Richmond cyclists, from left, George Bennett, Sean Hambrrook and Kieran Hambrook are back home after a long season racing overseas. Photo: Simon Bloomberg.

Cyclists returning from European sojourn

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Three of Richmond’s top young road cyclists, George Bennett and Kieran and Sean Hambrook, are back home after finishing long seasons racing in the northern hemisphere but for two of them there is still one last assignment before they can enjoy a hard-earned rest.

George is having some time off the bike after riding for RadioShack Leopard Trek in a number of the world’s biggest races including the Giro Italia and Tour of Beijing. The 23-year-old admits he is exhausted after racing for almost 11 months and suffering some nasty injuries including a hairline fracture of the spine suffered in a crash in the Giro.

“I crashed on day three when a rider went down in front of me and I got a pedal in my back. I couldn’t feel my legs and couldn’t stand properly when I got up so there was a bit of panic and when I was helped back onto my bike I could hardly pedal.

“I had a fracture in my spine but nothing showed up in the initial X-ray because my back was so swollen. I spent the next 18 days riding with a hairline fracture and suffering and getting dropped – it was disappointing because I had been going so well before the Giro.”

George bounced back to ride strongly in the Tour of Utah finishing 11th, the US pro Challenge in Colorado and the water-logged World Champs before ending the season in the Tour of Beijing and Japan Cup. Now he is enjoying a rest before heading back to Europe later this month when he will join a new team for a two week training camp. “RadioShack are concentrating on the classic one day races next season so they didn’t renew my contract. All the teams are cutting riders from their budgets – there’s something 100 pro-riders without jobs for next year – so I’m really relieved to have a team although I can’t say who it is just yet,” George says.

In contrast to George, Kieran, 22,  and Sean, 19,  have been clocking up the kilometres since returning from Europe to get ready for the Tour of Southland which started last Sunday (November 3). After a long season racing for T Palm Continental in Belgium, Kieran said it has been hard work staying motivated to train for Southland. “I’d already had a long season and when I got back daylight saving hadn’t started and there was no one to ride with,” Kieran says. “Motivation was quite a problem but I managed to get a few good weeks together and get a few good miles so I’m happier now.”

Kieran finished second in the King of the Mountains and Sprint competitions in last year’s Tour of Southland and says he plans to ride aggressively again this year to try and win one of those jerseys. Sean, who was fifth in the general classification early in last year’s Tour of Southland, is also chasing top honours although he expects they will have to ride for the team’s best performed rider Lachlan Norris of Australia. “It’s been mentally hard to keep riding but you have to make the effort because the Tour of Southland is New Zealand’s biggest tour,” Sean says.

After a series of top 10 finishes racing in his first year out of juniors for his French team Sojasun,  Sean is determined to keep improving so he can get on the podium when he returns to France next year.

“It was a big jump going up from juniors and although I had quite a few top tens I never cracked the podium and that’s what it’s all about.”

Nelson’s Tom Ashley is also riding in the Tour of Southland for team Creations Signs L and M Group Racing.

After the Tour of Southland, the next assignment for George, Kieran and Sean will be the Tour de Vineyards to be held around the Tasman district from December 31 to January 4.