The future of New Zealand cycling is looking good said George Bennett following the conclusion of the UCI 2.2 New Zealand Cycle Classic in Wellington yesterday.
Bennett, who has moved from Dutch team Jumbo-Visma to UAE Team Emirates ahead of the 2022 season to help Slovenian superstar Tadej Pogacar defend the yellow jersey at the Tour de France, rode in the five-stage NZ Cycle Classic for the New Zealand national team alongside fellow WorldTour professional Shane Archbold, Xander White, Ironman Mike
Phillips, Matias Fitzwater and Laurence Pithie.
Bennett finished the NZ Cycle Classic fourth place overall – 56 seconds behind Yellow Jersey winner Mark Stewart from Bolton Equities Black Spoke Pro Cycling. He and Pithie were also instrumental in helping their team finish top of the Team’s Classification leader board – nine seconds ahead of St George Continental.
Following yesterday’s team’s presentation held in Midland Park in the centre of Wellington city, Bennett said he had achieved his Classic goals and was now focused on next month’s UAE Tour in the Middle East. “I got everything out of it (NZ Cycle Classic) I wanted to,” said Bennett. “At the start of the week, I was hanging on for dear life and just got stronger every day and by yesterday I was in the race. Obviously, I’ve got a huge amount of work to go as I will be racing with the best riders in the world, but I’m really happy with what I got out of the week, and where I am at.”
Bennett won the NZ Cycle Classic in 2011 and hasn’t competed in the event since, due to overseas commitments. However, he said he enjoyed returning to Wairarapa for four of the five stages, before racing the fast, flat Wellington circuit in front of a home crowd. He also said he enjoyed racing alongside the next generation of Kiwi cyclists. “I think it’s the responsibility of pro tour, professionals to race these (young upcoming) guys and race hard against them. You know, you don’t go easy on them. You tell them when they are doing something wrong,” he said. “You’ll see Shane (Archbold) and me and the other
guys getting stuck into these young kids because it’s the best thing that happened to us … that’s how we got taught how to race that way and it really helped me as a young guy being able to race the pros and them racing hard when they were at home.”
“So, I think it is the responsibility of all Kiwi pros, when they are home to try and support these races and try and get these young guys out racing and the level is really high you know. I am really impressed with what I’ve seen this week, with the young guys … there’s a good future for New Zealand cycling.”
Bennett’s comments were echoed by NZ Cycle Classic race director Jorge Sandoval whose event has developed an international reputation for unearthing new talent and helping up- and-coming riders’ step onto a bigger platform.
Sandoval said one of the main highlights during last week’s Tour was seeing young talent learn from the best.
“I think the youngest rider this year was 18 and for them to race against Olympians, Commonwealth Games and WordTour riders is an experience they will never forget. They learn so much as road cycling is very tactical. They are learning from the best,” said Sandoval.
In addition, Sandoval’s other highlights were seeing the great support from spectators over all the stages, but particularly in Wellington when the “Golden Mile” of Lambton Quay was lined with thousands of people, and presenting the yellow jersey to Stewart, whose consistent and gritty racing captured the hearts and minds of everyone who watched him. “There is no denying how special it was to have Mark Stewart win my Tour. Not only did he show he can absorb pressure thrown at him on the road and race intelligently and race hard, but he was so incredibly gracious and humble. Yesterday Mark said he got more joy seeing his teammate Regan Gough take the stage five win and that sums him up. I feel very privileged to have him win my 2022 Tour.”
Sandoval also thanked the volunteers and his team that made the event such a success including Steve Elden-Gray, Ross Castle, Julian Ineson and Katie Farman as well as all his sponsors including Trust House, Mobile Communications Service, Wizwireless, Fagan Motors, Mitre 10 Mega Masterton and Lion Foundation plus all three Wairarapa District Councils. He also thanked Wellington City Council for working with his team to put road closures along Lambton Quay and surrounding streets.
“While this year’s Tour didn’t have the same international presence as we’ve seen in the past due to the Covid-19 global pandemic, it was hugely rewarding to see our next wave of riders race alongside our top guns and see the community come out and support the event. I am very grateful to my team who helped me put this on and to all my loyal sponsors who made it the success it was.”