Strade Bianche: Benoot crushes the gravel in emphatic solo victory

Belgian leaves Bardet, Van Aert in his wake

The weather dominated the build-up to the 2018 Strade Bianche and the sloppy dirt tracks duly served up one of the most memorable editions in the Italian Classic's short history. At the end of 184 thrilling kilometres, Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal), caked in mud, dropped down into Siena's Piazza del Campo to finish off a spectacular solo victory.

The young Belgian, touted as a future star ever since his fifth place finish as a neo-pro at the 2015 Tour of Flanders, finally has his first professional win, and it was fully deserved.

Attacking from a large chasing group in the long stretch between the eighth and ninth sectors of the eponymous strade bianche, Benoot looked mightily strong as he made his way over to the leading duo of Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) and Wout van Aert (Veranda's Willems Crelan).

When he accelerated away on the final sector, the two simply had no response, and from there he just had to keep it together on the final hike through the streets of Siena, where he was celebrating well in advance of the line.

The elation soon turned to exhaustion, telling the story of the race as Bardet and Van Aert came in behind to grab podium places that few would have predicted. Bardet is best known as a Grand Tour climber but animated this race with an attack on the punishing eighth sector where he was joined by Van Aert, the 23-year old three-time cyclo-cross world champion who more than justified the growing excitement over what he could go on to achieve on the road.

They spent many of the final 50 kilometres out front but Benoot, who proved his suitability to this terrain with eighth-place finishes in the past two editions, was simply too strong for them both. 

"It was really nice. In Belgium the journalists get crazy when a young guy makes nice results, so I had some pressure to have a first win," the 23-year-old said in his post-race interview.

"I always said it would be there one day, and I won't win a lot of races, but when I win it can be a big one. I was already two times eighth here, so I knew this race suits me really well. Eventually it turned out well today."

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) came home fourth, followed by Giovanni Visconti (Bahrain-Merida) and Rob Power (Mitchelton-Scott), but it was one minute 42 seconds after Benoot that one of the big pre-race favourites crossed the line. 2015 champion Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step Floors) finished seventh, followed by world champion Peter Sagan in eighth. They and last year's winner Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) essentially marked themselves out of the race as teammates went up the road in pursuit of Bardet and Van Aert but never made it.

The Benoot show

Sectors 7 and 8, from kilometres 110 to 140, were billed as a crucial phase of the race, and so it proved. The race was already in pieces, however, after a hectic start to proceedings saw the peloton split in two – with just 70 riders left out front – as early as the second sector.

Things settled down into something resembling a familiar pattern as a 10-rider breakaway went clear from that front peloton but by the end of sector 7 – 9.5km in length – they were brought back and the race was on.

A new group of 10 was soon away, containing Kwiatkowski, Van Aert, and Valverde but then things were blown apart on sector 8, the hardest of the race at 11.5km and with steep climbs and stiff descents. Sagan and Benoot made it up to the leading group but it was more surprising to see Bardet bridge across on his own. More surprising still was the fact that the Frenchman went straight to the front of the group and attacked.

He has the motto ‘take the risk or lose the chance’ printed on his bike and, while few would have expected his move to shape the race to such an extent, Van Aert went with him and they were away. The rest of the group looked around at each other, allowing the dropped riders to reform into a larger chase group of around 25, with Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) the highest-profile absentee.

Back on the tarmac, Benoot made his first move, attacking and dragging a group of nine clear. Crucially, Kwiatkowski had two teammates there in Gianni Moscon and Salvatore Puccio, while Sagan had Gregor Muhlberger and Stybar had Pieter Serry. The five-star favourites, therefore, maintained more of a watching brief but the race would only slip away from them.

With 30km and three sectors remaining, the Benoot show began. He accelerated again and Serry was the only one able to go with him. Having drained every last turn out of his compatriot, and with the gap to Bardet and Van Aert not coming down, Benoot produced a vicious acceleration on the penultimate sector. Serry looked like he was in a different race and Benoot closed the 35 seconds to the leaders in an astonishingly quick fashion.

At that point the writing was on the wall, and Benoot duly left Bardet and Van Aert for dead on the short but painfully steep final sector. Pain etched on his grimacing face as he fought with the bike, he timed his effort well and came over the top of the climb and onto the downhill with a lead of 15 seconds.

That would only grow as, bare arms folded over his bars, he made his way through the final 12km to Siena. He waved his right arm in the air as he passed a Flanders flag up the Via Santa Caterina and, after rounding the two final bends, punched the air with both as he took the final dip down to the finish line.

"We came on the Santa Maria section with 55k to go I think and there was already a big group of 10 guys away with a lot of strong riders. So then I bridged over with Sagan, and I felt really good but it was a shit situation because I was alone of the team and there were a lot of teammates from Kwiatkowski and Sagan attacking," said Benoot.

