After two silver medals, George Bennett claimed his first national road race title on Sunday, soloing to victory at the New Zealand championships in Cambridge.
The Jumbo-Visma rider ended up winning by nearly two minutes but it was a hard-earned title as he attacked repeatedly before finally breaking free with 8km to go.
Mark Stewart (Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling) finished runner-up, edging out Michael Tocrkler (GD Pringle-Spoken Cycles) in the sprint for the silver medal.
Bennett previously finished runner-up behind Hayden Roulston in 2013 and behind Shane Archbold last year, and he also tasted silver in the time trial on Friday.
“I’ve been trying for this title for 10 years. I have always wanted to win the jersey and to be able to wear it with my team all year on the WorldTour is so special,” Bennett said.
“Honestly it has not sunk in yet. I am sure I will get home and think about what I am wearing all year – a big silver fern – man it makes me so happy to think about that.
“I was down and out a week ago and wrote myself off. I was a month behind last year and I was doing a workout on the time trial bike and I was not there. Then I had a really good TT on Friday and that picked me up quite a lot.”
Even though he ended up winning solo by a a handsome margin, Bennett was doubting himself earlier in the race.
The 174km event was based on four laps of a circuit that included the climb of French Pass, where Bennett repeatedly tried to hurt a diminishing group that also included time trial champion Aaron Gate. Eventually, he did the damage on the flat, easing clear late on.
“Today I went too hard up the hill the second time and everyone was better than me. I told myself to stay calm and weather it out,” Bennett said.
“I just kept going and kept going. On every pinch I just squeezed and squeezed them. That was what I tried to do to Aaron, because I knew he was the danger man. Then I just kept going and going until finally no one came with me.
“I am excited and proud to wear that jersey, to take it to Europe and represent New Zealand Cycling because it is a special thing.”