Nelson cyclist George Bennett continued his breakthrough year on the world pro-cycling tour with a typically gritty top 10 finish in the Vuelta a Espana, that ended after three gruelling weeks in Madrid on Monday.
It was a great result for the LottoNL-Jumbo rider who became the first New Zealander to finish in the top ten in a Grand Tour. That result followed a seventh at the Tour of California, 14th at the Criterium du Dauphine and seventh on a stage at the Tour de France as well as racing at the Rio Olympics.
But George’s success hasn’t come overnight. I know this because I’m George’s neighbour in Aniseed Valley and I have witnessed the skinny little kid from down the road learn a few (hard) lessons on the road to his success.
So here’s a few of those lessons.
Good nutrition is important for top athletes: The last time I raced against George was in the 106km Rainbow Rage in 2006 and I smashed him. Ok, so he was only 15 but I still smashed him. I was feeling pretty good about retaining my ranking as the No1 cyclist in Aniseed Valley until I found out that George only had two Weet-Bix for breakfast before the race and I only passed him when he hit the wall after 30km. Even a banana would have helped.
It’s essential to stay on your bike: In his early days, George was always falling off. It became a bit of a joke in the Valley and we sometimes referred to him as Crash Bennett. The last time George came out with the old codgers I ride with we all suffered big time trying to be heroes and keep up with him on the climb. But we had the last laugh when we took him down a cool new single track and he crashed into a tree. I’d also like to mention that the second last time I raced George, I also beat him. He flew past me in a downhill mountainbike race on Goat Hill yelling ‘get out of the road Simon’ – a minute later I rode past him as he lay on the ground groaning.
Don’t do drugs and alcohol: When George was 14, he used to sneak down to our place and drink home brewed beer in the woolshed with one of my sons (yes, George and Jeremy, I knew what was going on). Then he’d stagger off home feeling crook as dog and have a splitting headache at school the next day. The beer was nasty stuff apparently. The last time George came around for a barbecue, I offered him a beer. He politely declined saying he had a big training ride tomorrow.
No pain, no gain: All top cyclists train hard. They have to, but George has an unfair advantage when he trains because every time he leaves the Aniseed Valley on his bike he has to ride back over that damn hill. I have seen him riding up that hill after a 200km training ride looking like death. It’s a painful way to finish any ride, but it’s a good kind of pain.
It pays to have good genes: This is not really a lesson but just an observation. Two of George’s biggest attributes as a rider are his determination and his skinny build and he gets those attributes from his parents Paul and Marina. I’m often mountainbiking way up in the hills and come across Marina running. She runs for miles. She plods away and never stops. She is a very determined lady who last year ran her first marathon in such a good time she qualified for the New York Marathon. Paul is also determined. You have to be to be a primary school teacher for 40 years. And yes, both of them are skinny.
So those are just a few of the lessons I have seen George learn over the years and that have helped shape him into the outstanding young rider (and individual) he is today. I just wish I’d get around to learning a few of those lessons as well