At a time where he's celebrating his first professional stage win, George Bennett is frustrated with his home country.

The Kiwi cyclist won the Gran Piemonte race in the Apennine Mountains in Italy on Thursday, allowing him to raise his arms aloft for the first time in his storied career.

That's despite him winning the Tour of California in 2017.

"It's a bit of a strange stat," the Jumbo-Visma rider tells the Herald.

Advertisement

"Sometimes I'd just think s**t… I knew I only had Piemonte and then this weekend in a free role, before going back to being a help rider at the Tour de France. So it was a bit of 'oh man, it's going to be another year without a win' and so I really wanted to just tick it off."

The 30-year-old concedes the course of the 114-year old race wasn't as difficult as when Colombian Egan Bernal claimed it last year, before going on to win the Tour de France.

"They actually changed the course," Bennett explains, "I said to one of our really fast climbers that he needs to just look after himself and be ready if it comes back for a sprint. But I still wanted to try it and was lucky enough I was able to make enough of a gap on the hill and then took more time down the hill and through the corners which were on wet roads. They were pretty scary."

New Zealand's George Bennett celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the Gran Piemonte. Photo / AP
New Zealand's George Bennett celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the Gran Piemonte. Photo / AP

It also gives him a massive confidence boost heading into Il Lombardia in Lombardy, Italy on Sunday.

"It's one of the monuments of cycling. The reason I did Piemonte was for this. I knew it'd be good prep for Lombardia. We think we have a good chance, the course suits me better than Piemonte. It's got a lot more of a climbing focus as opposed to technical and absolute punch. So yeah, I'm excited for it."

Not long after winning Piemonte, Bennett was hit with the news that the road world championships would be moved from Switzerland, although there is scepticism whether the event will find a new home this year.

Bennett's gutted.

"It was a race that I really wanted to target because I think it was the hardest world champs course in years. It was going to be a week after the Tour, I could go for myself and I really love racing with the Kiwi boys."

Advertisement
Subscribe to Premium

And just like that, the conversation turns from cycling to Covid. At the start of the call Bennett asks how everything is back home, with the return of Covid-19 restrictions. When that's brought back up, the Nelson native laughs.

"It's not really lockdown though, is it? Even in Auckland. When we were in lockdown over here [Catalunya] it was two and a half months of 'don't leave your house, you're not allowed outside for exercise, you're not allowed out for a minute of the day'. New Zealand is so lucky with how everything has been with things like live sport."

That's where the frustration comes into it.

"We have 450 cases a day here, and so that's why it's good New Zealand is going back in [to the alert levels] so quickly. But it's also why I get annoyed at people talking about not wanting to wear a mask. I'm at a hotel and I don't even walk into a corridor without putting my mask on. I start bike races with a mask on, we have masks on when we're on the bus. It's not an inconvenience to put a mask on.

"Some Kiwis have no idea what's actually happening and how bad it can get when it's over here and when you see what Covid can look like. People talk about how it's just a bad flu and all of this conspiracy nonsense that you just think 'ugh, pull your head in and do your part' because if you get on top of it quickly like the New Zealand Government is doing, you get all sorts of benefits."

George Bennett wears a mask whenever he's not racing - including on the podium after winning Gran Piemonte. Photo / Photosport
George Bennett wears a mask whenever he's not racing - including on the podium after winning Gran Piemonte. Photo / Photosport

The pandemic's also made Bennett change how he views the job which allows him to compete around the world in the sport he loves.

Advertisement

"It is kind of surprising we're racing, but I get tested twice a week, and then when I go to the Tour, it'll be even more. So I'm taking every race day at the moment as the last one."