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Benoot takes first pro victory at memorable edition of Strade Bianche

Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal) took his first professional victory on Saturday and it was an incredible one, as he won an unforgettable edition of Strade Bianche in Siena, Italy. The Belgian overcame epic conditions, as heavy rain turned the gravel roads into mud and the race into a five-hour affair.

The 23-year-old bridged to the powerful leading duo of Tour de France podium finisher Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and three-time world cyclocross champion Wout van Aert (Vérandas Willems-Crelan) just after the penultimate sector of gravel. He then made his winning on a steep climb during the final sector of gravel with just over 10 kilometers remaining in the race.

Benoot rode into Piazza del Campo caked in mud, but the overcast skies and grime covering his body could not prevent a huge smile from crossing his face. On the final steep kick into the narrow city streets, he pumped the air, as he knew the victory was sealed.

“I didn’t expect to go so well,” Benoot said at the finish. “I decided to continue solo after I bridged the gap to [Wout] van Aert and Bardet. It was the right move. It’s really nice to finally get my first pro win.

“There were a lot of expectations of me after I finished fifth at the Tour of Flanders three years ago. Belgian journalists put a lot of pressure on me. I knew I’d win something big one day, it’s today, and I knew Strade Bianche would be a good opportunity for me to do so.”

Bardet dropped van Aert on the run-in to the square to finish second, but the cyclocross world champion could by no means be disappointed with a podium finish in his first time racing the Italian spring classic.

Top 10

  • 1. Tiesj Benoot, LOTTO SOUDAL,05:03:33
  • 2. Romain Bardet, AG2R LA MONDIALE,00:39
  • 3. Wout Van Aert, VéRANDAS WILLEMS-CRELAN,00:59
  • 4. Alejandro Valverde, MOVISTAR TEAM,01:25
  • 5. Giovanni Visconti, BAHRAIN MERIDA PRO CYCLING TEAM,01:27
  • 6. Robert Power, MITCHELTON-SCOTT,01:29
  • 7. Zdenek Stybar, QUICK-STEP FLOORS,01:42
  • 8. Peter Sagan, BORA – HANSGROHE,02:08
  • 9. Pieter Serry, QUICK-STEP FLOORS,02:11
  • 10. Gregor Mühlberger, BORA – HANSGROHE,02:16

The start up on the hill at Fortezza Medicea overlooking the city center of Siena was tense. The rain pelted the riders and many knew a long battle in the mud awaited them. A tough 184-kilometer route awaited the men’s peloton for the 12th edition of Strade Bianche. Although, 63 of those kilometers would tackle the famous ‘white roads’ in the surrounding Tuscan countryside. The roads were a different color on Saturday with the rain turning them brown and sloppy instead of white and firm.

Early in the race, the peloton split on just the second sector of dirt, as a 10-rider breakaway formed at the front. Already the riders were hardly recognizable. American and first-year WorldTour rider Sepp Kuss (LottoNL-Jumbo) made the front group, as the peloton kept them well within sight.

As the kilometers and dirt sections ticked away, the peloton thinned and the strongest riders in the breakaway began to show themselves. However, the race was completely reset after the seventh sector of dirt and with over 60 kilometers remaining. The breakaway was caught and the heavy pre-race favorites were at the front of the peloton.

The eighth sector in Asciano is a special one. While not the longest sector, it is 11.5 kilometers in length, but has a special name. The sector is named after Fabian Cancellara, the only three-time winner in the race’s history. After ‘Spartacus’ won the race for the third time in 2016, the race organizers named a sector after him and said they would do so for every three-time winner moving forward. Defending champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) began the race Saturday as a two-time winner.

On the Cancellara sector of dirt, a dangerous 10-rider group moved clear. The group contained Kwiatkowski, van Aert, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), Giovanni Visconti (Bahrain-Merida), and Robert Power (Mitchelton-Scott). World champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) would bridge to the move along with Benoot. Bardet would make the junction to them shortly after. A key rider that had missed the move was former winner Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step Floors). He was seen driving the pace hard in the chase group, trying to make it to the leaders. A lieutenant for Stybar, Pieter Serry, was part of the lead group.

