George Bennett has navigated the first two weeks of the Giro d'Italia but he still has a fierce uphill battle to come.
Bennett is on track to record New Zealand's best finish in a cycling Grand Tour, sitting in sixth place through 13 stages of the Giro.
Considering the world class field surrounding him, it's been a quality showing for the 28-year-old. Bennett sits ahead of several stars who were tipped for big things, having outperformed Fabio Aru, Miguel Angel Lopez, Esteban Chaves and Chris Froome through the tour's first two weeks.
The way he's accomplished it has been through consistency. As favourite after favourite suffered a rough day in the saddle, Bennett hung tough, riding with the leaders for most of the tough finishes. On the occasions where he couldn't keep the pace, Bennett limited his losses, avoiding a race-ruining day and staying well positioned overall.
He had no troubles this morning on stage 13, making the most of the last straightforward sprint stage before the finale. Elia Viviani bounced back to take his third stage victory with a powerful finish, while Bennett crossed the line safely in 35th place.
As a result, he sits two minutes and nine seconds down on leader Simon Yates. Any optimistic hopes of overall victory are realistically over – barring a superhuman performance in the mountains – but Bennett can now have genuine ambitions of a top five finish, and could eye the podium if he reaches his best form.
At worst, his chances of beating New Zealand's previous best Grand Tour result - Bennett's 10th overall at 2016 Vuelta a Espana – look strong. In last year's Giro, eight of the top 10 riders through 12 stages remained in the top 10 by the end of the race, with the cream of the peloton rising to the top early on.
That number may dip slightly in this edition, with the race reaching the pinnacle in the final week. A 34.2 kilometre individual time trial will shake up the general classification, and five demanding summit finishes in the mountains are still to come for a peloton which will already have racked up 2000 kilometres of racing.
One of the most difficult finishes comes tonight – the Monte Zoncolan – a fearsome 11 kilometre final climb with a gaudy maximum gradient of 22 per cent. It's a relentless finish filled with hairpins and tunnels, with the climb including a ridiculous six kilometre stretch where the gradient doesn't dip below 10 per cent.
To make matters more grueling, the brutal finale comes after two additional climbs in the final 50 kilometres, creating a stage which is likely to create major time gaps.
However, this is Bennett's territory – and he should hold up better than many of his fellow top 10 riders. In the end, that factor – endurance – will be what the Giro will come down to, and based on Bennett's consistency so far, Kiwi cycling history could be on the way at the end of May.
Niall Anderson is covering every stage of the Giro d'Italia live for the Herald. He is ridiculously amped for the Monte Zoncolan.
Niall's Giro d'Italia wraps