Wout van Aert may have been absent for the second weekend in a row at Amstel Gold Race, but his Jumbo-Visma team stepped in to fill the gap in Limburg on Sunday.
The team came away with a third-place finish thanks to Tiesj Benoot, the Belgian soloing home in Berg en Terblijt to score his second podium finish in just eight race days with his new team.
Benoot, who finished second at the Van Aert-less Dwars door Vlaanderen 11 days ago, was co-leader of the Dutch team at their home Amstel Gold Race along with fellow new signing Christophe Laporte. Though a crash by the Frenchman saw him absent from the final, it was Benoot who took the reins, salvaging a 'best of the rest' spot behind the late breaking duo Michał Kwiatkowski and Benoît Cosnefroy.
In the post-race press conference, the absence of Van Aert and the effect on Jumbo-Visma's race was among the main lines of questioning for Benoot. He responded that having another strong leader would've helped over the final hills of the race, as evidenced by Ineos Grenadiers' teamwork.
"I did a few races without Wout now, I think three, and I have been on the podium," Benoot said. "I wouldn't say that it goes wrong without Wout there, but for sure to have someone like him in the final today would've made a big difference.
"You see Ineos had two riders and tactically they did a great job. First Pidcock went and then Kwiatkowski and then Pidcock did a great job protecting his break.
"I think I did the last seven years without Wout, but for sure I also signed with the team to do races with him. Now it's just shit that he got sick but there are still some races to come also."
Benoot hadn't been the only Jumbo-Visma rider active during the race, with teammate Nathan Van Hooydonck out on the attack alongside Victor Campenaerts at 90km to go before crashing into a parked car 40km later, chasing back on and then helping out when the break was finally caught shortly after the Eyserbosweg.
The plan, Benoot said, was for Van Hooydonck to work with him, Laporte, and Tom Dumoulin in the final kilometres of the race. Laporte's crash, along with Dumoulin's relative lack of race sharpness, put paid to that, though. Benoot, meanwhile, had no complaints about the two men who stole away to compete for what turned out to be a photo finish victory.
"We wanted to anticipate a bit and then wait for Christophe and me and Tom in the final," he said. "Nathan did a good job going away. It was a bit of a pity for him that Ineos kept pulling on the climbs from the Kruisberg.
"Christophe crashed and Tom also didn't have his best legs. I was always in a good position on the climbs and then I knew on the Keutenberg was the last really hard climb. There Kwiatkowski and Pidcock went, and I took over and I think in the end it was the strongest guys who won."
Benoot himself almost fell victim to bad luck, almost coming a cropper on the short descent following the penultimate passage of the finish line.
Cosnefroy almost went with him as the pair ran out of road with 20km to go. The Frenchman then immediately attacked and bridged across to Kwiatkowski once the duo had made it back to the chase group behind the Pole.
"I missed a corner," Benoot explained. "I think I hit something. It was at the Geulhemmerberg Then I went behind the group. Chasing behind I brought Cosnefroy back and I was a bit on the limit. Apart from that I don't think I made a lot of mistakes in the final.
"He went full from the bottom of the next climb and bridged across to Kwiatkowski. I think [third] was the highest possible result today after the two guys went away. In the last 5km I did two attacks and the second one was a good one, so I think it's a good result.
"I think it's my seventh or eighth race day today and I did twice podium now. It's only WorldTour races and I think after my crash at Strade it's nice to see I came twice close to a big victory. For sure you want to win a race but it's good to be back in the finals of the biggest races."
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