Tiesj Benoot has won Strade Bianche today after an impressive effort! It’s the first pro victory ever for the nearly 24-year-old Lotto Soudal rider! And what a victory it is! This twelfth edition of Strade Bianche (WorldTour) became an epic race because of the cold and the rain that made the gravel sectors very muddy.
The race started well for Lotto Soudal as European time trial champion Victor Campenaerts was part of a breakaway of eight riders. This front group got six minutes advantage over the bunch that split early on in the race. With sixty kilometres to go, Campenaerts and the other escapees got reeled in by a large chasing group including Tiesj Benoot. Next, about ten riders jumped away. Among those riders were Kwiatkowski, Van Aert and Valverde. A strong group, no doubt. After Campenaerts had pulled at the head of the chasing group to keep the gap as small as possible, Tiesj Benoot made the jump to the front on the eighth gravel sector, towards Monte Sante Marie.
Not long after that move, Romain Bardet and world champion cyclo-cross Wout Van Aert attacked at the front. They could create a gap of one minute. The pace in the chasing group slowed down and that was the sign for Tiesj Benoot to take initiative at thirty kilometres from the finish. He was accompanied by Pieter Serry. They reduced the gap to 35 seconds, but when the gap started growing again Benoot decided to leave Serry behind. Benoot closed the gap rather quickly and joined Bardet and Van Aert with fifteen kilometres remaining. Benoot attacked on the last gravel sector and entered the last ten kilometres solo. He kept on increasing his lead and could enjoy the last moments of the race before triumphing on Il Campo in Siena! Romain Bardet finished second, ahead of Wout Van Aert.
Earlier this week, Benoot had said he wanted to do better than his two eighth places in the previous two editions of Strade Bianche. Mission accomplished!
Tiesj Benoot: “After the break with Victor Campenaerts had been caught, Victor did a lot of pulling. When there was no cooperation in the group anymore, both sports director Bart Leysen and I thought it would be best to attack. That turned out to be the right decision. The same scenario got repeated when Bardet and Van Aert rode together at the front. I felt my legs were good and that I had to try something, because there was no team left that would close the gap. Serry was the perfect companion, he immediately helped chasing. I noticed that I was better than him though and that’s why I decided to leave him behind. I knew the part where I accelerated from the past two years and I knew that it would be possible to still close the gap. I succeeded in closing the gap pretty smoothly and then I realized I was the strongest at the front. I attacked on the last gravel sector and immediately had a nice lead. Then it was a matter of not crashing and having no flat tyre. When the team car rode behind me, I was less worried. I didn’t want to let my first pro victory slip through my fingers!”
“I had a super day. It was cold and it rained, but I never had problems with that kind of weather. The Strade Bianche is one of my favourite races and one of the races that suits me best. Only strong riders have won this race and it’s wonderful to see my name among them! The altitude training camp at Sierra Nevada clearly was the perfect preparation. If this first pro victory adds any pressure? The expectations have always been high since I got fifth at Ronde van Vlaanderen 2015 as a neo-pro. I can cope with that really well. I always kept believing in myself and I knew this victory would come one day.”