Belgian Tiesj Benoot seemingly burst out of nowhere in April 2015 when he rode to fifth place as a first-year neo-pro at the Tour of Flanders. On the eve of the 2018 De Ronde, Benoot has enjoyed his most successful classics campaign to date and will start De Ronde as one of the favourites for victory. A dominant Strade Bianche triumph contributing to team boss Marc Sergeant suggesting Benoot can win the Tour of Flanders.
The 24-year-old though doesn't believe he should be afforded main favourite status for the Belgian monument. Even if he remains confident in his form and condition, a lack of strength in his Lotto Soudal team due to injuries and illness is one reason Benoot is happy to deflect onto the likes of Peter Sagan, Greg Van Avermaet and QuickStep-Floors.
"It's normal that I am one of the favourites for Sunday after my performances of the past weeks. I am not the main favourite though. Sagan and the Quick-Step team as a whole are one step higher than riders like Van Avermaet, Vanmarcke and me," Benoot said.
"We miss André Greipel, Jens Keukeleire and Nikolas Maes from our original line-up. Greipel and Keukeleire could have been by my side in the finale. That's why it's in my interest that others get isolated. Although that is not quite realistic for Quick-Step, as they have such a strong block."
Benoot hasn't finished the Tour de Flanders since his debut but remains attuned to where the race is won or lost. Pointing to the Muur van Geraadsbergen as a key climb in the 266km race, Benoot though expects a different style of race in 2018 compared to last year when QuickStep-Floors blew De Ronde apart and set up victory.
"It would surprise me if the race would explode on the Muur van Geraadsbergen like it did last year," he said, referring to Philippe Gilbert's winning move. "Although it is a moment where all teams will need to be alert a first time. There can always occur a selection at that point in the race, but I expect the race will really explode later. I prefer a long and extensive finale because then it becomes an exhausting race that ends with a fight man against man."
Looking as to how he would claim the win, Benoot explained the scenario is simple. A solo win would favour his characteristics but he also is expecting the unexpected.
"I'll probably need to finish solo if I want to win, because most of the favourites are faster than me. I feel really good. The situation is a bit different now I have won Strade Bianche, because that has taken away the pressure. Of course that doesn't mean that I don't want to set a top result in the Ronde," said Benoot.
"At E3 Harelbeke and Dwars door Vlaanderen I proved that the condition is good and that will still be the case this Sunday. The Ronde van Vlaanderen is the race of my dreams. I already want to win it since I was a child. We ride on my training course and as a neo-pro I immediately finished fifth. I am ready to go full on Sunday!"
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