Tour de France 2019: Kiwi George Bennett taking one for Jumbo-Visma team

Kiwi cyclist George Bennett during the Tour of California.
Kiwi cyclist George Bennett during the Tour of California. Photo credit: Getty

Kiwi cyclist George Bennett is used to leading from the front at some of the biggest races in the world - but that won’t be the case at the Tour de France, starting Saturday night (NZ time).

As expected, Bennett's had to park his individual hopes. Instead, he's going all-in to support teammate Steven Kruijswijk.

The experienced Dutchman is the leader of the Jumbo-Visma outfit, earning his status with a bumper 2018, where he finished fifth in France and fourth at the Vuelta a Espana.

“I’ve put all personal ambitions aside, which is difficult, but it’s not a surprise," Bennett told Newshub.

"Chances will come for me, maybe not this time, but it's probably good to pay your dues a little bit. It's been a while since I've really had to work for someone."

The Nelson rider's gameplan is simple - he's the key man for Kruijswijk in the mountains. That has its positives and its negatives.

When the 32-year-old loses time, Bennett will also lose time, as he tries to tow him up the mountain.

But if all goes well, then the Kiwi can piggyback off his teammate's success.

"I think I'll still be there at the sharp end of the race. My role is really to support Stevie to the finish line.

"The better he is, the better I am, because if he's dropping, I'm waiting for him."

Bennett isn't expecting any days off to hunt stage wins in the breakaway, focusing all his energy on protecting Kruijswijk and giving him the best chance of wearing the yellow jersey.

"He's a real specialist of the third week, so I think that's when he comes into his own. Even if I'm a lot stronger up the hills, then I need to wait, because he's so proven over three weeks and he'll really make a lot of time up over those last three days in the Alps."

While there's always a chance Bennett could be promoted if misfortunate strikes Kruijswijk, it's not something he's thinking about.

"Once you get to know cycling, you realise how important it is to have a guy like me staying with a guy like Stevie for the first bit. I'm hoping he can pull a really good result off, so that people go, 'Oh yup, that’s why I didn’t have my own chances'."

Bennett's approached this year's tour differently to the two others he's attacked in the past. The 29-year-old ditched traditional build-up races like the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour de Suisse, focusing on a solid block of altitude training instead.

While that makes it difficult for him to gauge his form, everything is pointing in the right direction.

"In general, all the numbers are good and I'm healthy, so that's the best I can hope for at the moment."

Bennett's happy with the make-up of the course this year, with the final stretch in the Pyreenees looking particularly ominous.

"They're pretty serious stages. They look hard on the profile, but in real life, they're maybe the three hardest days in a row I've ever seen.

"Nothing is certain until the end of stage 20. If you're feeling slightly bad on any of those days, it's game over."

While the tour is missing two of its big guns - four-time winner Chris Froome and 2017 Giro d'Italia champion Tom Dumoulin - Bennett thinks it's one of the strongest fields he's ever seen.

"I guess there is a bit more potential for the top step to be open, but I think the top five, top 10 is more competitive than it's ever been."

Bennett is one of three Kiwis in field, joining Paddy Bevin (Team CCC) and Tom Scully (EF Education First).