After more than 600 race days and nearly 95,000 kilometres as a professional cyclist, George Bennett has crossed the line with his arm aloft.
Bennett, who won the 2017 Tour of California without winning a stage, claimed his first one-day victory this morning at the prestigious Gran Piemonte race in Italy.
The 114-year-old race was won last year by Tour de France champion Egan Bernal, and now a Kiwi is the champion after a stunning ride which saw him claim his first stage victory at the top level.
The 30-year-old has always been one of the world's best climbers, but that hasn't always translated to individual accolades. Early in his career, there were often a few riders better than Bennett, and as he developed, his Jumbo-Visma team became one of world cycling's greatest powerhouses, leaving Bennett forced to work as a domestique for his higher-profile teammates.
Sometimes, Bennett's strength even worked against him, in one of the quirks of cycling which sees lesser riders often allowed to ride away to contest stage victory, while the Kiwi was seen as too much of a threat to let off the leash.
It all amassed into Bennett becoming one of the world's best teammates. Just last week, Bennett rode superbly at the Tour de L'ain, finishing fifth overall, but the entirety of his work was done for teammate Primoz Roglic, who won the race. Bennett's contributions were pivotal to his team's success, but it didn't necessarily show up on the results sheet, and he was forced to relinquish hopes of individual glory.
Such is life as a domestique, but today, Bennett had a chance to ride for his own glory – and he took it.
"I only had two days of the season left where I could ride for myself – today and [Sunday]. The rest I go back to being a domestique – our team has some of the best riders in the world," he said.
"So when I had an opportunity now with this team I really have to take it. I'm really happy I could do it today – I told the boys I wanted to try, and they did a wonderful job."
The race wasn't entirely suited to Bennett. The climbs weren't hard, or long enough, meaning although he was one of the best climbers in the race, there were several punchier, faster riders – including all-around superstar Mathieu van der Poel – who were favoured to be in the mix at the finish.
They were – only Bennett had already crossed the line, to the cry of "amazing scenes" from former rider-turned commentator Steve Cummings.
Bennett picked the penultimate climb – La Morra, 2.9 kilometres at an average gradient of 5.7 per cent – to attack, launching after excellent pacing from teammate Chris Harper. Gianni Moscon – fourth in last year's world championships – desperately tried to cling on, while van der Poel paced himself as a slew of riders were left in the Kiwi's wake.
By the top of the climb, Bennett was on his own for the last five kilometres, and then had to navigate a tricky descent as the heavens opened.
"I waited until the hardest part of the race, I was really worried it wasn't hard enough, so I asked the boys to make it as hard as they could.
"I was a bit scared on the downhill when I saw [the roads] were half-rain, half-dry – that's always really scary, you don't know how hard you can push, so I tried to take it as easy as I could, but still go fast."
He was just fast enough. As the road went back uphill for one last gruelling kilometre, the speedy Diego Ulissi came flying into the picture, but Bennett held him off by mere metres, raising a fist in the air as he added his name to his team's rapidly increasing list of winners.
"I'm really happy – I heard on the radio that Wout [van Aert] had won in Dauphine, Roglic winning everywhere, everybody's winning and I just wanted to get in on the action."
Now, Bennett has a chance to create further Kiwi cycling history. After Dion Smith – an unfortunate victim of a crash in Gran Piemonte – claimed New Zealand's best result in a monument with sixth place at Milan-San Remo last weekend, Bennett now heads to Il Lombardia on Sunday, where he finished 10th in 2018, as a legitimate chance to go even better.
It will be a huge task – 20-year-old phenom Remco Evenepoel is there, as is Jakob Fuglsang and a host of world-class riders.
But, if it wasn't clear before now, there's a world-class New Zealander at the top of the sport as well.