The WorldTour opener allows for such casual encounters, with white team vans replacing the custom coaches which riders use for travel across Europe. In South Australia, they stay in the van, perch on an ‘esky’ or in a camper chair at every stage start and finish, where the sun is hot, and shade is sparse.
Bennett looks more tanned than usual but perhaps it’s because of his new kit. Having spent almost a decade riding for what is now the two biggest teams in the WorldTour – Visma-Lease a Bike and then UAE Team Emirates – the New Zealand climber transferred to Israel-Premier Tech for the 2024 season, his old white kit now a sky-blue hue.
New year, new Bennett? “I hope so,” he says, before quickly correcting himself.
“No, no, no, no. Hopefully new team, old George from, you know, a few years [ago],” Bennet motions with his arms.
The 33-year-old has struggled with illness and injury setbacks the past couple of years but appears fresh and enthusiastic days into his new campaign with the team that is positioning itself to win stages at Grand Tours this year.
Bennett has spent almost a decade riding for three men now synonymous with those – Tadej Pogačar, Jonas Vingegaard and Primož Roglič – but this year is switching focus. At the Tour Down Under, he’s backing teammates, but come the European spring, as well as the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España, Bennett will be afforded opportunities.
“I’ll get a chance to go for Grand Tour stage wins, and all that freedom, that was also a massive factor [in signing],” he says. “I had some other offers on the table that I didn’t take partly because they were going to be again in a role of being a domestique.
“I like that, that’s given me a lot of joy over the years, and I’ve grown to love that role. It’s quite hard to switch out of that, to get that selfish gene back that you want to go in and attack and go for yourself.”
It begs the question if Bennett has spent the pre-season working on how to be selfish.
“Yeah, I mean my mantra, every morning, look after number one,” he jokes.
Ahead of the final two stages of the Tour Down Under, in which the general classification will be decided, that’s certainly not true. Bennett talks about his teammates in the battle for the ochre jersey, several of whom are well-placed for it on the overall standings. Corbin Strong is third, two seconds off the lead of UAE Emirates neo-pro…