BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. (AP) — George Bennett woke up Friday feeling downright miserable.
He was miserable physically after the grueling fifth stage of the Tour of California that took riders on the arduous climb up Mount Baldy. And he felt miserable mentally after finishing the stage a scant six seconds behind Rafal Majka for the overall race lead.
Bennett will wake up Saturday feeling a whole lot better.
The New Zealand rider covered the 15-mile time trial course around Big Bear Lake in 28 minutes, 45 seconds, one of the quickest times in the sixth stage and enough to give him the yellow jersey.
“I woke up and didn’t feel that good. I don’t think anybody did after yesterday,” Bennett said, “and obviously I was pretty frustrated. I put a lot of expectations on myself. And I think today, at this altitude, you can’t go above your limit. I had to ride super controlled and focused.”
Bennett didn’t know how well he was doing until midway through the time trial, when his manager got on the radio and started hollering. Bennett responded by giving everything he had to the line.
He finished 18 seconds behind stage winner Jon Dibben, who clocked an impressive 28:27, and was fourth-fastest on the day. The only rider who could catch him in the overall standings was Majka, who had led since the second stage and started two minutes later.
Majka’s disappointing time of 29:26 dropped him 35 seconds behind Bennett into second overall.
“I think no one expected this less than I did,” said Bennett, who finished seventh overall a year ago. “I mean, people were sort of mentioning maybe I could do it. Normally I really back myself but today I didn’t. Yesterday I was a little disappointed and today, I just can’t believe it.”
This is the first time Bennett has had the lead in a major stage race, and his teammates from Lotto NL-Jumbo will try to protect him all the way to the finish Saturday in Pasadena.