Attacks flew like crazy out of the lead group, as the eighth sector of dirt continued. When Bardet made the junction, he went right to the front and attacked the group and only van Aert followed. The rest of the riders looked at each other to chase. The duo powered on ahead and at the end of the sector, they held a 25-second advantage over the chase group.

Entering the final 20 kilometers, Bardet and van Aert still led, but it was utter chaos behind them. After many attacks and counterattacks, Benoot and Serry formed the first chase group with Visconti and Power behind them.

The penultimate sector would see Benoot leap away from Serry on an uphill section and the Belgian put the power down on the pavement and joined the leaders with only 15 kilometers remaining. Visconti, Serry, and Power formed the first chase with Sagan and Kwiatkowski in groups behind. The chase group was over a minute behind with just one dirt sector remaining.

Benoot made the winning move on the final sector of dirt. He powered through the final dirt climb in the race and dropped Bardet and van Aert. The cyclocross world champion looked the worse of the latter duo. He was working extremely hard to not lose the wheel of Bardet. Meanwhile, the chasing trio was caught by a bigger group that contained the likes of Valverde and Stybar.

On the final climb into the heart of Siena and Piazza del Campo, Benoot was full energy despite the five-hour effort and extreme weather. He pumped his first on the final climb, exciting the crowd. This was the Belgian’s first professional victory.

Van Aert had avoided being dropped by Bardet on the run-in to Siena, but was unable to contest the French climber for second on the day.

The final podium was full of young sensations with Benoot and van Aert both just 23-years-old. Bardet is entering the prime of his career at 27.

“I was a lot closer to the win than I thought but I suffered in the last part of the race,” van Aert said. “I guess I made a good move with Romain Bardet, it was far from the finish line, but in the last 50 kilometers, I ran out of sugar. I was completely dead. I had only the podium on my mind so I’m happy that I succeeded in that.

“Especially for the coming years, this is a great start to my spring classics career. I didn’t expect to achieve such good performances on the road and I first have to enjoy this podium at the highest level of cycling. My goal is already achieved with this third place. It’s already super. Anything else in the coming classics this year will be something extra and I’ll come back to the Strade Bianche for more in the future.”

Valverde stormed the final climb to take fourth on the day with Visconti rounding out the top five.

