It may seem counter-intuitive but don't look at Sam Bewley's results if you want to understand his cycling success.

In 2018, Bewley finished in the top 40 on just three of his 51 individual stages - but his performances were good enough to earn a two-year contract extension with Mitchelton-Scott.

Confused? Welcome to the professional life of Bewley, who has a claim to being the best teammate in New Zealand sport, and potentially also having the least glamorous job in New Zealand sport.

Bewley is what's known as a domestique - and he is one of the best in cycling, with the powerhouse 31-year-old specialising in a role in which he sacrifices himself every day for the success of others. While other riders get the glory of racing for stage wins, Bewley does the hard yards.

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If a climber needs shielding from the wind, Bewley is his man. Need a drink? Bewley will fetch it. Is there a dangerous rider trying to break away from the bunch? Call on Bewley to drag him back.

It's a workload that means once the favourites have crossed the line, Bewley has by then been left well behind down the road, recovering for the next day, when he'll do it all again. He knows it's a job that will earn him no media coverage or time on television - but that's just the way he likes it.

"I guess it's like the forward pack of the All Blacks - they do all the hard yards and then you've got all the wingers scoring the tries," Bewley surmises.

"That's the path I've taken in my career - I'm not a race winner but somebody who supports those guys who do win races.

"That's the big target for me, to really focus on those Grand Tour races - I think I suit the role of a domestique in those races."

Bewley's role and skill set makes it impossible to judge his performance watching from afar, but when you also can't look at individual results as any indicator of success, analysis becomes a more complex game.

"The managers look at when did we get dropped? Did you make it over the climb they wanted you to make it over? Or were you dropped before the climb?" explains Bewley.

"Let's say 'Sam was dropped when there were still 130 guys in the bunch', or 'Sam was dropped when there were only 50 guys left in the bunch' - that's an indication of how well you're going, and also the word of other riders. We have a debrief after every stage on the team bus and the leaders will always say 'Sam did his job great today', or 'we would have liked to have you there a little bit longer'.

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"You also know yourself if you've underperformed, and I like to be honest in the debrief."

Bewley's Grand Tour focus will see him ride the Giro d'Italia again next year, a race where he had his toughest task in 2018, putting in a huge effort to support leader Simon Yates.

Sam Bewley put in a big effort for Simon Yates (in pink) at the Giro d'Italia. Photo / Getty
Sam Bewley put in a big effort for Simon Yates (in pink) at the Giro d'Italia. Photo / Getty

Yates led the race until just three stages remained, but cracked under the immense workload, tumbling out of contention and finishing 21st.

However, that mistake produced plenty of lessons, which Yates learned from to later win the Vuelta a Espana - Mitchelton-Scott's first Grand Tour title.

The team now have three riders - Simon's twin Adam Yates and Esteban Chaves the others - capable of contending in the major races, and Bewley is committed to helping them to further glory in 2019 and beyond.

"The guys I work with - the Yates boys and Esteban especially - they're really good friends of mine and I get a lot of satisfaction out of seeing those guys succeed.

"I never feel like I'm not a part of that. They always really make you feel like you're a big part of their success."

While extremely content with the role he now occupies, Bewley didn't initially expect his career to turn out this way.

"When you first turn professional, of course you have ambitions of being a world-beater and being the best bike rider that ever existed.

"But I realised pretty quickly that I wasn't going to be one of these guys who was winning 15 races a year, and I think my personality allowed me to feel okay with that. I knew there was a career path doing what I do now. I was more than happy to focus on that, learn as much as I could from guys who did the same role as me.

"The first year I turned professional, I had no idea what the hell I was doing, I'd just go to every single race and get my head kicked in.

"I had a bit of success in my second year in short time trials, and I thought 'maybe that's a pathway I focus on', and I went down that path for the first few years of my career.

"But I just got to a point where I was just happy working for other guys, I liked to have a little less pressure on myself.

"I decided at that point that I wanted to be the best at that role - train as hard as I could, learn as much as I could, and just become a specialist in helping."

Kiwi cycling domestique Sam Bewley reckons a
Kiwi cycling domestique Sam Bewley reckons a "thanks, mate" on a Grand Tour is just as good as individual glory. Photo / Getty Images

After two hard years at Team RadioShack, which he "didn't really enjoy", Mitchelton-Scott came calling, rejuvenating Bewley after he had considered going back to track cycling, where he had won two Olympic medals and two world championship medals.

It worked out, with Bewley now having been part of the squad for eight seasons, and having turned down a potential option to link up with George Bennett at Team Jumbo-Visma.

It was the Australian-based squad where Bewley really started to make his mark as the ultimate teammate, but he admits it was a blow to his ego at the time, especially coming from his background as an Olympic medal winner.

"I'd like to say I didn't care but that's probably not telling the truth. I was in the limelight a little bit more when riding the track and we won some Olympic medals.

"When you're young and big-headed, you kind of enjoy being in the limelight. But then when you get older, you mature a little bit more, you start to understand road cycling more as a whole and how the dynamic works, and just because you're not the race winner doesn't mean you weren't a massive part of that win.

"You get less limelight and less media coverage, but it's not about that any more.

"For me, it's about helping my friends and teammates, and I don't need to have that limelight any more like I maybe did when I was 21."

For Bewley, any thirst for individual glory has been satiated, and replaced with one simple desire as he continues in his career on the road.

"I just need to have my teammates walk on the bus, tap me on the back, and look me in the eyes and say 'thanks, mate' - that's all I need at the moment in my career."