Cycling: Kiwi George Bennett a marked man at Tour of California

Kiwi cyclist George Bennett.
Kiwi cyclist George Bennett. Photo credit: Photosport

While George Bennett pulled off one of NZ cycling's greatest moments at the Tour of California two years ago, he's expecting a different ride at the same event this weekend.

Back in 2017, the Nelson cyclist became the first Kiwi to win a world tour race, holding onto the yellow jersey and beating Olympic bronze medallist Rafal Majka by more than 30 seconds.

The race helped announce him to the cycling world and since then, hes produced an impressive series of results, including top-10 'Grand Tour'finishes at the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a Espana.

After skipping California last year, he's back at the scene of an enjoyable crime, but he's expecting to be closely tracked this time.

"Last time, we had the luxury of going in and seeing what happens, and everything's a bonus, but this year, we're definitely going to win," he told Newshub.

"People know we can… we can't really hide and that means we have to take a bit more responsibility in the race."

Things become a bit more complicated for his Jumbo-Visma team, which also had to deal with a late roster change.

"We're a little bit depleted - we lost Sep Kuss to the Giro squad, because Robert Gesink broke his pelvis and his collarbone. That's a big loss for us, because he was going to be a big asset for me."

The race will likely be decided on the notorious Mt Baldy climb on stage six. The punishing ascent features a maximum incline of almost 16 percent, and will make or break Bennett's general classification hopes.

"We just need to be good enough and more importantly, I need to be good enough. The last 8-10km of the stage, who wins up there should win the race."

And it's even more significant after the time-trial, which played a big role in Bennett's 2017 win, was removed from the seven-stage event.

"It's a bit more complicated, in a way. You're going to have to be on to it in every stage and watch out for the other guys.

"They can take time bonuses... it's still a good course for me, but it's not the same as it was when I won."

While Bennett insists that victory didn't open the floodgates for him, it was still a "big moment" in his career.

After a consistent 2018, he's hoping to push on for the rest of the season, with the Tour de France and the Vuelta to come.

"Last year was actually quite a good year. I was in the top 10 in pretty much every race I did, but I still wasn't able to replicate a win, which is really frustrating.

"That's the only thing that makes you happy or satisfied."

California could again be his moment.

He finished sixth in the tricky Paris-Nice in March, before blowing out in the Tour of the Basque Country, getting his clothing wrong on a chilly day and "freezing to death".

The 29-year old geared up for California with three weeks of altitude training in Boulder, Colorado.

After knocking off cycling's 'American Dream', Bennett's hoping he can re-discover that winning feeling in the 'Golden State'. 

Tour of California 2019

Monday, May 13 (NZT) - Stage one: Sacramento 143km (sprint)

Tuesday, May 14 (NZT) - Stage two: Rancho Cordova to South Lake Tahoe 214.5km (climb)

Wednesday, May 15 (NZT) - Stage three: Stockton to Morgan Hill 208km (sprint)

Thursday, May 16 (NZT) - Stage four: Laguna Seca to Morro Bay 214km (sprint)

Friday, May 17 (NZT) - Stage five: Pismo Beach to Ventura 219.5km (sprint)

Saturday, May 18 (NZT) - Stage six: Ontario to Mt Baldy 127.5km (climb)

Sunday, May 19 (NZT) - Stage seven: Santa Clarita to Pasadena 126km (sprint)