BIG BEAR LAKE, CA (VN) — The pan-flat time trial course for Friday’s sixth stage of the Amgen Tour of California looked custom-fit for the sport’s biggest, brawniest riders. Yet the man who had the ride of the day was Lotto-Jumbo’s diminutive climber George Bennett, all 130 pounds of him.
Bennett, 27, stopped the clock in 28:45 for the 15 mile effort, good enough for fourth place on the day, just 18 seconds down on stage winner Jonathan Dibben (Sky), himself a time trial specialist. The time vaulted Bennett past Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) into first place in the general classification by 35 seconds.
After the stage, Bennett said he was shocked by the performance.
“I think I’m the most surprised guy that was part of this event,” Bennett said. “When I looked at the profile of the course it was fast, furious, and you needed a lot of power today and that’s not what I have. I don’t’ know where it came from. I just went out there… if you’re familiar with the expression ‘twisting a nut,’ that’s all can think of.”
Bennett came into the stage sitting in second place by just six seconds after the first five stages of the race. On Monday’s second stage, he attacked alongside Majka, Lachlan Morton (Dimension Data) and Ian Boswell (Sky) over Mount Hamilton, and finished a close second to Majka in the sprint. He then looked to take the yellow jersey on Thursday’s summit finish to Mount Baldy.
Bennett put his entire Lotto-Jumbo team on the front to pull up the giant mountain, and he then took over, attacking Majka and Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Drapac) in the final kilometers. In the final sprint, Bennett finished third, 2 seconds behind Talansky.
Bennett said both performances helped motivate him for the time trial.
“I was disappointed. On stage 2… [Majka] closed the door on me and I told myself I’d never let that happen again. And it happened again yesterday,” Bennett said. “I was really frustrated at myself because I had good legs and I had committed the boys to the front. They rode their hearts out. I really felt like I let them down even though they kept me in the hunt for today.”
Bennett was the second-to-last rider to ride onto the course, which traced a winding out-and-back route along the north edge of Big Bear Lake. Winds from the north battered the riders as they set out from downtown Big Bear, and then pushed the riders back into town. The ride was technical, and forced riders to navigate a series of tight turns as the road hugged the coastline.
Bennett said he did not know his time split until after the turnaround, when his team director began to shout into his radio.
“It wasn’t until couple [kilometers] to go that I really stepped into it,” Bennett said. “It was a feeling of disbelief at first. A lot of work has gone into that. It’s not like I just got fit at time trials overnight. I trained really hard for it. My coach has put in a huge amount of work. My team put me through the ringer on position. It’s a huge credit that I could finish in the top 10 in a time trial.”
Bennett must now protect his lead during Saturday’s final stage, which starts at Mountain High ski resort and finishes in downtown Pasadena. While the route is predominantly downhill, it does contain three categorized climbs. Bennett said he is prepared for a hard showdown.
“It’s not a day where you drop back and have champagne,” Bennett said.