George Bennett has become an instant hit, as the first Kiwi cyclist to win a major tour event. We check out Bennett, following his brilliant Tour of California victory.
1) The 27-year-old Bennett hails from Nelson, and took up cycling to get fit for rugby. He bypassed the traditional track-to-road route, starting on mountain bikes including going to the 2008 world champs in Italy.
2) It goes without saying that he has an amazing power-to-weight ratio - the 1.8m rider weighs only 58kg. He's unusual for a New Zealander, being an outstanding climber. With most Kiwi road cyclists coming from the track programme, they are built too big to win big on the road.
3) Bennett already had some serious form on board, although nothing to match his California win with Team LottoNL-Jumbo from Holland.
He finished 33rd in the 2016 Olympics, a brutal race in hot conditions where 79 riders failed to finish.
More significantly, he is the first Kiwi to have a top 10 finish in a Grand Tour race, placing 10th in the Vuelta a Espana last year (the other Grand Tours are the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia). Bennett grabbed his chance after the lead rider in his team Steven Kruijswijk crashed out of the hilly race.
Bennett said the highlight of 2016 was reaching the Tour de France finish line for the first time. "You get the chills," he told
. All Blacks great Conrad Smith, who plays in France, sought Bennett out during the race and hopped in the team support car for a while. Bennett won fame during the tour, finishing ninth on a stage despite bowling a fan on a tight turn (above).
Bennett is a miracle in more ways than this victory. He suffered sapping glandular fever last year and feared it could end his career, as it has with other riders such as Norwegian star Thor Hushovd.
6) He's not averse to expressing pointed political humour either, as per the tweet below.
Bennett told NZME that taking the plunge to make a career in Europe as an elite professional rider in his late teens was "the toughest thing I've ever done in my life". It had been "way easier" to ask his girlfriend Caitlin Feilder out.
8) Bennett describes himself as an antitheist - in other words, he is not a big fan of organised religion.
9) Girona in Spain is home away from home. Close to Barcelona, it is a cycling stronghold and has been home to other top Kiwis such as Sam Bewley and Greg Henderson over the years. Girona is renowned for its fabulous climate.
10) Kiwi cycling pundits believe that his break through will lead to more.. And the man himself agrees.
Bennett said: "I look at my local club and the young guys coming up and here's the first New Zealander to win a world tour stage race, which is pretty exciting, but I definitely won't be the last one, that's for sure."
11) The latest New Zealand Road Cyclist revealed a secret to Bennett's success, with editor John McKenzie writing: "Having a good balance is so important; making time for family and friends is essential...George Bennett is a good example of someone who works hard to have that balance sorted. His ability to fit well into teams and his recent results speak for themselves."
12) There are various views on where his win lies in NZ cycling history. Kiwi great Stephen Swart, who came close to winning the equivalent event in the early 1990s, described the win as "fantastic" .
"He has his ambitions and is not there to make up the numbers," said Swart. "While (this race) doesn't necessarily get all the top riders, it is no slug either. You have to be in the top 20 in the world to even think about winning it.
"We will see in the next few months where he might take it."