Kiwi George Bennett, who is riding into Kiwi sports lore in the Tour de France, says life flashed before his eyes on a day of horror crashes in the famous race.

Bennett, who lies 10th on general classification after finishing seventh in the 180km Nantua to Chambéry stage, narrowly avoided crashing himself. Five riders, including one of Team Sky's stars Geraint Thomas, were forced to quit the race. A crash involving Aussie Richie Porte was particularly bad.

Bennett, who had a breakthrough tour win in California this year, warned against over-optimism about his chances, but it is still a wonderful day for New Zealand sport, to see a Kiwi rider in top 10.

It was a day of vastly mixed emotions and fortunes for the lean 27-year-old from Nelson, a rarity among Kiwi road cyclists being an excellent mountains rider.
Bennett, who rides for LottoNL-Jumbo, lost team mate Robert Gesink from Holland to a crash during the stage.


Bennett told Radio Sport: "Crashing is the worst part, it's such a dangerous sport. Normally I'm not scared at all, but today, I definitely had a few major life decisions passing through my head.

"I lost maybe my biggest support rider Robert Gesink on the first climb - he crashed and broke his back. That was a big hit for me to take. I've just spent a month up in the mountains training with him and to see him go home was pretty bad.

"G's (Geraint Thomas) crash was crazy and right in front of me. I somehow skated through the middle of them, and stayed upright. Then Richie's crash was on the last downhill, these crazy small roads, with a bit of rain on them.

"Everyone knew there was going to be a crash. I was just behind the first five guys at top of the hill with Simon Yates, and we ripped the first half of the downhill, full gas, taking a lot of risks in hindsight.

"Then we came round a corner, saw Richie not moving on the side of the road, with Dan (Martin) dusting himself off covered in blood everywhere. That got to me a little bit - I really had to try and get that out of my head. I had some trouble on the last few corners trying to lean the bike over too far."

Bennett came to the Tour planning to chase success in the stages, but his rise on general classification created a conundrum, and he was ordered by team bosses to ditch his initial plan on the ninth stage, which involves 4700 of climbing.

"I wanted to go with the early breakaway but the team shut that down - I had to back myself to follow the favourites," he said.

"I'm still a bit close on classification, I haven't lost enough, I was too much of a threat.

"At some stage of my career I need to know if I can go with the best guys in the best race in the world - I just had to trust my directors to know me well enough and really believe that I could race in the peloton with the big guys.

"Today was one of the hardest stages I've ever done. I was there with a handful of guys on the last climb. That last downhill is something I hope I never have to do again in my life."

Bennett was naturally cautious about his race prospects, despite his wonderful placing and the faith being shown in him by the team.

"I think I'm at the ceiling. If you look at the guys in front of me...I don't know how many grand tour wins there are between them. If I can hold on to 10th it would be an absolute dream.

"But it's such a long way to Paris and there is so much stuff which can go wrong. Especially with Robert out, everything needs to go my way. I can't have any mechanical problems, I can't have any crashes, I can't have any bad days.

"People might be expecting stuff, but if it all goes to shit it's my problem, not theirs'. I don't really feel the pressure.

"It's not like I'm suddenly the favourite to go well in this race. As long as I can keep surprising, keep kicking on."

Bennett said there were "a lot of guys lined up behind me" out of victory contention who would join breakaways, giving them a chance to leap ahead of him.

"It's going to be very tactical. I can't let the wrong move go but I can't chase everything because then I'll blow up at the end," he said.

"Just thinking about it makes me tired. We've got a rest day tomorrow, I'm just going to enjoy the rest day then I'll get the road book out and have a look at where we are at."