New Zealand cyclist George Bennett has described The Bible as "a storybook that got out of hand" when highlighting the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

The 28-year-old LottoNL-Jumbo rider has been outspoken about the city of Jerusalem — one of the world's most contested regions — while competing in the Giro d'Italia.

Jerusalem was the scene for the race's opening stage before two more were completed within Israel.

Speaking to The Cycling Podcast, Bennett said he enjoyed the atmosphere in the city but within reason.

Advertisement

"If you look at the city as a whole and ignore the politics — it's obviously so deeply oppressed at the moment — it's nice. I guess a lot of people in Jerusalem are there for spiritual holidays but I don't feel anything for religious artefacts or places.

"For me, it [The Bible] is just a storybook that got out of hand."

Bennett's Twitter profile describes him as an "antitheist", a term generally used to define someone opposed to believing in the existence of a God or gods.

The cyclist addressed his disappointment at the lack of Palestine recognition on the tour, given both countries assert claims over Jerusalem.

"The reality is that I'm not really educated on it enough to make statements [on the political situation] or draw conclusions," Bennett said.

"Palestine is noticeable by its absence. There's just no sign that there's a whole other country, which is a bit weird and disappointing.

"I would like to have seen some acknowledgement."

Bennett is not alone in his views, sharing them with activist groups concerned about hosting the race in the controversial region. As a result, some Palestinian groups have tagged him in Twitter posts.

"It's not as simple as one side's right and one side's wrong, it's just a complicated situation and that's no reason not to have a bike race here," he said.

Bennett, who remained in the top 10 overall after finishing 30th on stage seven of the race yesterday, is the latest elite athlete to state his beliefs on religion's role in society — after Australian rugby player Israel Folau last month controversially claimed God's plan for gay people was "hell unless they repent their sins" and caused ructions at Rugby Australia.

To get the day's top sports stories in your inbox, sign up to our newsletter here