A ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity will see Kiwi cyclist George Bennett target the Olympics over the Tour de France in 2020.
The talented climber has his eye on an climbing-friendly road race course in Tokyo, and by preparing with the Olympics as his main goal, he could have an edge over some of the top contenders, who are attempting to juggle racing the Tour with taking on the Olympics.
As Bennett explained to Radio Sport, the short turnaround between events and the travel makes it extremely difficult to be on top form for both events.
“Next year is Olympic year and that’s pretty special for me. I wanted to go the Tour but we worked out it’s just going to be impossible – you’ve got six days between the finish in Paris and getting to Japan and getting over jetlag, getting used to the course and the humidity – you’re just not going to recover in time.”
While he won’t be one of the big favourites in Tokyo, on his best form, Bennett would be one of the riders capable of competing on the mountainous Games course, and unlike other Olympic sports, the road race is an event where the list of potential gold medal winners is wide-ranging, giving Bennett extra incentive to attend.
“The Tour is going be there every year, but the Olympics – especially on this course – is sort of a once-in-a-lifetime course for me, so I wanted to give it a good shot.”
Before the Games in July though, Bennett will get an opportunity to be the general classification leader for his team at the Giro d’Italia, in May.
With Jumbo-Visma sending their three superstar climbers – Tom Dumoulin, Primoz Roglic and Steven Kruijswijk – solely to the Tour, Bennett will get a chance to eclipse his best Grand Tour result, when he finished eighth in the Giro in 2018.
The course isn’t completely suited to him, with three time trials, and he won’t have elite support in the mountains, with Jumbo-Visma also taking teammates for sprint star Dylan Groenewegen. However, Bennett is pleased that his programme has two significant individual goals.
“I can make the Giro a big focus, then I’ve got two months to recover, I can do a big altitude camp, and then there’s time to do a short one-week stage race to do a bit of fine tuning. It will be an ideal build-up.
“It will be pretty special if I can pull off something in either of those two.”
Bennett will get to ride for his own results in both events, something that was a rarity in 2019 given Jumbo-Visma’s ever-improving roster. Bennett took an impressive sixth at Paris-Nice and fourth at the Tour of California, but worked for teammates at the Tour and Vuelta a Espana.
“I thought I reached a really good level and had some really good rides, but I don’t have a whole lot to show for it in terms of results,” Bennett analysed.
“I spent some of the year in a helping role, and there were days in the Tour and the Vuelta where I felt I was better than in any other race, but you’re not going to get a result if you’re riding on the front of the peloton.”
Bennett is set to start his 2020 season at the Tour Down Under, where he has finished in the top 20 on five occasions, and will consider attending the New Zealand national championships in February, though heading back to Europe may be the smarter option given what he deemed a “sprint-friendly” course.
From there, he will return to Paris-Nice and race the Volta a Catalunya, where he finished sixth in 2018, before he takes on the Giro, and goes for gold in Tokyo.