Nelson Weekly reporter Simon Bloomberg watched cyclist George Bennett win the Tour of California with George’s parents at their Aniseed Valley home on Sunday. What he saw was magnificent.
Marina Bennett is a nervous wreck huddled in her chair while her husband Paul is like a sprinter standing behind the starting blocks before the Olympic 100m final – all cool and calm on the outside but ready to explode on the inside.
Marina gets up and makes tea and coffee, more for something to do than to keep her guests happy. Psychologists call it displacement behaviour.
It’s Sunday morning and the proud and extremely anxious Aniseed Valley parents are watching their son George on television riding in the final stage of the Tour of California.
George leads the race by 35 seconds and is only about one hour and 40 kilometres from winning his first race on the world pro cycling tour.
But it’s going to be a long hour and the Bennett household is filled with tension as Paul and Marina and a group of friends including, Cleve Shearer and Robin Reid, watch George and the rest of the peloton wind their way up the last big climb of the tour.
Cleve, who along with Jon Linyard, introduced George to cycling when he was at Waimea Intermediate, and Robin, who mentored George as a young, up-and-coming rider, are almost as nervous and just as proud as Paul and Marina.
George still works a few days in Robin’s shop, Village Cycles, when comes back to Nelson every summer and someone jokes that Robin will have to give him a raise if he wins the tour.
The peloton reaches the summit of the last climb and starts descending towards the finish in Pasadena. If Marina was nervous before, now she is terrified – she has seen George take some horrific tumbles on these insanely high-speed descents.
She can’t look and prays that she doesn’t hear the famous cycling commentators Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett use the C word. Crash – there’s been a crash!
But Paul and Phil don’t use the C word, like they did last year when George crashed badly and knocked himself senseless in the Tour of Spain or when he crashed and fractured a vertebrae in the Giro or when he catapulted over a barrier on a tight corner in the Tour of California in 2015. Instead, they start talking about George being the first New Zealander to win a race on the World Tour as the riders charge along the flat into Pasadena.
There’s only six kilometres to go now and George’s win is a done deal but Marina is not happy. She is obviously a believer in the commentator’s curse and lets Paul and Phil have both barrels.
“Bloody hell, don’t say that – he hasn’t won yet,” she says in despair. “It doesn’t make any difference and besides he’s got this nailed,” a neighbour and one of George’s former teachers, Marcus Swain, says, trying to reassure her, but it doesn’t work.
Marina is on the edge of her seat and she’s even more nervous than before.
But George does nail it and when he raises his arms and crosses the finish line, Paul and Marina’s first and most obvious reaction is not one of elation but utter relief. It’s been a long sleepless week watching their son, firstly race into second before unexpectedly taking the lead in the time trial and then defending his lead on the last day.
Then the relief is swept away by the joy and Paul rushes out and brings back a bottle of bubbly.
There’s congratulations and hugs all round as everyone clinks glasses and celebrates and watches as George, smiling broadly, is kissed by two gorgeous California girls on the podium. “Lucky sod,” Paul jokes and then he tells everyone that George’s sister Holly has already got dibs on the car George has won for winning the tour.
Apparently, George will also be naming his nephew when he is born later this year after his brother “gave him naming rights if he won a tour”.
That evening, long after the excitement had died down and their friends have gone home, Paul and Marina sit at their table and do something they have wanted to do for the last eight years. They open a bottle of wine that George got from team-mate when they were racing near his hometown in Italy.
The Italian assured George it was a very special wine so he decided to give it to his parents, saying “open it when I win my first pro-race.”
The wine, like George, had matured magnificently.