Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) has won Strade Bianche today which was the first ever pro victory ever for the 23-year-old Belgian. This twelfth edition of the Italian WorldTour race turned into an epic encounter 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 gained 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 Benoot. Next, about ten riders jumped away. Among those riders were Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky), Wout Van Aert (Vérandas Willems-Crelan) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) with Benoot making the jump to the front on the eighth gravel sector, towards Monte Sante Marie.
Not long after that move, Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) and World Champion Cyclo-Cross Van Aert attacked at the front and they gained a gap of one minute. The pace in the chasing group slowed down and that was the sign for Benoot to take initiative at thirty kilometres from the finish.
Benoot was joined by Pieter Serry (Quick-Step Floors) and they reduced the gap to 35 seconds, but when the gap started growing again Benoot decided to leave Serry behind. Benoot closed the gap quickly and joined Bardet and Van Aert with fifteen kilometres remaining.
Benoot then 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.
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.”