With all the recent transfer news about who is going where in the ProTour, or UCI World Tour as it will soon be known, certain 2011 signings of interest seem to have slipped under the radar. One which caught the attention of VeloVeritas was with Team Radioshack’s U23 feeder team, Trek-Livestrong. After another stellar season for Trek with at least five riders moving up to top UCI World Tour teams; including Britain’s Alex Dowsett who’s making the step up to Team Sky. These moves leave spaces to be filled and one of the riders moving into the top American U23 line-up is New Zealand’s up-and-coming star George Bennett.
George, or GB as he’s known back home, has spent the last two years racing in France – this year riding successfully for top French amateur team C.R.4.C Roanne, with a: stage win Tour de Vineyards, NZ and second on GC,: 9th on GC at the Tour of Wellington, NZ, a: stage win in the Tour of Tasmania, plus: 4th and 5th on stages, together with 6th on GC, at the Ronde de l’Ariege, France.
George made the bold move away from home at 18 years old and has never looked back since. This is what he had to say to us…
What was your racing background before moving to Europe?
“I started cycling as a casual mountain biker keeping fit for rugby which I’d played since I was five.
“I started doing the odd event here and after getting a roadie for training, boom that was me!
“I chucked in the rugby and started focusing on riding. I did a World MTB champs but the road was where I was headed.
“On finishing school I took a gamble and decided Uni. could wait and gave riding 100%.”
Tell us about your move to France 2 years ago?
“Once the riding got serious the dream shifted from being an All Black to being a pro living in the south of France riding the Tour.
“I didn’t really have anything lined up but knew a guy who knew a guy who offered a place at his house in Switzerland.
“I put my bike in a box and shipped off!
“I found myself in an extremely hard situation, no team, no money and living with a guy who couldn’t speak a word of English.
“I knew some other Kiwis on a French team and after winning my first race I got a ride with them, for VCC Morteau Montbenoit.”
Moving back to the present, how did the recent Trek-Livestrong move come about?
“I had a good race at the Ronde de L’Isard (International U23 stage race in France) which made me start thinking about 2011.
“A few emails later and I was talking to Axel (Merckx, Team Director at Livestrong), but ended up taking an offer from VC La Pomme Marseille (probably the best French amateur team).
“However towards the end of the season, La Pomme were in a position to progress to Continental status, run as a Pro Continental team in France (2 year contracts as neo-pro) and I decided it was a bit early for me.
“I got in contact with Craig Adair, a Kiwi who helps a lot of young guys in NZ and we started talking again with Axel.
“The good news came through a few weeks ago, I couldn’t say no.”
What are you most looking forward to next year?
“Definitely being part of a team that I can work with and really fit into.
“Racing in France as a foreigner you’re always an outsider with the language barrier, being with Livestrong I will have the opportunity to work closely with a wicked group of riders and support staff.
“I’ll be learning all over again.
“Also, I can’t wait to be living in Boulder, fitting into society and getting a taste of the US race scene.”
Who have been the most influential riders in your progression over the last few years?
“To be honest I’ve never really had any heroes having got into the sport so late.
“Obviously Lance is a super motivational guy but for me it’s about my mates and local coaches.
“The boys back home don’t know the first thing about racing but have always been influential in how I do things on and off the bike.
“My coach, Robin Reid has brought me up hugely over the last few years physically and tactically, big thanks goes to him.”
At the recent Tour of Southland, George was involved in controversy. He is alleged to have attacked yellow jersey Jeremy Yates, when he crashed at the end of Stage 6.
The two were away with Hayden Roulston when Yates attacked and hit a motorbike official.
Roulston, who was in the hunt for yellow, duly waited, : but George – who was way down on GC – carried on, not knowing whether to give it gas or wait.
He ended up being caught by an adrenaline fuelled Yates just before the line, finishing second, in front of HTC Columbia rider Roulston. Yates went on to criticise Bennett’s ride, calling it unsportsmanlike.
Is that all under the bridge and forgotten now?
“Ha-ha, well you would think so wouldn’t you I guess it highlights the small town mentality that exists with a few riders in NZ.
“As far as I’m concerned it never warranted being called a ‘controversy’.
“It was hugely blown out of proportion and I stand by what happened.
“Lesson learned, but as said I wasn’t racing for G.C and I never attacked, I just didn’t stop.
“I was never fazed about it and nobody else was, except Yates.
“I’d already forgotten about it the second I stepped off my bike so now it’s up to the others to do the same.”
You’re back in NZ now, what are winter plans? Or should I say summer plans for you, I’m not jealous at all!
“It’s so good to be home. I’ve already had three weeks off the bike since Southland, most of which has been spent on catching up with mates and family after a year away knuckled down.
“I’ve been doing all sorts, but mostly beach, beers and BBQ’s.
“Training kicks off next week with nearly 30 hours of base riding lined up to get ready for nationals but I’ll make sure I keep enjoying myself while I can.”
Enjoy yourself while you can indeed as the racing season will soon be back upon us in the New Year!
Thanks for your time George, and all the best for a big season ahead with Trek-Livestrong. We’ll be looking out for you.