George Bennett has passed his first real test with flying colours in his return to racing at the Tour of Poland.
In his first stage race since finishing eighth at the Giro d'Italia in May, Bennett has earned a podium finish in Poland; a promising sign in his preparation for the Vuelta a Espana later this month.
Bennett claimed an impressive third place on the fourth stage of the Tour of Poland this morning, to move into third overall, 10 seconds behind stage winner Michal Kwiatkowski.
The Kiwi climber had progressed through the first three sprint stages without trouble in the Polish humidity, trying out a low-stress approach and safely avoiding several chaotic high-speed sprints while not losing any time on general classification.
While Bennett nor his LottoNL-Jumbo team were putting any pressure on earning top results in Poland, they might now be more tempted at the opportunity which has presented itself after Bennett superbly timed his effort on the final climb on stage four.
The stage was a relatively calm affair, with all the main contenders sticking together until the short finale; a 1.3 kilometre climb at an average gradient of 9.5 per cent.
There, Bennett bided his time. The surprise find of the Giro d'Italia, Richard Carapaz, shot out of the gates at the start of the climb but faded, being caught with 300 metres to go as others started their attacks.
It was Kwiatkowski who was the strongest, with the Polish champion escaping the clutches of 2017 winner Dylan Teuns with just metres to go, winning by three seconds. Bennett finished quickly, moving up the inside from the back of the pack to storm by a slew of riders, and nearly catching Teuns on the line.
The finish moved Bennett up from 83rd into third overall, behind just Kwiatkowski and Teuns, and holding a four second buffer over fourth place.
The result will be promising for Bennett as he looks ahead to the Vuelta, with the short, explosive finishes in Poland being a perfect tune-up for a Vuelta course which has plenty of similar finales.
Considering he usually fares better on longer climbs in the high mountains, to be in the mix with the best - and ahead of the likes of Simon Yates, Sam Oomen, Fabio Aru and Thibaut Pinot - on the punchier finish is a positive early sign ahead of the Vuelta, where Bennett will be looking to build upon his career-best eighth place at the Giro.
The final three stages of the Tour of Poland have similar uphill finishes, and with time gaps likely to be minimal, Bennett is in a good position for not only his sixth-straight top 11 finish in a stage race, but, whisper it, perhaps a shot at something even bigger.
Niall Anderson is covering the rest of the Tour of Poland, because he is - as one colleague succintly put it - "a loser".