George Bennett (Tasman Wheelers) had special motivation to win today’s 142km KPMG 6th Oxford Grand Prix in the final round of the Benchmark Homes Tour.
His grandfather was tragically killed in a car crash earlier this week.
Bennett, who was New Zealand’s lead rider in the under 23 road race at UCI Road Cycling World Championships in Geelong recently, competed in his first Benchmark Homes race of the year and rode aggressively from the start to honour his grandfather.
“I felt really good all day, I rode as hard as I could and I didn’t get tired at all.”
A few breaks attempted to get away in the first 50 kilometers of the race but all were reeled in. A five rider break managed to slip free of the bunch however they gained no more than a minute and half before a large chase group caught them.
It was not until the last quarter of the race that the defining move was made. A group of six riders including Bennett, James McCoy the series leader and his Benchmark Homes Teammate Josh Atkins managed to wrangle free. While they were never entirely safe from the chasing peloton their minute or so lead was enough to ensure that they would eventually take the win.
This group whittled down over the final circuits until it was just Bennett, Atkins and Subway-Avanti’s Joseph Cooper left.
“It was really weird the way the last few kilometres played out. I felt really good on the last lap and didn’t want it to go to a sprint. I took off and neither of them followed.”
Bennett praised his Tasman Wheelers team, identifying the way they had focused and improved over the course of the series. “The team were definitely riding at the sharp end of the race today. We had a plan and they executed it perfectly.”
Atkins took second in the race in a weak sprint from Cooper. It was enough for Atkins to win the overall and under 23 series titles. His Benchmark Homes Cycling team won the teams classification.
“It was great for the sponsors and the team for us to win all the classifications which we were eligible for. We knew that it was either going to be James McCoy or myself,” Atkins said.
Atkins had a rough lead up to today’s race with a crash on Thursday and a stomach bug over night, but was pleased that neither thing put him out of action for today’s race.
“The goal of the team was to win the last round but we couldn’t pull it off.”
Atkin’s victory was bittersweet as he marginally won the tour over teammate McCoy who had rode consistently all season but finished in the bunch today despite chasing hard all day.
“James is a brilliant bike racer, but one of us had to win. I think of bike racing as my job, and so we have to protect ourselves. No doubt James will come back from this much stronger, and will definitely be one of the team’s key riders for the Tour of Southland.”
Karen Fulton (Tasman Wheelers) showed her class by winning the women’s race and the overall women’s title, an honour that she has had before.
“My race went to plan today, and I really enjoyed it. At the end of it there was only Sarah Smallman (Team Thule) and myself challenging for the win. I was confident that I could do well in a sprint against her.”
“I didn’t expect the overall win, but it is great to have it.”
Cycle Surgery’s Mark Spessott, who did not ride today, won the overall master’s category.
George Bennett (Tasman Wheelers) 1; Josh Atkins (Benchmark Homes) 2; Joseph Cooper (Subway-Avanti) 3. Also Ian Smallman (Team Thule) first master; Karen Fulton (Tasman Wheelers) first woman
Overall results from the 2010 Benchmark Homes Cycling Tour:
Team: Benchmark Homes Cycling Team
Division Two Team: Team Thule
Women: Karen Fulton (Tasman Wheelers)
Masters: Mark Spessott (Cycle Surgery)
Under 23: Josh Atkins (Benchmark Homes)
Senior: Josh Atkins (Benchmark Homes)