Cycling: Top New Zealand cyclist George Bennett skipping Tour de France for Olympic glory focus

New Zealand's top cyclist George Bennett is making the brave call to skip the prestigious Tour de France and focus on Olympic glory for his country.

Bennett has competed in four of the past five Tour de France events but is skipping this year's version to give himself the best preparation possible for success in Tokyo.  

After competing in the 2016 Olympics just 12 days after the Tour de France, he finished 33rd in a race he described as "absolutely" the toughest in his career.

"I've asked if I can sit the Tour out for a year, which looks like it will happen which is great for me otherwise it's impossible to do Tour de France and the Olympics, as it's only six days in between them," says Jumbo-Visma rider Bennett. "It looks like I might be getting a year off to focus on the Olympics, which is great," Bennett told Newshub. 

Bennett was a key support rider for Primoz Roglic in the Tour and Vuelta a Espana last year, but this year the plan is to lead a team at either the Vuelta or the Giro d'Italia.

"We're just waiting on the final course to be released from the Giro, but it's basically replicating the 2020 plan pre-COVID-19," he says.

Bennett said he's loved being home away from the pandemic and all the freedom that comes with being in New Zealand.

"It's been awesome being home and I'm going to miss having a break from the world pandemic," he says. "I found it quite weird coming home at first. 

"No one is wearing masks, the freedom we have, there are no curfews, and being able to travel is awesome. 

"I hadn't realised how much I missed normal life until I had a taste of it again."

The Nelson native has the majority of his year locked in and is looking forward to getting back to racing, but he's struggling to fathom his season will be going ahead. 

"I'm really happy to be back and excited to get back to racing," he said. "The plan is to head to Tenerife to do a training camp for a few weeks before we hit Paris-Nice.

"As far as we know everything is on but it's also hard to imagine especially when nothing has changed. 

"There is still 6pm curfews in France but cycling has demonstrated it can happen within the bubble system and it's not contributing to spreading the virus. 

"We were able to get a season in last year and there is a bit of an attitude of just getting on with it, so people can sit at home while they're in lockdown and gives them something to watch."

Bennett will be kicking off his year with a surprise and rare appearance in New Zealand with a single-day race in the Manawatū, something he said he's looking forward to. 

"It's a bit more of how it used to be for me, travelling around with your mates," he says. "It's just kind of a bit more of the magic around racing that I used to have."