When George Bennett finished in fifth place on the 14-kilometer mountain top finish at the Giro d’Aruzzo Queen stage, he was torn between two conflicting emotions.

Despite feeling disappointment at not claiming the win, Bennett also felt a sense of relief and satisfaction for making a strong comeback after a challenging period

“Although I’m a bit disappointed for not winning, it’s nice to be back at the head of races after a while in the wilderness,” he said.

“Since I signed with this team, it’s been a bit of a project, with a lot of people helping me get back into shape. I can definitely see that I’m returning to the rider I was a few years ago, so that’s encouraging heading into the summer.”

The queen stage was expected to be decisive, but the tactical patience of the GC contenders, who only ramped up the pace at the foot of the climb, made the ascent exceptionally tough.

“A lot of riders were quite fresh, which made the pace really, really hard,” Bennett added. “I tried to follow Yates a few times, and it cost me.”

Despite these challenges, Bennett’s performance was impressive, holding his own against the ultra-high pace set by rivals like Alexey Lutsenko, Adam Yates, and Diego Ulissi. While they finished ahead of him – 21 seconds to winner Lutsenko – it was a sign of good things to come for Bennett and his many fans.

With the final stage looming, featuring another hors catégorie climb, Bennett was relieved that the gap to the leader was not insurmountable. Sitting in fourth place in the General Classification, on the same time as the rider in third and only 37 seconds from the leader, everything is still to play for.

“We’re in the race to win. It’s a bike race, and we try to win every race. Otherwise, why are we here?” Bennett said.

“We lost the battle today a little bit, but not the war. I woke up this morning looking to win the race—it’s who we are.”

Looking forward to the next stage, Bennett remained hopeful, adding: “It’s a real racers’ stage tomorrow, the kind of stage where you can get lucky and be fortunate if you’ve got good legs.”