Vuelta a Espana

George Bennett on Vuelta a España: ‘No one can control this race’

Jumbo-Visma pressuring Ineos Grenadiers ahead of this weekend's mountain showdown at Farrapona and Angliru.

George Bennett jumped back into the top 10 in the overall in a revival for Jumbo-Visma in a Vuelta a España he described as a “wide open” race.

The New Zealander was part of Tuesday’s dangerous breakaway that included teammate Sepp Kuss along with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and stage-winner Michael Woods (EF Pro Cycling). Bennett and Kuss went on the attack in the two-climb stage for one reason — to put pressure on arch-rival Ineos Grenadiers.

“It was good to put some pressure on Ineos, and I think we got a lot out of it. I jumped up on GC, and showed that there are a lot of situations that are not controllable at this race,” Bennett said Wednesday morning. “Going into the weekend, it could be important. There are some hard days to control on Saturday and Sunday, and we’ll see what they have, and what we have.”

Bennett, who helped save Primož Roglič on Sunday when the Slovenian struggled with his rain cape, bounced back up into 10th overall. Having two riders lurking close on the overall will help going into this weekend’s big battle in the Cantabrian mountains as Jumbo-Visma hopes to turn the screws on overnight leader Richard Carapaz.

“We saw that [Tuesday] that no one can control the race. The Vuelta is wide-open,” Bennett said. “You can attack here and you can make a big jump in GC, like we saw yesterday with a big break with 30-40 riders. It’s always crazy in the Vuelta. We did a first week a bit shorter than normal, but this Vuelta is very hard.”

Tuesday’s turn of fortune comes at a good time for Jumbo-Visma, which lost the services of star Tom Dumoulin who did not start Wednesday.

Jumbo-Visma wants to prevent Carapaz from taking more time against Roglič. The team hopes that if Roglič can stay close to climbers like Carapaz and Hugh Carthy (EF Pro Cycling), now second on GC at 18 seconds back, the Slovenian can bounce back into the lead on Tuesday’s time trial in Galicia.

Jumbo-Visma sport director Frans Maessen cautioned that the team cannot afford any more mistakes if it hopes to defend Roglič’s Vuelta crown.

“We also thought that in the Tour de France, but we have confidence that we are still in good position even with the losses. If we can take the jersey, we want to do it,” Maessen said. “Every team is racing all-out. Every day they go full-gas in shorter stages. It’s not easy to control everything. Ineos managed it [in stage 7]. Ineos had to work hard yesterday. We did it for a week, and we also had some difficulty. When you have the leader’s jersey, you cannot make any mistakes.”

The Vuelta sees another important uphill finish Wednesday at Alto de Moncavillo, a first-category climb at 9.8km at 5.3 percent. Carapaz said it’s one more hurdle along the way to this weekend’s big-climb showdown that includes the Farrapona and Angliru summit finales stacked up Saturday and Sunday.

“It’s a hard, difficult climb,” Carapaz said. “It will be an important day for us to defend the jersey and for the GC. We can expect some attacks, because the people interested in the GC will try to move. The day is also important for us.”

The abridged version of the 2020 Vuelta has produced some exciting racing in its first week. After the coronavirus pandemic forced organizers to cancel the opening stages in The Netherlands and later three days across Portugal, Sunday’s summit finish in France was also rerouted to stay in Spain.

The peloton received a clean bill of health Monday after all riders cleared COVID-19 controls, and the Vuelta can pedal toward its decisive weekend with all eyes on the race.

Bennett said riders and teams are leaving everything out on the road because everyone knows they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

“The Vuelta is full-gas every day. It’s not like the Tour, with any control. It’s just madness,” Bennett said. “I’ve never done Angliru, and it’s going to be hard Sunday. Saturday could be even tougher. I think Zoncolan might be the harder climb, but the Angliru is just absolutely brutal in the last part.”