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Bennett wins Tour of California

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 20/05/2017

George Bennett has won the Tour of California, the first New Zealander to win a cycling World Tour stage race.

While Evan Huffman emerged from the breakaway to win the 125km final stage, Bennett finished safely in the chasing group to claim the overall race.

Huffman was part of a five-man breakaway that survived to the finish in Pasadena but Bennett protected his 35sec overnight lead to finish in the chasing group 22sec behind.

That allowed the 27-year-old Kiwi, who rides for Dutch outfit LottoNL-Jumbo, to hold off BORA's Rafal Majka of Poland and American Andrew Talansky (Cannondale) for the yellow jersey.

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

The Nelson rider, 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, and so thanks to them."

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

The stage started in High Mountain and after a long descent, the riders climbed two second category and one third category mountain.

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

The win is a big boost for Team LottoNL-Jumbo, marking the team's first overall victory in a World Tour race since 2013.

For Bennett, it's also a huge boost in confidence, and he's already looking to the future.

"I'm going to build on this, this victory will make a big difference to me. I want to back this up in Europe."

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