Benoot extends contract with Lotto Soudal through 2019

First Tour de France for Belgian on the plan for next season

The 22-year-old Tiesj Benoot secured his future for the next three seasons, inking a contract extension with his Lotto Soudal team through 2019.

The talented Belgian is also set to race his first Grand Tour in 2017, making his debut at the Tour de France.

"It's important that the team shows they have lot of trust in me, to give me a new contract after a difficult second part of last season," Benoot said. "This contract gives me confidence and puts my mind at ease, to take my career step by step. Now I have three years, the next step is my first Grand Tour. It's nice because I've been here since my first year as an U23. I know everyone and feel really at home here. In training I feel I'm with my friends, we have a lot of fun."

Benoot made his professional debut with the team in 2014 as a trainee after coming third in the U23 Tour of Flanders, and racking up podiums in one-week races like Le Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux and Ronde de l'Isard.

In his trainee debut, he finished 10th in the 2014 Tour of Denmark and went on to finish just off the podium at the U23 World Championships in Ponferrada. In his first full season with Lotto Soudal, he continued his string of good results with second overall in the Tour of Belgium., a podium in the Handzame Classic, and top 10s in the Tour of Flanders, World Ports Classic, Eneco Tour, GP Montreal and Paris-Tours.

He started the 2016 season strongly, with a podium in Mallorca, best young rider in the Volta ao Algarve and third in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but a crash in the Tour of Flanders disrupted his Classics campaign. He hopes to turn his luck around next year.

"The crash was the start of a hard time for me," Benoot admitted. "Now I look back on it, I realize it had a positive twist to it as well. That period taught me a lot mentally and it's good to go through something like that at a young age. It has made me stronger. The past season I actually learned more than last year."

Benoot laid out his plan for the early part of next year. "In 2017, I will start my season the same way as I did the past two years. I will ride eight one-day races in the first half of the season. I will definitely race the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Strade Bianche. Then I will choose three races from this quartet: Milan-Sanremo, Dwars door Vlaanderen, E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem. Afterwards, I will take part in the Ronde van Vlaanderen and then probably in the Brabantse Pijl and Amstel Gold Race."

If all goes well in the spring, Benoot expects to race the Tour de France.

"It was already decided earlier to participate for a first time in a Grand Tour in 2017. Of the Grand Tours the Tour is the one which matches my other goals best. The course looks nice, although I realize that a first Tour will mainly be focused on learning," he said.

Team manager Marc Sergeant expressed his faith in Benoot for the future. "Tiesj will be one of the key riders in our team the next three years. By this time we already know his strong points, but not yet his limits. We are very curious to see him develop further. In our team Tiesj finds the perfect environment to grow."

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