George Bennett has scaled the giddy heights of cycledom but he yearns to someday proudly wear the silver fern on the overseas circuits.
But Bennett has a gut feeling that the BDO New Zealand & U23 Elite Road Cycling Championship, starting in Napier tomorrow, probably won't be the platform of realising that dream.
Instead, the 27-year-old professional rider from Nelson will primarily use the championship to seek an AA appraisal for his 1.8m, 57kg frame.
"I get the side stitches really bad and I've had that my whole career," says the UCI ProTeam LottoNL - Jumbo after surgery in Europe revealed a ligament impinging an artery in the abdomen, known as AMLS.
While the procedure has cleaned up the artery Bennett will have to put the surgery through the spin-dry cycle to see if the stitches return.
"I haven't had the time to ride hard yet," he says after a few training rides in the past week while catching up with family and friends in Nelson over Christmas. "The nationals will probably be the first time I'll ride hard so it'll be far more important than winning a race."
Bennett, who has never won the national open crown, will be among five World Tour pro riders here with the time trials tomorrow and the women's road race on Saturday and the men's 171km slog the following day although he has bowed out of the time trials.
The others are Jack Bauer, Tom Scully, Alex Frame and Sam Bewley, of Rotorua, whose mother reportedly lives here. Paddy Bevin was in the mix but withdrew after a training mishap last week.
"I'm expecting to suffer essentially," he says with a laugh before jetting off to the Tour Down Under in Australia in a fortnight.
Bennett doesn't intend to place undue stress on his biological constitution at the start of the year as March looms with bigger goals. He has opted out of the time trial to get himself as ready as possible for the road race, a title he has never won.
"I'm just taking things relaxed and try to get back on the bike to just enjoy it, really."
For someone who played rugby from 5 before giving it up at 16 when he was overlooked for rep teams, Bennett used to opt for cycling to attain and maintain his fitness.
"I was far better at riding bikes than I was at playing rugby so I started going more and more down that path and it [cycling] just took off," he says but is just content to follow rugby nowadays when he can.
Last year was a defining one for Bennett, who surfaced as an allrounder after some commentators had pigeon-holed him as a mountain tamer.
But he has become quite accustomed to body checks. He had grappled with glandular fever, which had ruled him out of the nationals, to an unforgettable year.
Top-10 placings on general classification at Abu Dhabi and the Volta Catalunya teed him up for a memorable yellow-jersey accolades in the Tour of California in May. He finished third in the points category and sixth in mountain climbing.
That changed his portfolio for the stint in the Tour de France in July for a ninth overall placing.
"To do all that was a dream but then it came crashing down pretty quickly with getting sick on the tour. I had a crazy bout of virus and tried to ride with it so I put myself in all sorts of trouble."
Bennett tried to return too soon before taking the sensible route of staying out of the saddle for two months to recuperate.
"Here I am, five months later, training and feeling healthy again. That was a real downer way of finishing the year because I still think 2017 was an awesome year."
What he labelled a "mystery illness" turned out to be "post-viral fatigue" but, essentially, he feels was "total burnout".
"It's quite common and it can last from a few months to five years ... but there's nothing in your blood that they can see ... or test for."
He considers himself lucky to have run the gauntlet and come out the other side feeling good, albeit not fit.
Bennett is mindful there'll be some course changes here but is familiar with the circuit after competing here in 2016. He was in the leading bunch to claim the title but with 10km to go the gears exploded.
He feels even Kiwi amateur riders can get lucky over pros when it comes to the nationals.
Bennett knows too well that although he is undercooked he will wear a target on his back when the peloton starts huffing and puffing and the sledging begins.
"I think it would be amazing to wear the silver fern at the Tour de France or something like that. I'll probably have to wait for another year or two for that to happen. I can see the guys getting pretty motivated for it."
Men will race a 40km time trial tomorrow at midday and women will try to tame a 25km course from 10am at Church Road Winery.
The road-race course is the same as last year, although there is no added flat lap to bring the riders back in the opposite direction to the finish line.
Bennett says three-minute hills in Napier are one thing and hour-long mountains in Europe and America are another.
"I'm really not wanting to talk about results but I may be in with a chance."
He is hoping his love and passion for the sport will fuel him to keep at it until his 35.
"I'm hopeful we can go far but you can never say because anything can happen in sport."
He lauds the coaching staff, programme and quality of equipment in his professional team.
"It's very strange for a New Zealand guy to be a in a Dutch team. Kiwis are very specific breed of people.
"You know we're very relaxed and have a different mentality to the Dutch so sometimes that can be quite testing."
He often finds himself weighing up his options but realises it's not an arrangement for the rest of his life so he needs to "suck it up" and keep moving.
Bennett says separating cycling from one's personal life is imperative in finding longevity.
He says partner, Caitlin Fielder, has set up a business in Girona, Spain, which is going well. They have a great inner circle of supportive mates.
"Everybody is so close and we have a bloody good time together so it's those things that keep me very sane when things are going to shit in Europe.
"When things aren't going well on the other side of the world it's good knowing you have an awesome group of mates here and family who really get behind me even though no one rides bikes or cycles."
On a closing note, Bennett urged motorists to watch out for cyclists after the tragic death of mate and Australian pro rider Jason Lowndes.
The 23-year-old from Bendigo was riding to meet a friend when, reportedly, a car struck him from behind last month.
"It's a two-way street, for sure ... but it's something we need to work on and something we have a long way to go."