George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) had been on the attack all day, trying to make up for time lost earlier in the race. Bennett’s teammate, Edoardo Affini, had been his companion in the day’s breakaway, turning himself inside out to set the New Zealander up for the stage win on the Monte Zoncolan.
On the early slopes, Bennett looked shaky. Jan Tratnik (Bahrain-Victorious) had attacked, followed by the slight, teal-clad figure of Lorenzo Fortunato (Eolo-Kometa), and slowly the race disappeared ahead of him. Soon enough, banks of snow were crowding the road and Bennett was hovering in the purgatory between an Italian’s debut pro victory ahead of him and a fast-charging Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) behind.
Jumbo-Visma’s plan hadn’t worked out. Bennett ultimately crossed the line for seventh, finishing 2:10 behind the stage winner and trailing a handful of the peloton’s best climbers. Bennett pulled on a jacket, wrapped a towel around his neck, and descended to the team bus, around 4 km from the finish.
After completing one of the sport’s most fearsome mountains, Bennett could have been excused for climbing into the bus to warm up and recover whatever energy was left for the remainder of the Giro. But his loyal helper Affini was still inching his way to the summit with empty legs. When the two crossed paths, Bennett turned around and the duo made their way up the steepest part of the Zoncolan together – one for the first time, the other for the second.
Bennett’s face wore the fatigue of his day’s exertion, and Affini reached an arm around to comfort him as the duo rued what could have been, but never was.
Affini finished 75th on the stage, 24 minutes behind Fortunato and 22 minutes behind Bennett (the first time). The team’s plan had failed but in that moment of humanity, the team was stronger than ever.