Bennett, 30, said he was surprised by his Dumoulin’s recent shock decision to indefinitely step away from the pro peloton, but hoped that time away would unlock his Dutch teammate’s return to the fold at Jumbo-Visma.
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“I wouldn’t say I saw it coming,” Bennett told website Stuff. “I know Tom pretty well, I did a lot of race days with him last year and spent a lot of time with him last year.”
Dumoulin’s decision last month to put a pause on his racing career came as a surprise to those within the team and the world at large, and sent ripples of support and sympathy through the peloton.
Greg Van Avermaet, Wout van Aert, and retired sprint star Marcel Kittel have all extended their wishes to the Dutchman in the past weeks, and Bennett, who rode through the Tour de France with Dumoulin last summer, similarly passed his support to his teammate.
“He was quite open about the stress it caused him,” Bennett said Saturday. “I think this will be really good for him to take some time out and get his head around how to deal with it, and get away from the expectation that he perceives that everyone has with him and try to find the love for it again.”
The shockwave that spread through the cycling world when Dumoulin said he needed a break to “consider his cycling future” just the day after being confirmed as a co-leader for the Tour de France was strongest in The Netherlands.
Dumoulin is a near-celebrity in his cycling-mad nation, and has shouldered the weighty expectations of home fans and media since his rise to grand tour glory with Team Sunweb in 2017. Ever since scoring his breakout victory at the Giro d’Italia that year, Dumoulin has struggled with the perceived expectations of his team and the hype the world around him.
New Zealander Bennett has little such problem, racing on the other side of a world from his home of rugby union and cricket followers.
“Being one of the best cyclists in the world as a Dutchman comes with a lot of pressure,” he said. “It’s one of the biggest sports over there and I’m actually lucky in New Zealand you don’t have that pressure that maybe a Dutchman has being a sporting star of their country.”
As one of the leading lights of the Kiwi peloton, Bennett is placing his focus on the Olympics this summer, so much so that he has been placed at the lead of Jumbo-Visma at the Giro d’Italia rather than being drafted into the Tour squad to play superdomestique.
Bennett said that he doesn’t want his build to Tokyo complicated or jeopardized by racing for three weeks in France in the month prior to the Games. As one of the top climbers in team Jumbo-Visma, it could be Bennett that gets the call to replace Dumoulin in the Tour de France squad – a privilege he’d rather bypass.
“It’s not often you hear someone say they don’t want to do the Tour, but I really want to do the Olympics well and I couldn’t do the Tour and the Olympics as well, so it’d be a bit of a disaster for the Olympics if I did get called into the Tour squad,” he said.
“In every other year of my career I’d love to race the Tour, I want to be part of it, it’s my favorite race and it’s why I do cycling. I love it, but not in an Olympic year so hopefully nothing changes on that front.”
Bennett was originally due to race the Giro last year only to be reallocated to the Tour squad when the Games postponed. He duly teamed up with Dumoulin, Sepp Kuss, Wout van Aert and Robert Gesink in providing the steamroller tempo that left Primož Roglič within one stage of the yellow jersey.
The Kiwi said that if duty calls him to the Tour again this summer, he will fully commit to supporting Roglič in his yellow jersey quest.
“If that’s what I have to do then that’s what I have to do and I’m not going to complain or kick up a fuss,” he said. “I’ll throw myself behind it.”