After completing a two-week training camp at altitude in Sierra Nevada with Lotto Soudal teammate Jens Keukeleire, Tiesj Benoot headed back to Belgium on Wednesday hoping to perform at his best in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and upcoming Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and Strade Bianche.
The 24-year-old Belgian rider was riding well at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday, surviving the first major selection on the Molenberg climb in a group of 18 riders at 40km from the finish. Ten kilometres later, however, Benoot's race was over when he slipped out in a left-hand corner.
He injured his knee and will be forced to skip Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, but hopes to be back to defend his title at Strade Bianche in Italy next weekend.
"It's a real shame because I felt really good," said Benoot said to the press at the team bus following the race. "I was going really well on the Berendries and I even deliberated on attacking there; the pace was already high. I saw [Oliver] Naesen falling back. When you see a rider blowing up, while you still feel good then you know that you're good. It's a pity I was unable to show it."
He noted one positive thing about his crash, however. “From what I've heard is that the group rode away due to my crash so that's at least one thing I pulled off," Benoot said with a smile, "but without my crash we might have been with two guys in the front group."
Benoot explained that it was a 'stupid crash' as he described how it happened. "We were on that new climb - the Elverenberg - when we took a left-hand turn. We weren't even going fast. I haven't seen the images yet but it'll look stupid. I was following the rest of the group and my front wheel slipped away. I've never encountered something like that. It's a pity. I was riding in sixth spot and that means you're good, too, otherwise you wouldn't be there," Benoot said.
Benoot quickly switched his focus from Omloop Het Nieuwsblad to Strade Bianche, which takes place next weekend. Benoot captured a breakthrough maiden victory last year in epic conditions along the gravel roads of Italy.
A first medical check-up has cleared Benoot of major injuries and so there is a good chance that he'll be able to defend his title. His left knee seems to be the biggest problem.
"There's nothing broken, which is the most important thing," he said. "There's a lot of bruises and abrasions on my lefthand side but the most annoying is my left knee. It's the same like in the Vuelta [stage 7]. It's the same spot. The scar that wasn't completely healed up is now completely open again. That's why it's so deep straight away.
"Now we'll head to the hospital in Deinze to clean the wound and see how we need to follow it up," he said. "The team straight away told me not to start in Kuurne, so that was easy. It would be difficult but also the foul weather would make the risk for infections too high. The focus is on recovering well towards next week.
"I hope that I don't need to take antibiotics and then all should be good. My form is good and I will not lose that straight away."