Kiwi climber George Bennett has declared his support for Tom Dumoulin following the Jumbo-Visma team leader’s announcement in January to take an indefinite break from racing. “As a guy, Tom has everybody on the team’s support and, of course, we hope he comes back,” said Bennett. “But he also needs to do what’s best for him and what’s going to make his life better, and only he knows what that is. We’ll support him whatever he does.”
Speaking to Cyclingnews in Oinville-sur-Montcient prior to the start of the second stage of Paris-Nice, Bennett admitted that it’s hard for him to understand the extent of the pressure that Dumoulin was under as the Dutch leader of a Dutch team challenging to win the biggest titles in the sport. “Being from New Zealand, where cycling isn’t a big thing, my friends and my family don’t care if I’m a bike rider or a postie,” said Bennett.
“I think the hard thing for Tom is that he’s from Holland and Dutch people are much more focused on him. He’s a big star there, he lives there, so everybody’s interested in what he’s doing. I think that it must be much harder. People can be very critical, so that’s very different.”
Asked if he’d ever felt the same kind of pressures that led to Dumoulin deciding on a hiatus from racing, Bennett explained: “I think everyone deals with the pressure differently. Personally, I really enjoy cycling and I don’t believe that it brings me any trouble in my life off the bike.
“I love training, sometimes I love racing. Of course, there are shit times and bad races, and there are crashes, and there’s pressure at times, but I’m sure if I worked in an office I’d have similar feelings now and then. I think everyone deals with it differently.”
He added that being a Kiwi almost certainly helps him to switch his focus away from racing. “When I head back to New Zealand for a couple of months a year, I can walk around without anyone giving me any attention. The only time people care about me in New Zealand is if I’m taking up half the road. Then they want to abuse you rather than yell support. It’s very different and for me, it’s hard to relate to what Tom has to deal with,” he said.
Bennett’s racing focus this season is very much on the Giro d’Italia. “Everything we’re doing, all of the training, is all geared to the Giro and trying to be good there in May, and also on not getting too good too soon, which has been a problem in earlier years,” he said. “I’m just trying to time the run of form to May and to be good in the third week and not just in the first week.”
The route, he believes, should suit his strengths as a racer. “It’s very climbing-focused compared to the Tour de France, which has got a few more time trial kilometres, a few more intermediate and flat stages. There are a lot of opportunities for a climber in the Giro, but there’s also a lot of traps, a lot of tricky finishes and places where it could go wrong. You can’t just be a climber. You’ve got to be a really good bike racer to survive the Giro’s tests.”
Bennett is making his first racing appearance since winning his national road title in January and described it as “special” in being able to do so in a race as prestigious as Paris-Nice. “It was nice to put it on for the first time, but you forget about it pretty quickly when you’ve got 180 guys sprinting with you for a corner,” he said, adding that the Jumbo team is focused completely on the GC objective of leader Primož Roglič.
“This is also a race where you really need all the guys with the same objective. It’s not like Catalunya where you can maybe have a couple of leaders. Here, it’s so technical and so tricky that you really need every guy helping out,” said Bennett.
His words about the race being tricky proved prophetic, when Bennett crashed late on in the second stage, breaking his helmet in the impact. Jumbo-Visma DS Grischa Niermann was quickly on the scene.
“He was OK after the crash – at least he said he was OK. He crashed quite hard and also broke his helmet, but he could continue and, luckily, he could come back to the peloton,” Niermann said after the stage.
“There was a doctor who was there, but I don’t know if the concussion protocol was followed or not,” Niermann replied when asked whether the Kiwi had been assessed and given medical authorisation to keep racing. “The race doctor gave the sign that he could continue.”
Niermann added that there had been safety issues throughout the day, given the road furniture and narrow roads in the final section of the stage.
“There was a narrowing after the [intermediate] sprint and there were lots obstacles and other narrowings. That’s just the way it is, with more and more road furniture appearing,” he said. “For me, the last 50km for a day with a bunch sprint – especially the run-in with all the narrow roads and sharp turns – was a little bit too much.”