The Vuelta a Espana gets under way tomorrow morning — and the solitary Kiwi rider in the field, George Bennett, is in with a chance for a top showing. Niall Anderson runs through all the important and unimportant questions for the race.
So, when does it start?
Is your reading comprehension that bad?!? Tomorrow morning! But to be specific, Bennett gets underway in the eight kilometre prologue at 5.45am.
Are all the stages going to be live around that time? I could watch that at breakfast!
Unfortunately, no. For the next three weeks, most of the stages will end around 4.00am – a tough watch for those on normal schedules.
Drat. Are you going to stupidly write about every stage at 4.00am again?
Turns out doing that isn't great for your health!
(But yeah, probably).
Ok then, who are the top contenders to watch?
Without the likes of Tom Dumoulin or the Team Sky train anchored by Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, it's wide open, and could lead to an extremely attacking race. Simon Yates, Richie Porte, Nairo Quintana and Miguel Angel Lopez are the bookmakers' favourites, but every contender has flaws – the best riders are in bad form, and the rest have yet to prove themselves over three weeks.
What about Bennett - does the course suit him?
Not entirely – the Vuelta has a bunch of short, steep final climbs, while Bennett would probably prefer stages with longer, multiple climbs. However, he did well on similar terrain in Poland, where he was one of the most aggressive riders on show.
So, that's a good sign coming in then?
Well yeah, but cycling is weird – all the contenders want to be at their best come the pivotal final third week, so there is such a thing as being "too good" early on. Earlier this year, Yates dominated the Giro d'Italia for two weeks before falling apart on the final mountain stages, while Bennett wasn't at his best in the final week either.
Does he have a good team to support him this time?
Oh, absolutely. Steven Kruijswijk is backing up a superb Tour de France where he finished fifth, and will be co-leader, while young American climber Sepp Kuss destroyed the field with some stunning performances in Utah earlier this month, and will make for excellent support either up the road or alongside Bennett. Floris De Tier can climb a bit too, so Bennett should be in good hands.
With that in mind, can he get a career-best finish?
It's a possibility – his best finish at the Vuelta is 10th in 2016, while he finished eighth at this year's Giro. Aiming to improve on that would be an obvious goal – while a stage win would break a lengthy New Zealand drought. However, Bennett has never won a stage as a professional, and in a true quirk of cycling, the worse he performs, the more likely he'd be to win one.
WTF? Cycling is stupid. Explain how that works?
Well, if Bennett struggles and loses lots of time to his rivals, he'll be less of a threat and therefore be allowed to attack and get in breakaways, increasing his likelihood of winning a stage. If he is a threat to win or be in the top five, other top riders will follow him – riders who have a punchier finish than the 28-year-old Kiwi.
What are his overall chances then?
With no overwhelming favourite, it's not inconceivable that Bennett could find himself up with the leaders. If he's in career-best form and avoids bad luck, he'll have a chance of a top five or podium finish – a historic result for New Zealand cycling. If he's merely good, building upon his eighth place at the Giro is a realistic shout. Either way, it's going to be a fun three weeks.