Mud, sweat and tears: Tiesj Benoot solos to victory at epic edition of Strade Bianche

Rising Belgian star claims first pro win at rain-swept Classic that will go down in history

Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) cemented his tag as a future star by claiming his first ever pro win – soloing to victory at a mud-splattered Strade Bianche.

The Belgian, 23, bridged across to leaders Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Wout van Aert (Verandas Willems-Crelan), before accelerating away on the final gravel sector to claim the win.

Caked in mud during an edition of Strade Bianche that will go down in history, Benoot’s race-winning move came on the steep, uphill final sector and left Bardet and Van Aert with no answer as they came in second and third respectively.

Mud-splattered Tiesj Benoot celebrates his first pro victory… the small matter of Strade Bianche 2018 (Pic: Sirotti)

It was a race packed with action, with the peloton splitting very early in the race – the bunch halved before it had even tackled the second stretch of white gravel road (or brown, wet, muddy gravel as the case was).

Bardet initially missed what proved to be the crucial break as the race was blown apart ahead of the long, punchy eighth sector, but the Frenchman bridged across solo and simply rode straight past the elite group of leaders.

Van Aert was the only man to track Bardet’s move, with Benoot in the chasing pack at this stage, alongside the likes of world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe) and defending champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky).

It was the Belgian who forced another split when the race returned to the tarmac, however, and he kicked again with 30km remaining.

Bardet and Van Aert’s efforts had kept them clear, but when Benoot dropped the hammer a final time and bridged across to them, they were already paying the price.

The future Classics star caught and passed them, and stretched his lead on the final run-in to Siena to claim the first of what his national press hope will be many Classics victories.

Strade Bianche 2018: result

1) Tiesj Benoot (BEL) – Lotto-Soudal – 5.03.33hrs
2) Romain Bardet (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +39”
3) Wout van Aert (BEL) – Verandas Willems-Crelan +58”
4) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +1.25
5) Giovanni Visconti (ITA) – Bahrain-Merida +1.27
6) Robert Power (AUS) – Mitchelton-Scott +1.29
7) Zdenek Stybar (CZE) – QuickStep Floors +1.42
8) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Bora-hansgrohe +2.08
9) Pieter Serry (BEL) – QuickStep Floors +2.11
10) Gregor Muhlberger (AUT) – Bora-hansgrohe +2.16

Alejandro Valverde battles through the mud and rain on his way to fourth overall - already his ninth top-five finish of the 2018 season (Pic: Sirotti)
World champion Peter Sagan struggles to keep his glasses clear of mud as he keeps pace in the front group (Pic: Sirotti)
Owain Doull was the only Brit to finish the race, finishing 50th for Team Sky (Pic: Sirotti)
Tom Dumoulin continued his preparations for the season at the race. The Dutchman's early-season programme has a distinct Italian feel to it, but he will be hoping for better riding conditions by the time he defends his Giro d'Italia crown in May (Pic: Sirotti)
Cyclo-cross world champion Wout van Aert is used to battling in the mud, and he put his bike handling skills to good use by claiming his first major podium place on the road (Pic: Sirotti)
World champion Peter Sagan's rainbow bands are the only distinguishing feature as the usual array of colours in the peloton made way for mud-splattered rain jackets. Twice a runner-up at Strade Bianche, Sagan had to settle for 8th after a brutally tough day in the saddle (not least for BMC's Stefan Kung behind him) (Pic: Sirotti)
Team Sky's defending champion Michal Kwiatkowski battles on. The Pole was eventually dropped from the lead group and finished 30th (Pic: Sirotti)
The slick gravel roads, turned to mud in the rain, made for difficult descending conditions (Pic: Sirotti)
Team Sky's Gianni Moscon pauses his Garmin after a long day at the office (Pic: Sirotti)
Van Aert's third place finish came just weeks after a third consecutive victory at the World Cyclo-Cross Championships (Pic: Sirotti)
Tiesj Benoot has been touted as a major Classics prospect since finishing fifth at the Tour of Flanders in 2015 and the Belgian duly delivered in Siena (Pic: Sirotti)
Can Benoot carry that form to the cobbles? With Tom Boonen now retired, the 23-year-old will be carrying the hopes of a nation (Pic: Sirotti)


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