George Bennett is ready to ride his way back to the front of the peloton after a year he describes as both the best and toughest of his cycling career.

The 27-year-old New Zealander was in fine form to start the year, earning four top-11 finishes at major events, including victory at the Tour of California. He continued that form into the Tour de France, where he looked poised for a top 10 finish before being forced to abandon due to chronic fatigue - an issue which also saw him withdraw midway through the Vuelta a Espana.

So, what does he take from a year which delivered plenty, but promised so much more?

"I've had a couple of months to think about it - definitely a year of two halves but best year ever for me as a cyclist, also the toughest year for me ever," Bennett told Radio Sport.

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"At the time [abandoning the Tour de France] felt like the biggest disappointment in my life but the first 2-weeks of it was the best race of my life. I've had time to absorb the shit parts and take the positives from it - the end of the year was definitely rough.

"It was a long haul, but it's all behind me - whatever chronic fatigue it was is gone, and I'll take the lessons from 2017."

All going well, Bennett will find a new peak in 2018, after surgery for a side stitch problem he had been managing since 2010, but which had grown progressively worse.

"In October, we did a couple of scans and came up with a diagnosis called median arcuate ligament syndrome - which normally presents pretty nasty symptoms," explained Bennett.

"I don't have any of those symptoms; all I have is side stitch. They went in and dissected a ligament in my abdomen, freed up an artery and [a week later] I'm already back on the bike.

"Whether it was successful in fixing the problem, I won't know for a while. In a couple more weeks when I can get back on the road and train properly, we'll know pretty quickly."

As a result of the surgery, Bennett will be taking it slow to start the new year, and predicts he won't be back to his best until March, when he returns to Europe.

In the meantime, he'll be riding at the New Zealand nationals early next month - making the start line, but perhaps not the finish line, he jokes - before heading to Australia for the Tour Down Under, in a support role.

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When Bennett gets back to full fitness, he believes the positives from 2017 will be long-lasting for his preparation and future goals.

"It has changed the whole mindset - how I build up properly, what my role is, what I'm going to target - I'm definitely looking further up the ladder now when I go to a race."

His first realistic chance to do that will be in Italy in March, at the prestigious Tirreno-Adriatico, where Bennett wants "to arrive in good form". However, in a season where he has plenty of big ambitions, there is one which could stand above all others.

"The world champs will be a goal this year, one that I haven't targeted in a while - a result there would be unprecedented for New Zealand cycling."

If he can stay healthy, unprecedented achievements could become regular for Bennett in 2018.