Cycling: Kiwi George Bennett jostling for position at Jumbo-Visma

bennett leading tour de france peleton
George Bennett leads the Tour de France peleton in the mountains. Photo credit: Reuters.

Two's company, three's a crowd and four is Jumbo-Visma? 

Whatever the equation, there's no denying Kiwi George Bennett finds himself in a dogfight at cycling's burgeoning powerhouse. 

Already boasting Steven Kruijswijk, Primoz Roglic and Bennett, they've recently been linked with 2017 Giro d'Italia champion - and runner up in both the 2018 Giro and Tour de France - Tom Dumoulin. 

The Dutch team is assembling an arsenal to match - and surge past - the best in the world. They've racked up 39 pro victories this year, with four at the Tour de France, including the team time trial. 

Bennett bites the tarmac in the Tour de France
Bennett bites the tarmac in the Tour de France. Photo credit: AAP

The possible arrival of Dumoulin next season would only add to the leadership congestion. 

"Any other team, you could be an out-and-out leader, but I think at Jumbo, that’s getting increasingly hard," Bennett told Newshub. 

"Not just for the Vuelta and the current crop of guys, but when you look at the supposed rumours of who's coming next year, it's a really stacked team, which means you have to lift your game even more." 

The Nelson rider did that at the Tour de France, collecting a remarkable collection of escapes across three weeks. Parking his personal ambitions, he chased down breakaways, fetched water bottles, slammed into the tarmac twice in one day and ultimately towed Kruijswijk to his first Grand Tour podium spot. 

"Maybe they go, 'wow, that worked really well having me help'," he laughed. 

Bennett even lent a hand for Dutch sprinter Dylan Groenewegen on the flat stages in France, hammering away at the front of the peloton and reeling in the escapees off the front. 

Jumbo-Visma's versatility, balancing sprint ambitions with general classification hopes, is rare among the top teams. The likes of Team INEOS (formerly Team SKY) prefer to put all their eggs in one basket, surrounding their leaders with the best sidekicks and ignoring sprint stages. 

But Jumbo-Visma’s influx of leaders means they could shake things up. 

"I'm curious to see what comes of it... if they want to focus fully on the general classification and send Dylan to other races, whether they want to go more into the sprints, or divide it up and say we're going to do GC at the Giro, and sprinters and a GC at the Tour." 

The embarrassment of riches meant Bennett missed out on leading their charge at a "rollercoaster" Tour de France. 

While he described the team’s achievements as "spectacular", he was also happy to see the back of it. Two crashes and ill-fated water-bottle mission, which saw him isolated in crosswinds, probably had something to do with that. 

Yet Bennett was instrumental. His yellow jersey was a regular splotch of colour in the peloton, guiding Kruijswijk in the mountains and blowing the race open to wrestle Julian Alaphilippe out of the lead.  

It was also the best he's felt physically in a Grand Tour. 

"I take a lot of confidence from knowing I was there with the best five guys on those climbing days and I could really play a big part in the mountains.

"Uphill, when I was pulling for Stevie, a few times he had to tell me to slow it down. When I did have a chance to give it a shot, I think I did put 15-20 seconds into him, so I knew I was really riding well."

While he was too crook to tackle San Sebastian over the weekend, he hopes to be back at full speed again soon, with this year's final Grand Tour - the Vuelta a Espana - at the end of this month. 

A leadership role beckons in Spain and Bennett's crossing his fingers he can produce a strong performance. 

"It's a real lottery, I'm currently quick sick and it's very hard to get two Grand Tours right. 

"Sometimes, I've been great after the Tour and sometimes I've been really bad. Sometimes, you just respond really bad after a Grand Tour - you shut down, you’re really fatigued - and sometimes you get a massive lift, because you've just done the hardest three weeks of training you could have hoped for." 

Jumbo-Visma's set to roll out another powerful team, including Kruijswijk, veteran Robert Gesink and Slovenian gun Roglic. 

Illness means Bennett won't race at all before his sixth Vuelta. He thinks this week will be crucial, as he tries to head back to altitude to see how his body reacts to the training. 

With the logjam at Jumbo-Visma, the Vuelta is looming as one of his most important races and Bennett wants to make sure he's not stuck in the rapids.