History beckons for Kiwi cyclist George Bennett with shot at Giro d'Italia glory

History awaits Kiwi cyclist George Bennett when he lines up at the start of the Giro d'Italia this week.

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Bennett will become the first Kiwi to lead a team on a grand tour this week when he races in Italy. Source: 1 NEWS

Bennett will become the first New Zealander to lead a team on a grand tour, heading the touted Jumbo Visma line-up.

Bennett has long been a part of the engine trying to propel others in the Dutch team to cycling success, but he’s eager to see what he can do now it’s his turn to push for the top.

“It comes with a bit of pressure,” Bennett told 1 NEWS.

“But more than pressure, it comes with a lot of excitement.”

Bennett will go to toe-to-toe with some of the world's best - names like Simon Yates and Egan Bernal – with many making the Italian event their stage race priority this year, given that the Tour de France clashes with the Olympics.

Bennett said for that reason, the stakes couldn’t get any higher.

“It means any result at the Giro carries a lot of water.”

Bennett told 1 NEWS he is targeting a top-five finish. To do that, Jumbo Visma has opted for training in tiny country of Andorra as well as the Spanish island of Tenerife instead of the usual build-up races.

The team hopes the approach will mean they have gas in the tank for late in the Giro – but there's another reason.

“The world's pretty unpredictable at the moment, there's a lot of risks,” Bennett said.

“I haven't been vaccinated at the moment so I'm really paranoid about unnecessary travel and just being around people.

“We're just trying to eliminate as many risk factors as we can.”

The 31-year-old Kiwi’s chances will depend heavily on two individual time-trials that bookend the race which he admits is weighing on his mind heading into the race.

“I'm still deciding if they're a weapon of if they're an obstacle because some days, I'll pull out a time trial and be better than all the other general classification riders and then some days, I'll just have a horrific time trial and lose three minutes and it's a disaster.”

As national champion, Bennett will wear the New Zealand black and white, all the while hoping to turn a Kiwi first into a major celebration.