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OUDENAARDE, Belgium (VN) — The absence of Belgian champion Wout van Aert proved fatal for the in-form Jumbo-Visma team.
“We missed Wout. That’s obvious. We knew we needed some luck today to get the win and that wasn’t the case. Christophe crashed too. It wasn’t the perfect race from our perspective,” Benoot said while shivering from the cold.
A crash undermined Laporte’s race. and he finished the day as best placed Jumbo-Visma ride in ninth.
Laporte rode straight through the mixed zone in Oudenaarde, possibly too disappointed to talk.
Benoot briefly rode in the group that came very close to the riders who sprinted for the victory but he faded back in the final kilometers. The Belgian rider talked the awaiting media through his day.
Only two days before the Ronde van Vlaanderen top favorite Wout van Aert announced that he would not take the start after a positive COVID19-test. The team’s plan was to ride for Benoot and Laporte in Van Aert’s absence.
“Christophe was the man to follow van der Poel on the cobbles climbs and I would try in between the climbs. Wout wasn’t there too obviously.”
Benoot said. “On the Molenberg we wanted to open the race and that worked out well. We had Mick [van Dijke] and Nathan [Van Hooydonck] up the road in a nice group and it forced the UAE team to start chasing.”
Just before tackling the day’s ninth climb, Berg Ten Houtte, there was a crash near the front of the peloton that took down several team leaders. Christophe Turgis (TotalEnergies), Florian Vermeersch (Lotto-Soudal), Magnus Sheffield (Ineos Grenadier), and Laporte were among the victims.
“He crashed in a really bad moment. Right after that, the race got kicked underway on Berg Ten Houtte,” Benoot said.
On Berg Ten Houtte, Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates) accelerated and blew the peloton to pieces. It meant that Laporte needed to work hard to get back in the peloton but he managed to do so earlier than Vermeersch and Turgis. Those two never re-appeared in front.
During the second ascent of the Oude Kwaremont Pogačar put the hammer down. Laporte managed to hang on in a group of thirty riders while Benoot got dropped.
“I had a really bad moment on the Kwaremont. I felt good up until then. I was positioned too far back but I managed to bridge back up after the Paterberg,” Benoot said.
There was little time for recovery for Benoot and Laporte as the race passed the Paterberg and the Koppenberg.
“Due to his crash, Christophe was probably too far back. On the Kwaremont I was too far back and on the Koppenberg the best riders rode away. It’s simple,” Benoot said.
Once the top guns were up the road, Benoot managed to fight his way back into the race and on the Hotond he rode away together with Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Victorious) and Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ).
“On the Hotond I went flat out and managed to get ahead with Dylan Teuns and Stefan Küng. I probably did too much there because afterward, I paid the price for that,” Benoot said. During the final ascent of the Oude Kwaremont, he got dropped by the duo.
In the final kilometers towards the finish town of Oudenaarde a group of five riders, including Laporte caught up with him. Laporte captured a hard-fought ninth place while Benoot dropped back and finished thirteenth just ahead of the first peloton.
“I can’t be happy with that. I should have been able to stay with Dylan and Stefan Küng. I probably spent too much while trying to come back to the peloton at the Paterberg. Without that, I think I would’ve been able to ride for fifth place. My back started to get blocked too. It’s a pity,” Benoot said. “I didn’t enjoy a super day but I look forward to the upcoming weeks.”
During those upcoming weeks, Benoot is scheduled to switch focus on the hillier one-day races with next week’s Amstel Gold Race and two weeks later the Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Laporte also races the Amstel Gold Race and one week later Paris-Roubaix.
For Jumbo-Visma the main question will be when Wout van Aert can get back into action.