George Bennett needs to be patient in Tour de France, says Hayden Roulston
That's the line of advice Hayden Roulston gave his former team-mate George Bennett, who broke into the top 10 at the Tour de France on Monday morning (NZT).
Roulston, who rode in the 2009 Tour, sent a message to the LottoNL-Jumbo rider following his incredible seventh placing on stage nine's 181.5km trek from Nantua to Chambery.
In that message was the same piece of advice he shared when the two Kiwis rode together at RadioShack-Nissan in 2013 and again when Bennett won the Tour of California earlier this year.
"I said, which is the same as what I've said to him all year, just follow. Follow the leaders. Let the big leaders make the mistakes, let them take all that pressure on their shoulders. As soon as you show too much then the pressure starts coming," Roulston said.
"I think for George, anything from now where he's placed in the top 10 is absolutely amazing. I don't think he probably expected that but you've got to get to that last week with energy in the muscles and if he can get to that last week without showing himself and he's still in the top 10, then he's got a good chance of doing even better because that's when the wheels fall off a lot of other riders."
With team leader Robert Gesink crashing out of the Tour on a chaotic stage, which also claimed hopefuls Richie Porte (BMC) and Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), all of a sudden Team Lotto-NL Jumbo will have to adjust their focus and Roulston said Bennett should be the beneficiary of their new gameplan, now able to push for general classification honours.
"They've lost Robert Gesink and that's a negative for the team but it's a boost for George. He's just got to be smart."
But should the team have backed Bennett from the beginning? Well, yes was Roulston's answer but the 36-year-old also understood why the Dutch team would favour Dutch rider Gesink.
"They will now. They have to now. But they're not a New Zealand team. They're a Dutch team with Dutch riders and Dutch sprinters, and they want a Dutch victory," he said.
"Of course they'd like George to win but he's not the priority in the team and that's just the way professional cycling works. But at the end of the day if George can move up the GC, which he'll do if he's smart about it, then they'll take that and put everything into him.
"It takes more than one big result like he had in California to really get bragging rights in that team. They've got a team of a lot of good riders and George has had one very good result but this is the start of George's career and who knows what will happen from here."
Roulston described Bennett, who last year became the first Kiwi to finish inside the top 10 in a Grand Tour and earlier this year became the first to win a World Tour event, as a "hard little bugger" with a "big future".
"He'll be shocked at the moment but good things come to those who work hard and he hasn't had it easy. I've seen many things with George in teams throughout the years where he's been suffering but he's a hard little bugger and he gets it done.
"Any Kiwi that turns professional is capable of something big because it's so hard for a Kiwi to turn pro and you don't see many Kiwis turning pro. I knew straight away that he had the goods and I've seen him race closely, both against him and in the same team, and I've seen glimpses of it but this year he's really stepped up and now he's away."
There is a record number of Kiwis racing in the Tour de France this year - Jack Bauer, Dion Smith and Paddy Bevin are the others - and Roulston said Bennett's continued success on the biggest stage could have a huge impact on New Zealand cycling in the future.
"100 per cent. New Zealand cycling started way back in the day and if you think of how popular track cycling is, well that started with Sarah Ulmer and that sort of era and it's just kicked on. Through Greg Henderson, Julian [Dean] and myself, and now George, I think it's just going to kick off on the road.
"It's going to grow slowly, things don't happen overnight, but it's going to be great for road cycling and I'm sure there's a lot of young kids watching that now thinking 'wow, that's a Kiwi who still races nationals and he's doing that.'"