FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Belgian Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal), free of burdens after his recent Strade Bianche win through the Tuscan mud, is now looking ahead to the cobbled classics E3 Harelbeke and the Tour of Flanders.
Benoot, now 24, won his first professional race two weeks ago in Siena. It followed three years of pressure, after he debuted in the Tour of Flanders at age 21 with a fifth-place finish.
“For the outsiders, that win was huge for him,” Lotto-Soudal general manager Marc Sergeant told VeloNews. [related title=”More on Tiesj Benoot” align=”left” tag=”Tiesj-Benoot”]
“It was very important for him to win, it was his first win, it was like a 50kg bag was there for two years, because in Belgium they made a superstar of him and then broke him down little by little.
“To get that first win, he said, now they all look differently to me now. The riders also.”
Benoot bridged to Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), who was third in the last Tour de France, and cyclocross world champion Wout Van Aert (Veranda’s Willems-Crelan). He dropped them on the last gravel sector to ride into Siena’s famous square solo.
“The mental thing wasn’t a big issue, you just need the legs to do it. To get [the win] finally is beautiful,” Benoot said.
“The annoying questions will stop now. It’s been almost three years since that Flanders place. Now, with the first win, they compare me with every top cyclist, saying how young I was to win. It’s a typical thing of Belgian press. It’s part of the cycling culture at home.”
Sergeant and Benoot have a modified program that allows Benoot to target the races that suit him. He skipped Milano-Sanremo after Tirreno-Adriatico to prepare for E3 Harelbeke and the Tour of Flanders. Instead of riding Paris-Roubaix, he will take aim at the three Ardennes Classics afterwards.
“[Flanders] is a really big race, together with Strade Bianche for me,” Benoot said. “My youth was there.
“I watched cycling on those roads every year. It’s the biggest race in Belgium. The atmosphere is not comparable to anything else.”
Benoot will team up with co-leader Jens Keukeleire and, for some of the races, Jens Debusschere. In the Ardennes, Tim Wellens will join him.
The transition from a developing rider in the Lotto stable to a professional to a star was fast.
Benoot is from Ghent, Belgium. His brother attends a successful ballet school in Monaco. Benoot, who was named after folk singer Tish Hinojosa, was drawn to racing.
“Cycling wasn’t in my family, but my father always watched it and from then on, I got to know cycling and wanted to ride since I was five. I already had a race bike when I was seven,” he said.
“Tiesj? It’s a good story. I had a message last week that a young boy was named after me. It starts to get more known in Belgium now. Maybe they will also be a cyclist in a few years.”
Lotto-Soudal has him on contract through 2019. The Belgian WorldTour team wants to continue to work with him in one-day races and, despite a promising 20th in the Tour de France, weeklong stage races. He just finished fourth overall in Tirreno-Adriatico.
“The sponsors are talking about wanting to go for more years with Tiesj,” Sergeant added. “We have developed a great team like Wellens, Benoot, even before with Thomas De Gendt, all coming from the development team.”