Belgium’s Tiesj Benoot of Lotto Soudal claimed the first victory of his career aged 23, three years after he took fifth place at the Tour of Flanders on his pro debut. He won the Strade Bianche in a solo effort after leaving breakaway riders Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) and Wout Van Aert (Verandas Willems – Crelan) behind. It was also a breakthrough result for the career of Van Aert, the triple cyclocross World Champion, who proved how well he can perform in the Spring classics, too.
The winner of Strade Bianche, Tiesj Benoot, said in the press conference: “I was feeling very good behind Van Aert and Bardet and I knew there was a nice gravelled section coming up. It was pretty funny that my DS told me to go when I had already decided to do it! When [Pieter] Serry pulled, the speed went slower a bit and I remembered two years ago the decisive split was made on Colle Pinzuto [with 19.4km to go]. When I bridged the gap, I knew I was the strongest as otherwise I wouldn’t have closed 30’’. Once alone, I had a nice gap, it was a case of keeping going, no crashing, no punctures… I’m delighted that my first pro victory happened at the Strade Bianche – it’s one of the nicest classics. On my first time here, I was 8th, and I Tweeted that I’d come back for more. I also came here on holiday with my girlfriend; having an ice cream on the Piazza del Campo I got less attention than today! I’m proud I’ve won.”
Second placed Romain Bardet, said: “This was my first experience of the classics other than Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Amstel Gold Race. This winter I told the team I wanted to race them all, including the Flemish classics on the cobbles, but I was told that I first had to do the Strade Bianche. This is really the kind of cycling I enjoy. Racing at the front is my favourite way of doing my job but here, anything can happen. We have to never give up. In the end, the strongest guys make the front part of the race. [Tiejs] Benoot was for sure the strongest today. I went at my own pace. I had a mechanical issue on the most difficult gravel road section and it was hard for me to recover from this. But I managed to go away and we did a great job with Van Aert to maintain a fast pace. I really enjoyed this race. After such a first experience, for sure I want to come back and win!”
Third placed Wout Van Aert, said: “I was a lot closer to the win than I thought but I suffered in the last part of the race. I guess I made a good move with Romain Bardet – it was far from the finish line – but in the last 50km 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.”
STRADE BIANCHE FINAL RESULT
1 – Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal) 184 km in 5h03’33”, average speed 36.369km/h
2 – Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) at 39”
3 – Wout Van Aert (Verandas Willems – Crelan) at 58”