By 9am today, George Bennett will know if he has created New Zealand road cycling history.

No Kiwi has won a World Tour title since the system was instituted by the sport's governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale, in 2009.

Riding for LottoNL-Jumbo, Bennett has a 35s lead on the Amgen Tour of California. He is one smooth, mainly downhill, 125km ride from being crowned champion in downtown Pasadena.

The stage includes three king of the mountain climbs and two intermediate sprints.


Sprinters are also expected to come into the reckoning on the main street. Bennett should stay in contact if his team work effectively.

"It's close enough that it could come down to sprint bonuses," he said. "It's not going to be a parade lap around Madrid, like we do in the Vuelta [Tour of Spain]. This will be full-gas racing."

Bennett finished fourth on the 24km time trial around Big Bear Lake to earn the lead. He entered the stage 6s behind Pole Rafal Majka.

"No one expected this less than I did," Bennett said. "People mentioned maybe I could do it, and normally I really back myself, but [yesterday] I didn't."

The 27-year-old is not a noted time trial specialist. Instead, he finished just 18s behind winner Jonathan Dibben from Team Sky.

"[After halfway], I knew I was on a good time, so I started pushing," Bennett said.

"At altitude, you can never really go over your limit, so I just held it.

"When I crossed the line, all the cameras were coming and I thought 'sh*t, maybe I've done something good'. Nek minnit, I'm wearing a yellow jersey."

Kiwi cyclist George Bennett dons the yellow jersey after his outstanding performance in the Tour of California. Photo / AP
Kiwi cyclist George Bennett dons the yellow jersey after his outstanding performance in the Tour of California. Photo / AP

Bennett, who is listed at 1.80m and 58kg on his website, has principally been considered a climber since turning professional in 2011. His success on general classification in California means he could be asked to perform a similar role when the Tour de France begins in six weeks.

Of the 13 New Zealanders to contest the race, that would be a rare accolade, especially given he made his Le Tour debut last year. He has contested five grand tours overall.

If Bennett capitalises on such an honour, he could also accrue more international ranking points for New Zealand, elevating the country's status at big events.

"The boys have ridden their hearts out for me all week," Bennett said. "No matter what I'm racing for, you've got to respect them. That's just being a professional ... or a hungry cyclist. I was always going to go full gas.

"When I looked at the profile of the time trial course it was fast and furious. You needed a lot of power and that's not what I have.

"I don't know where it came from. I think I just went out there - are you familiar with the expression 'twisting a nut'? That's all I can think of about my performance. It gives me hope and optimism for the future."