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Bennett turns focus to Tour de France

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 21/05/2017

George Bennett of New Zealand riding for Team Lotto NL-Jumbo in the AMGEN Race Leader jersey prepares to start stage 7 of the 2017 AMGEN Tour of California on May 20, 2017 in Pasadena, California. © Chris Graythen/Getty Images George Bennett of New Zealand riding for Team Lotto NL-Jumbo in the AMGEN Race Leader jersey prepares to start stage 7 of the 2017 AMGEN Tour of California on May 20, 2017 in Pasadena, California. sports

New Zealand cyclist George Bennett won't be lingering too long in celebrating his Tour of California victory.

The 27-year-old Nelson rider became the first Kiwi to win a World Tour stage race when he defended the yellow jersey on the final day of the seven-stage race on Sunday (NZT).

Bennett has little time to savour his result, or the Lexus RX Sports Utility that he was awarded.

His LottoNL-Jumbo team fly immediately to Europe, and Bennett is eager to turn his focus towards a second start in the Tour de France in July.

"I hope I take a lot from this, in confidence and backing from the team and things like that," he said.

"I want to build on this, I want to take it back to Europe and keep racing in the same manner."

Bennett says there's a lot of work to do if he wants to compete against riders of the calibre of three-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome and Vuelta a Espana winner Alejandro Valverde.

"In Europe you have the likes of Froome and Valverde, which is a huge step up.

"That's the next goal, to starting chipping away and work at getting closer to those guys."

Bennett's Tour of California win was set up by a blistering time trial on Saturday (NZT), where he clocked 28 minutes 45 seconds on a flat 24km course at Big Bear Lake to take the overall lead from previous tour leader Rafal Majka (BORA).

But he still had to work hard over the final 125km stage, which was won by Evan Huffman, part of a five-man breakaway that survived to the finish in Pasadena .

Bennett protected his 35sec overnight lead to finish in the chasing group 22sec behind, holding off Majka of Poland and American Andrew Talansky (Cannondale) to claim the yellow jersey.

Bennett, who duelled with Huffman early in the final stage, said it hadn't been difficult to stay focused.

"Only when I rode under the banner for the final three kilometres did I know that I had won," he said.

"I was a bit under pressure, but the team was awesome today - they showed some serious good legs."

Team LottoNL-Jumbo didn't have a free ride to Pasadena, and Bennett said they worked had to repel a series of attacks.

"It was a very hectic day - we thought everything was under control, but then the attacks began. We had to fight for 100 kilometres."

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