Kiwi George Bennett is embarking on his most ambitious season to date. Often a super-domestique on one of the peloton’s most powerful GC teams, he’s now got his own shot at the Giro d’Italia. Chris Marshall-Bell finds a man humble in the face of the pressure, more concerned with bigger world problems and, of course, the state of cricket.
George Bennett wants to discuss something that’s on his mind. “What on earth was going on with that pitch?” the Jumbo-Visma rider muses, stunned. “Were they playing on a bloody minefield or something?”
The New Zealander is talking about the third cricket Test between India and England, that the latter lost inside two days, the shortest Test since 1935. Bennett’s not sympathetic towards England – indeed, at the 2019 Tour de France he was heartbroken watching his beloved Kiwis lose to England in the cricket World Cup final – but he’s perplexed by what happened in Ahmedabad.
I mention that England captain Joe Root got five wickets, the cycling equivalent of Chris Froome winning five sprint stages at the Tour de France. “Unreal, hey. But, look, I think even I could have taken a wicket or two on that pitch.”
We can’t vouch for Bennett’s bowling skills but Jumbo Visma have certainly vouched for his on racing talent. He started his season on Sunday at Paris-Nice and it’s set to be the biggest one of his pro career to date. The team, which first signed him in 2015, has this year handed him leadership responsibility at the Giro d’Italia and agreed to leave the talented climber out of their Tour de France line-up to give him a run at the Olympic road race.
His Giro d’Italia leadership will be the first time he’s led at a Grand Tour team since his eighth place at the 2018 Giro. “Oh, mate,” he says. “It’s very exciting. It’s quite humbling, too. They’ve put faith in me, looked at all my data and believe that I can do it. They’ve turned around and said they’ll give me a team.
“It’s not something you take lightly. You can never be complacent. I’ve spent the last few years helping a few people out, and there’s always talk about me trying to do it myself one day.
“Well, here we are: they’ve handed me the car keys and it’s important to make the most of the chance otherwise… I love helping Primož [Roglič] win his races but I also love the thought of going for it myself. It’s an important opportunity that I have to take.”
Read the full interview with George Bennett in this week’s Cycling Weekly magazine – March 11. You can subscribe to Cycling Weekly for £28.99 for 12 issues, a 31% reduction on the full price. Single issues are also available for sale online if you’re avoiding going to the shops at the moment.