"I was talking with my sport director and we said OK, go yourself now, because everyone is fucked and otherwise I’d be in a defending situation. So I went behind Bardet and Van Aert, and then it was first a big group and didn’t turn well, so I attacked again with Serry and then on the next section I crossed over. I felt it was the moment, and it was the last super hard section of the race. It was amazing. I didn’t expect to go this well, but I had a really good day."

The situation in the chase chopped and changed in the closing phases. Visconti and Power rolled the dice in the chase group and swept up Serry, but they were later joined on the final sector by the advancing Valverde and Stybar. A minute behind Bardet and Van Aert, it looked for a second like the podium might still have been in play but there wasn't enough cooperation or firepower left in that group. Sagan came back towards the end to join Muhlberger in the top 10, from which Kwiatowksi and Sky were conspicuously absent. 

The day, however, belonged to Benoot. 

Full Results

#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto Soudal5:03:33 
2Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale0:00:39 
3Wout Van Aert (Bel) Veranda's Willems Crelan0:00:58 
4Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team0:01:25 
5Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Bahrain-Merida0:01:27 
6Robert Power (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott0:01:29 
7Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Quick-Step Floors0:01:42 
8Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe0:02:08 
9Pieter Serry (Bel) Quick-Step Floors0:02:11 
10Gregor Mühlberger (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe0:02:16 
11Matej Mohoric (Slo) Bahrain-Merida0:03:05 
12Daniel Oss (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe0:03:22 
13Floris De Tier (Bel) LottoNL-Jumbo0:04:03 
14Gianni Moscon (Ita) Team Sky0:04:08 
15Marcus Burghardt (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe0:04:10 
16Stefan Küng (Swi) BMC Racing Team0:04:14 
17Simon Clarke (Aus) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale0:04:41 
18Andrey Amador (CRc) Movistar Team0:04:55 
19Pierre Latour (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale0:05:12 
20Valentin Madouas (Fra) FDJ0:05:14 
21Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb0:06:14 
22Salvatore Puccio (Ita) Team Sky  
23Søren Kragh Andersen (Den) Team Sunweb0:07:56 
24Andrey Grivko (Ukr) Astana Pro Team0:08:12 
25Julien Vermote (Bel) Dimension Data0:08:26 
26Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana Pro Team0:08:55 
27José Gonçalves (Por) Katusha-Alpecin0:09:46 
28Stijn Devolder (Bel) Veranda's Willems Crelan0:10:11 
29Jose Joaquin Rojas (Spa) Movistar Team  
30Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky0:10:57 
31Enrico Battaglin (Ita) LottoNL-Jumbo0:12:36 
32Eros Capecchi (Ita) Quick-Step Floors0:12:39 
33Jens Keukeleire (Bel) Lotto Soudal0:12:43 
34Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team0:13:05 
35Michael Schär (Swi) BMC Racing Team  
36Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors  
37Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo0:13:08 
38Davide Villella (Ita) Astana Pro Team0:13:10 
39Grega Bole (Slo) Bahrain-Merida  
40George Bennett (NZl) LottoNL-Jumbo0:13:50 
41Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale0:17:08 
42Matteo Montaguti (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale0:18:31 
43Alex Howes (USA) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale0:19:05 
44Diego Ulissi (Ita) UAE Team Emirates0:19:12 
45Christoph Pfingsten (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe0:19:16 
46Nelson Oliveira (Por) Movistar Team0:19:27 
47Nikolas Maes (Bel) Lotto Soudal  
48Primoz Roglic (Slo) LottoNL-Jumbo0:19:33 
49Fernando Gaviria (Col) Quick-Step Floors0:19:36 
50Owain Doull (GBr) Team Sky  
51Victor Campenaerts (Bel) Lotto Soudal0:21:36 
52Iljo Keisse (Bel) Quick-Step Floors0:21:45 
53Sepp Kuss (USA) LottoNL-Jumbo  
OTLTomasz Marczynski (Pol) Lotto Soudal0:25:19 
OTLJhonatan Restrepo (Col) Katusha-Alpecin  
OTLMichal Golas (Pol) Team Sky  
OTLJuan Jose Lobato (Spa) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini  
OTLMattia Frapporti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec  
OTLQuentin Jauregui (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale  
OTLAlexandr Riabushenko (Blr) UAE Team Emirates  
OTLBen O'Connor (Aus) Dimension Data0:25:22 
OTLEdvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Dimension Data0:25:25 
