The Tour de France is only half way through and already proud Nelson parents Paul and Marina Bennett are exhausted after all the late nights and early mornings watching their son George racing in ‘le Tour’.
And it’s not just the long hours glued to the television that are taking their toll. The stress of watching George flying down steep mountain roads at insanely high speeds or riding elbow-to-elbow in the middle of a seething, testosterone-charged peloton in a hideous cross-wind is, at times, “too much”.
“I can’t watch some of it,” Marina confesses. “It’s too much for me – it’s too stressful.
“Even when he got into that break and was going well, I couldn’t watch all of it – I was too anxious and I went to bed. Then I got a text from our daughter Holly at two in the morning saying George was at the front so I jumped out of bed and went and watched again.”
But the worst moment, so far, for Paul and Marina has been the crash on stage 11 where George was forced off the road and catapulted head first into a ditch. Paul says the five or six seconds that George lay motionless on the side of the road seemed like an eternity.
“It was really hard to watch, especially when he didn’t move for so long,” Paul says. “He’s pretty tough so I knew it was bad when he just lay there – you start thinking what if it’s serious and he ends up in a wheelchair.
“But thankfully he got up and going again. We spoke to him that night and he was pretty sore – he had a headache and neck ache and he’d split his helmet in two.”
Interestingly, Paul admits his biggest fear for George, and all the riders, is the sinister threat of terrorism. The tragic death of 84 people in the terrorist attack in Nice on Bastille Day has only heightened those fears.
“The thing that really worries me is terrorism because the tour is such a soft target,” Paul says. “It’s on the world stage and there are 3000km of roads and big crowds, so it’s uncontrollable – I really hope that nothing like that ever happens.”
Although Paul jokes that he wishes George had become “an accountant or a doctor because it would be a far less stressful career”, he says they are very proud of his performance in the tour and his selection for the Rio Olympics.
Paul says George has also been fortunate to have received plenty of good support from the Nelson cycling fraternity on his journey to the pro tour.
“We can’t take any of the credit for this – in fact we are always gobsmacked that we have produced a kid like this. Neither of us are competitive and although we always encouraged him, we never pushed him.
“We found a tricycle from the Moutere dump and gave it to him when he was three and that was about it. Cleve [Shearer] and Jon [Linyard] probably had more to do with it because they took him mountainbiking on a school camp to Hanmer Springs and that got him started.”
However, Paul and Marina can take credit for the values they have instilled in George which have played a big part in his success.
George’s seventh place on stage nine may have been was a highlight, but Paul and Marina say they have really enjoyed seeing him racing with integrity.
“We really enjoyed seeing him help out his team-mate Wilco Kelderman when he crashed and it was nice to see that he was really concerned about that spectator he ran into.” Paul says.
George was in 46th place on Monday morning after 15 stages of the tour.