down the pecking order at his newly named Jumbo-Visma cycling team.

With the Napier sun beaming down and the Blackcaps latest ODI against Sri Lanka on in the background, the 28-year old is contemplating a big year ahead, including a different role at the Tour de France.

"I won't be as a captain, which is part of the job I guess," he tells Newshub. "It's a hard pill to swallow, but you have to do it.

"Stevie [Steven Kruijswijk] and Primoz [Roglic] earned the leadership last year with how they rode, so I'll be on bottle duty.

"I'll be sitting up losing time, so I'm sure people back here will wonder what's going on, compared to last time at the tour, when I was up there, but that's cycling.

"It's quite a strange sport like that."

Bennett led his Dutch team at the Giro d'Italia last year, while he also shared the leadership with Kruijswijk at the Vuelta a Espana.

He made history in Italy, achieving New Zealand's highest finish at a Grand Tour and ending the gruelling three weeks in eighth, despite some untimely mechanical problems.

The Nelson rider couldn't back it up at the Vuelta, with his quest for a top-five finish fizzling out, and he ended the race supporting Kruijswijk.

"It's not that I didn't perform last year," he said. "Pretty much every race, I was in the top 10, except for the Vuelta.

"But Stevie and Primoz put in really big things to show that they could be on the podium at a Grand Tour."

Roglic, a former ski jumper, has come on leaps and bounds over the past year, winning the Tour of Romandie, a stage at the Tour de France and finishing fourth at the Giro d'Italia.

Kruijswijk has produced some consistent performances, with top-five results at the Tour de France and the Vuelta.

"It sort of adds a bit more pressure and you can’t rest easy. On the other hand, it's also a really good thing - I think it's super healthy to have that competition.

"I think it makes everyone step up a level. There are a few less opportunities for me, but when they come, you've got to take them."

While his leadership role has been reshuffled for the time being, he will get his chance to earn the number one spot back at the Vuelta, where he'll be the main man.

And the Spanish tour is a race he's approaching, like the rest of the season, with a different build-up.

Bennett's hoping to "train himself fit", not race himself fit, and is ditching many of the build-up events he's traditionally done in the past.

"I'll probably be doing more training blocks than I've ever done before. We found, last year, I always seemed to hit my straps a bit early in both the Giro and the Vuelta.

"The two best performances I actually had were in the lead-up races. I'd be good for the first couple of weeks of each Grand Tours and then I'd just fizzle out."

Bennett is planning to launch an arduous spell of altitude training before the Tour de France, opting to miss the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour de Suisse - races pretty much all his rivals will be use to tune up for cycling's biggest occasion.

His Jumbo-Visma team have quickly assembled one of the most versatile rosters in the sport and Bennett's hoping to benefit from the addition of four-time time trial world champion Tony Martin.

"He'll be a good teacher for me, because he's so methodical. He'll really stress over the little things, which I think you need to do in a TT... I’ll definitely be picking his brains about how to get a bit more speed.

"It's going to be a huge part of being a GC rider and something I definitely need to keep building on.”

Bennett is still being plagued by a troublesome side stitch, which has affected him for years. Despite seeing various doctors and surgeons around the world to find a solution, the answer has so far, proved elusive.

"I think I've got less tolerant of it than I used to be. I've lost enough races or I've given up enough results because of it now, that I've gone the other way.

"As opposed to becoming used to it, I'm getting more fed up with it."

Bennett struggled with the stitch in the time trial at the national champs in Napier last weekend and he’s now getting help from the New Zealand High Performance doctor about the issue.

"I need to fix it, because otherwise it's going to lead to another series of disappointing results."

Bennett's programme begins in Australia with the Tour Down Under, while Paris-Nice in March is also on his calendar.

And while it hasn't been confirmed yet, a return to the Tour of California, where he won the general classification in 2017, is also on the cards.