OTLScott Thwaites (GBr) Dimension Data0:34:21 
OTLRaffaello Bonusi (Ita) Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec  
OTLMerhawi Kudus (Eri) Dimension Data  
OTLLaurent Didier (Lux) Trek-Segafredo  
OTLMarco Tizza (Ita) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini  
OTLAleksejs Saramotins (Lat) Bora-Hansgrohe  
OTLDamiano Cima (Ita) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini0:34:24 
OTLJérémy Roy (Fra) FDJ  
OTLLaurens ten Dam (Ned) Team Sunweb  
OTLSho Hatsuyama (Jpn) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini  
OTLMarco Marcato (Ita) UAE Team Emirates  
DNSMaarten Wynants (Bel) LottoNL-Jumbo  
DNFDaniele Bennati (Ita) Movistar Team  
DNFCarlos Betancur (Col) Movistar Team  
DNFNuno Bico (Por) Movistar Team  
DNFJoan Bou Company (Spa) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini  
DNFEduard Michael Grosu (Rom) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini  
DNFSimone Ponzi (Ita) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini  
DNFSilvan Dillier (Swi) AG2R La Mondiale  
DNFMaximilian Schachmann (Ger) Quick-Step Floors  
DNFHubert Dupont (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale  
DNFBernhard Eisel (Aut) Dimension Data  
DNFLachlan Morton (Aus) Dimension Data  
DNFClément Venturini (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale  
DNFKim Magnusson (Swe) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale  
DNFDaniel Moreno (Spa) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale  
DNFTaylor Phinney (USA) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale  
DNFTom Van Asbroeck (Bel) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale  
DNFMaxim Belkov (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin  
DNFMarco Mathis (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin  
DNFNathan Haas (Aus) Katusha-Alpecin  
DNFViacheslav Kuznetsov (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin  
DNFMads Würtz Schmidt (Den) Katusha-Alpecin  
DNFNikias Arndt (Ger) Team Sunweb  
DNFSimon Geschke (Ger) Team Sunweb  
DNFLennard Kämna (Ger) Team Sunweb  
DNFLennard Hofstede (Ned) Team Sunweb  
DNFEugenio Alafaci (Ita) Trek-Segafredo  
DNFFabio Felline (Ita) Trek-Segafredo  
DNFMichael Gogl (Aut) Trek-Segafredo  
DNFMads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo  
DNFJasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo  
DNFBoy van Poppel (Ned) Trek-Segafredo  
DNFValerio Conti (Ita) UAE Team Emirates  
DNFManuele Mori (Ita) UAE Team Emirates  
DNFPrzemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) UAE Team Emirates  
DNFJan Polanc (Slo) UAE Team Emirates  
DNFSean De Bie (Bel) Veranda's Willems Crelan  
DNFMathias De Witte (Bel) Veranda's Willems Crelan  
DNFHuub Duijn (Ned) Veranda's Willems Crelan  
DNFDries De Bondt (Bel) Veranda's Willems Crelan  
DNFDavid Tanner (Aus) Veranda's Willems Crelan  
DNFAlessandro Bisolti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec  
DNFAndrea Vendrame (Ita) Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec  
DNFMarco Frapporti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec  
DNFKevin Rivera (CRc) Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec  
DNFMatteo Spreafico (Ita) Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec  
DNFLeonardo Basso (Ita) Team Sky  
DNFMoreno Moser (Ita) Astana Pro Team  
DNFDario Cataldo (Ita) Astana Pro Team  
DNFOscar Gatto (Ita) Astana Pro Team  
DNFTruls Korsaeth (Nor) Astana Pro Team  
DNFVincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida  
DNFSonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Merida  
DNFMark Padun (Ukr) Bahrain-Merida  
DNFKristijan Koren (Slo) Bahrain-Merida  
DNFAlberto Bettiol (Ita) BMC Racing Team  
DNFFrancisco Ventoso (Spa) BMC Racing Team  
DNFDamiano Caruso (Ita) BMC Racing Team  
DNFLoïc Vliegen (Bel) BMC Racing Team  
DNFMaciej Bodnar (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe  
DNFLukasz Wisniowski (Pol) Team Sky  
DNFBruno Armirail (Fra) FDJ  
DNFAntoine Duchesne (Can) FDJ  
DNFGeorg Preidler (Aut) FDJ  
DNFMatthieu Ladagnous (Fra) FDJ  
DNFLéo Vincent (Fra) FDJ  
DNFJens Debusschere (Bel) Lotto Soudal  
DNFTosh Van Der Sande (Bel) Lotto Soudal  
DNFLuke Durbridge (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott  
DNFSvein Tuft (Can) Mitchelton-Scott  
DNFMichael Hepburn (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott  
DNFJack Haig (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott  
DNFCarlos Verona (Spa) Mitchelton-Scott  
DNFDaryl Impey (RSA) Mitchelton-Scott  

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