Four days ahead of Vlaanderen's Mooiste, the Tour of Flanders, the Lotto Soudal team tanked confidence at Dwars door Vlaanderen. Tiesj Benoot rode a strong race and finished fifth in the five-man sprint for victory in Waregem, Belgium. At the Tour of Flanders, the 25-year-old Belgian rider will be flanked by compatriots Jens Keukeleire and Tim Wellens, who was originally scheduled to focus solely on the Ardennes classics.
Wellens started the season in style with two victories in Spain and then a third place at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, before starting to fade away in Italy in Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico. The Lotto-Soudal team that raced the Belgian classics failed to crack the top-10 at the E3 BinckBank Classic and Gent-Wevelgem in Flanders Fields. Benoot showed in Strade Bianche that he was good, but not good enough to repeat his breakthrough victory from 2018.
In Tirreno-Adriatico he managed a few more top-10 results but it was clear that he's no longer chasing top-10 results. He hoped for much more than fifth place on Wednesday afternoon.
"I'm a bit disappointed. My form is really good. I'm well aware of that. It's fun to see that this is confirmed now but I would've loved to be on the podium. In the past I twice finished in sixth place over here and once in seventh place so fifth isn't the result that I was aiming for," Benoot said shortly after crossing the finish line.
In Dwars door Vlaanderen, Benoot formed an attacking duo with in-form Bob Jungels (Deceuninck-QuickStep) on the Knokteberg. The duo bridged up to eventual winner Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus), Lukas Pöstlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Anthony Turgis (Direct Energie).
"It was clear that Bob was the motor of the breakaway. I expected someone to attack but that didn't happen so I tried myself because I know that a sprint that starts at low speed isn't my cup of tea. When reaching the final kilometre I tried to attack but Jungels reacted straight away so then you know it’s difficult. I knew that Mathieu would be right on Bob’s wheel. I hoped that in the final kilometres the others would look at each other but that wasn’t the case. It’s a pity but I think that I’m ready for Sunday."
Before the start of Dwars door Vlaanderen, Benoot claimed that he didn’t need a result to know that he was good, but he was keen to show everybody that he was going well. A good result on Wednesday would allow him to head to the Ronde knowing that he can get a top result on Sunday.
"It’s fun to confirm that my form is good. If you’ve got good legs then you want to get something out of it. There’s not too many chances. This is one of the races that I’ve worked for. Today was a very nice one, a very nice chance, but there was a bit of pressure from behind. I’m the only one who tried in the final kilometres even though there were more riders who shouldn’t have waited for the sprint; probably everybody except Mathieu. I thought that was weird. I tried but it didn’t work out," Benoot said shortly after finishing the race in Waregem.
He was clearly well aware of the capabilities of the Dutch champion. "He’s just a good rider. Everyone looks at him as a cyclo-cross rider but he’s just a good cyclist, a very good cyclist," Benoot said. "That showed in the sprint."
Just before heading back to the Lotto-Soudal team bus, Benoot concluded that everything was set for a strong performance on Sunday, hoping to improve on the fifth place he captured when he debuted in the Ronde back in 2015.
"The team rode well today but that was no surprise. Now it's time to recover for Sunday. I hope for a better result."