Tiesj Benoot's eyes were red and tearful from the dirt roads and rain of Strade Bianche but the Belgian admitted that some of his tears may have come because he had just landed his first professional victory with a dominant ride in one of the toughest races of the season.
"It's a dream come true. I was on holiday with my girlfriend in Siena last year and we ate an ice cream in Piazza del Campo. It's still difficult to appreciate what I've achieved though I'm sure it'll come soon enough," he said, the emotion of the moment clear to hear in his voice and see in his eyes.
"I felt really strong today and I'm proud to say I felt like a hero. I'm proud to have won this race. People will remember it for a long time, I will too. It's my first win.
"It's one of the nicest Classics for me. I think the best peloton in a one-day race; the best Flemish Classics riders and the best Wallonne Classics rider are here. In my first ride, I was eighth and I said I'd come back for more, that turned out to be true."
Racing with your knife between your teeth
Benoot is quietly spoken but articulate, even after racing in the rain for five hours. He was not afraid to be aggressive on the gravel roads of Tuscany, attacking with Pieter Serry (Quick-Step Floors) to go across to Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) and Wout van Aert (Verandas Willems-Crelan), then again to make sure he won alone in the centre of Siena.
"In Belgium, we say you have to race with your knife between your teeth and that's what I did. At Strade Bianche you always have to fight for position. In these conditions, there's a part of the peloton that doesn't have that but I like these condition so I was happy to fight all day and then just made the right decisions in the finale," he explained.
"I saw that the group wasn't working well behind Bardet and Van Aert and so decided to go for it at the same moment my sports director told me to attack. I went with Pieter (Serry) and we closed the gap and soon saw them. Then I knew I had to drop Serry because when he pulled the speed dropped. I knew the final Pinzuto sector well and that it split there in recent years, I knew I had to go full gas to close the gap.
"I knew I was strong because you only close the gap so fast if you're riding well. Then I attacked on the next sector of Strade Bianche and just kept going, careful not to crash or have punctures. I didn't want it to slip out of my hands. I didn't want to miss my very first win as a pro.
"It was crazy to see so many people on the last climb. I was sure to win and it was nice to win a big race solo. I enjoyed it, I'm still am enjoying it. I can't wait to see what it was like on television."
Benoot, not Boonen
Benoot has been a professional with Lotto Soudal since 2015. He finished fifth in his first Tour of Flanders and so expectations soon grew in Belgium. However, he is more of an Ardennes Classics rider than the next Tom Boonen.
"When I finished fifth the Belgian media wrote that I'd done better than Boonen and Cancellara on my debut," he recalled.
"In the last two years, I've never felt like I did when I was fifth in Flanders. I was only 21 then and I'm only 23 now. I'm more suited to Classics like Liège-Bastogne-Liège and I still hope to be good there. That's why I'll skip races that suit me less like Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix.
"Lotto Soudal was under pressure even last weekend at the opening weekend but now I think my Classics season is already a success. I wanted a podium in a big race and so I'm super happy to win a big race. I was recently at altitude and usually have a good first peak after 10 days. I hope I've had it now."
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