New Zealand WorldTour professional George Bennett is licking his lips at the prospect of a bike race of over five hours and nearly 200km this weekend.
The 13-year WorldTour veteran is excited by the daunting 196km road race in store for riders in Cycling New Zealand’s Road National Championships in Timaru which start on Thursday.
The 33-year-old Bennett is excited with his new WorldTour team, Israel Premier Tech, as well as the lengthy nature of Saturday’s elite men’s road race.
There are 130 riders competing in time trials on Thursday and road races on Friday and Saturday.
Bennett, who won the national title in 2021, believes the distance could favour an international professional.
“The longer race is crucial. For a long time we went to a shorter race. There are a lot of guys who can ride hard for three and a half hours but when you get into five-hour races, you see the difference between a domestique pro and the international guys,” said Bennett.
“It is an easy course, a flat course, so without the distance it would be a sedentary race. The fact it is so long will bring a lot more guys who will be in with a sniff.
“There are some really good local guys who have big aspirations to make it overseas who will be competitive but for me the overwhelming guy to beat is Laurence Pithie and his teammate Reuben Thompson.”
The pair ride for WorldTour team Groupama-FDJ, with Pithie winning the recent Great Ocean Race in Australia.
The other major change is the demise of Black Spoke, who brought big numbers to the race over recent years, dominating last year in Tokoroa.
“It evens things up a lot. There are several teams with two good riders like Aaron Gate has a good teammate, and there is the MitoQ team who have some good numbers. Bennett will be paired with outstanding kiwi rider, Corbin Strong, who rode brilliantly in the recent Tour Down Under.
“Definitely we will see a more open race than we have seen in a long time.”
Bennett is delighted with his new team, his fourth in a 14-year-career at WorldTour level.
“It has been really, really enjoyable. We are away to a flyer at Tour Downunder. Having some good mates in the team – not just riders but race directors in Sam Bewley and Darryl Impey - is awesome.
“It is the most enjoyable start I have ever had to a new team. I am hoping that converts into great things.”
The time trials will be held tomorrow in the Claremont rural district 10km west of the city. The Under-19 females will be timed over a 14.8km course, the U19 men, U23 and elite women over 24kms with U23 and elite men over 37kms.
Friday will host the women’s road race, with five WorldTour riders in action. They include Ella Harris (Wahoo Lifeplus), Henrietta Christie (Human Powered Health), Kim Cadzow who has moved to EF Education, Mikayla Harvey (UAE Team ADQ) and Ella Wyllie who finished seventh overall on general classification in her first outing for Liv AlUla Jayco, ad the Santos Tour Down Under.
They will need to be aware of the rising stars, with 12 riders in Black Magic Tinelli colours, the programme run by Patrick Harvey.
Action on Friday is around a 24.4km loop with the U19 men racing five laps from 9am, U23 and Elite women over the same distance from 1.30pm. The action on Saturday starts with the U19 females over three laps from 8am and the U23 and Elite men over 8 laps from 11am.