Full results

  • 1. Tiesj Benoot, (BEL) LOTTO SOUDAL, in 5:03:33
  • 2. Romain Bardet, (FRA) AG2R LA MONDIALE, 5:04:12
  • 3. Wout Van Aert, (BEL) VERANDA’S WILLEMS – CRELAN, 5:04:31
  • 4. Alejandro Valverde, (ESP) MOVISTAR TEAM, 5:04:58
  • 5. Giovanni Visconti, (ITA) BAHRAIN – MERIDA, 5:05:00
  • 6. Rob Power, (AUS) MITCHELTON – SCOTT, 5:05:02
  • 7. Zdenek Štybar, (CZE) QUICK – STEP FLOORS, 5:05:15
  • 8. Peter Sagan, (SVK) BORA – HANSGROHE, 5:05:41
  • 9. Pieter Serry, (BEL) QUICK – STEP FLOORS, 5:05:44
  • 10. Gregor MÜhlberger, (AUT) BORA – HANSGROHE, 5:05:49
  • 11. Matej Mohoric, (SLO) BAHRAIN – MERIDA, 5:06:38
  • 12. Daniel Oss, (ITA) BORA – HANSGROHE, 5:06:55
  • 13. Floris De Tier, (BEL) TEAM LOTTO NL – JUMBO, 5:07:36
  • 14. Gianni Moscon, (ITA) TEAM SKY, 5:07:41
  • 15. Marcus Burghardt, (GER) BORA – HANSGROHE, 5:07:43
  • 16. Stefan KÜng, (SUI) BMC RACING TEAM,5:07:47
  • 17. Simon Clarke, (AUS) TEAM EF EDUCATION FIRST – DRAPAC P/B CANNONDALE, 5:08:14
  • 18. Andrey Amador, (CRC) MOVISTAR TEAM, 5:08:28
  • 19. Pierre Roger Latour, (FRA) AG2R LA MONDIALE, 5:08:45
  • 20. Valentin Madouas, (FRA) FDJ, 5:08:47
  • 21. Tom Dumoulin, (NED) TEAM SUNWEB, 5:09:47
  • 22. Salvatore Puccio, (ITA) TEAM SKY, 5:09:47
  • 23. Søren Kragh Andersen, (DEN) TEAM SUNWEB, 5:11:29
  • 24. Andrey Grivko, (UKR) ASTANA PRO TEAM, 5:11:45
  • 25. Julien Vermote, (BEL) TEAM DIMENSION DATA, 5:11:59
  • 26. Alexey Lutsenko, (KAZ) ASTANA PRO TEAM, 5:12:28
  • 27. José GonÇalves, (POR) TEAM KATUSHA ALPECIN, 5:13:19
  • 28. Stijn Devolder, (BEL) VERANDA’S WILLEMS – CRELAN, 5:13:44
  • 29. José Rojas, (ESP) MOVISTAR TEAM, 5:13:44
  • 30. Michal Kwiatkowski, (POL) TEAM SKY, 5:14:30
  • 31. Enrico Battaglin, (ITA) TEAM LOTTO NL – JUMBO, 5:16:09
  • 32. Eros Capecchi, (ITA) QUICK – STEP FLOORS, 5:16:12
  • 33. Jens Keukeleire, (BEL) LOTTO SOUDAL, 5:16:16
  • 34. Greg Van Avermaet, (BEL) BMC RACING TEAM, 5:16:38
  • 35. Michael SchÄr, (SUI) BMC RACING TEAM, 5:16:38
  • 36. Philippe Gilbert, (BEL) QUICK – STEP FLOORS, 5:16:38
  • 37. Steven Kruijswijk, (NED) TEAM LOTTO NL – JUMBO, 5:16:41
  • 38. Davide Villella, (ITA) ASTANA PRO TEAM, 5:16:43
  • 39. Grega Bole, (SLO) BAHRAIN – MERIDA, 5:16:43
  • 40. George Bennett, (NZL) TEAM LOTTO NL – JUMBO, 5:17:23
  • 41. Sep Vanmarcke, (BEL) TEAM EF EDUCATION FIRST – DRAPAC P/B CANNONDALE, 5:20:41
  • 42. Matteo Montaguti, (ITA) AG2R LA MONDIALE, 5:22:04
  • 43. Alex Howes, (USA) TEAM EF EDUCATION FIRST – DRAPAC P/B CANNONDALE, 5:22:38
  • 44. Diego Ulissi, (ITA) UAE TEAM EMIRATES, 5:22:45
  • 45. Christoph Pfingsten, (GER) BORA – HANSGROHE, 5:22:49
  • 46. Nelson Oliveira, (POR) MOVISTAR TEAM, 5:23:00
  • 47. Nikolas Maes, (BEL) LOTTO SOUDAL, 5:23:00
  • 48. Primož RogliČ, (SLO) TEAM LOTTO NL – JUMBO, 5:23:06
  • 49. Fernando Gaviria Rendon, (COL) QUICK – STEP FLOORS, 5:23:09
  • 50. Owain Doull, (GBR) TEAM SKY, 5:23:09
  • 51. Victor Campenaerts, (BEL) LOTTO SOUDAL, 5:25:09
  • 52. Iljo Keisse, (BEL) QUICK – STEP FLOORS, 5:25:18
  • 53. Sepp Kuss, (USA) TEAM LOTTO NL – JUMBO, 5:25:18

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