Strade Bianche: Benoot crushes the gravel in emphatic solo victory

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

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#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 SkyRow 21 - Cell 2
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 TeamRow 28 - Cell 2
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 TeamRow 34 - Cell 2
36Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step FloorsRow 35 - Cell 2
37Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo0:13:08
38Davide Villella (Ita) Astana Pro Team0:13:10
39Grega Bole (Slo) Bahrain-MeridaRow 38 - Cell 2
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 SoudalRow 46 - Cell 2
48Primoz Roglic (Slo) LottoNL-Jumbo0:19:33
49Fernando Gaviria (Col) Quick-Step Floors0:19:36
50Owain Doull (GBr) Team SkyRow 49 - Cell 2
51Victor Campenaerts (Bel) Lotto Soudal0:21:36
52Iljo Keisse (Bel) Quick-Step Floors0:21:45
53Sepp Kuss (USA) LottoNL-JumboRow 52 - Cell 2
OTLTomasz Marczynski (Pol) Lotto Soudal0:25:19
OTLJhonatan Restrepo (Col) Katusha-AlpecinRow 54 - Cell 2
OTLMichal Golas (Pol) Team SkyRow 55 - Cell 2
OTLJuan Jose Lobato (Spa) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa OviniRow 56 - Cell 2
OTLMattia Frapporti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli-SidermecRow 57 - Cell 2
OTLQuentin Jauregui (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 58 - Cell 2
OTLAlexandr Riabushenko (Blr) UAE Team EmiratesRow 59 - Cell 2
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-SidermecRow 63 - Cell 2
OTLMerhawi Kudus (Eri) Dimension DataRow 64 - Cell 2
OTLLaurent Didier (Lux) Trek-SegafredoRow 65 - Cell 2
OTLMarco Tizza (Ita) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa OviniRow 66 - Cell 2
OTLAleksejs Saramotins (Lat) Bora-HansgroheRow 67 - Cell 2
OTLDamiano Cima (Ita) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini0:34:24
OTLJérémy Roy (Fra) FDJRow 69 - Cell 2
OTLLaurens ten Dam (Ned) Team SunwebRow 70 - Cell 2
OTLSho Hatsuyama (Jpn) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa OviniRow 71 - Cell 2
OTLMarco Marcato (Ita) UAE Team EmiratesRow 72 - Cell 2
DNSMaarten Wynants (Bel) LottoNL-JumboRow 73 - Cell 2
DNFDaniele Bennati (Ita) Movistar TeamRow 74 - Cell 2
DNFCarlos Betancur (Col) Movistar TeamRow 75 - Cell 2
DNFNuno Bico (Por) Movistar TeamRow 76 - Cell 2
DNFJoan Bou Company (Spa) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa OviniRow 77 - Cell 2
DNFEduard Michael Grosu (Rom) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa OviniRow 78 - Cell 2
DNFSimone Ponzi (Ita) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa OviniRow 79 - Cell 2
DNFSilvan Dillier (Swi) AG2R La MondialeRow 80 - Cell 2
DNFMaximilian Schachmann (Ger) Quick-Step FloorsRow 81 - Cell 2
DNFHubert Dupont (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 82 - Cell 2
DNFBernhard Eisel (Aut) Dimension DataRow 83 - Cell 2
DNFLachlan Morton (Aus) Dimension DataRow 84 - Cell 2
DNFClément Venturini (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 85 - Cell 2
DNFKim Magnusson (Swe) EF Education First-Drapac p/b CannondaleRow 86 - Cell 2
DNFDaniel Moreno (Spa) EF Education First-Drapac p/b CannondaleRow 87 - Cell 2
DNFTaylor Phinney (USA) EF Education First-Drapac p/b CannondaleRow 88 - Cell 2
DNFTom Van Asbroeck (Bel) EF Education First-Drapac p/b CannondaleRow 89 - Cell 2
DNFMaxim Belkov (Rus) Katusha-AlpecinRow 90 - Cell 2
DNFMarco Mathis (Ger) Katusha-AlpecinRow 91 - Cell 2
DNFNathan Haas (Aus) Katusha-AlpecinRow 92 - Cell 2
DNFViacheslav Kuznetsov (Rus) Katusha-AlpecinRow 93 - Cell 2
DNFMads Würtz Schmidt (Den) Katusha-AlpecinRow 94 - Cell 2
DNFNikias Arndt (Ger) Team SunwebRow 95 - Cell 2
DNFSimon Geschke (Ger) Team SunwebRow 96 - Cell 2
DNFLennard Kämna (Ger) Team SunwebRow 97 - Cell 2
DNFLennard Hofstede (Ned) Team SunwebRow 98 - Cell 2
DNFEugenio Alafaci (Ita) Trek-SegafredoRow 99 - Cell 2
DNFFabio Felline (Ita) Trek-SegafredoRow 100 - Cell 2
DNFMichael Gogl (Aut) Trek-SegafredoRow 101 - Cell 2
DNFMads Pedersen (Den) Trek-SegafredoRow 102 - Cell 2
DNFJasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-SegafredoRow 103 - Cell 2
DNFBoy van Poppel (Ned) Trek-SegafredoRow 104 - Cell 2
DNFValerio Conti (Ita) UAE Team EmiratesRow 105 - Cell 2
DNFManuele Mori (Ita) UAE Team EmiratesRow 106 - Cell 2
DNFPrzemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) UAE Team EmiratesRow 107 - Cell 2
DNFJan Polanc (Slo) UAE Team EmiratesRow 108 - Cell 2
DNFSean De Bie (Bel) Veranda's Willems CrelanRow 109 - Cell 2
DNFMathias De Witte (Bel) Veranda's Willems CrelanRow 110 - Cell 2
DNFHuub Duijn (Ned) Veranda's Willems CrelanRow 111 - Cell 2
DNFDries De Bondt (Bel) Veranda's Willems CrelanRow 112 - Cell 2
DNFDavid Tanner (Aus) Veranda's Willems CrelanRow 113 - Cell 2
DNFAlessandro Bisolti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli-SidermecRow 114 - Cell 2
DNFAndrea Vendrame (Ita) Androni Giocattoli-SidermecRow 115 - Cell 2
DNFMarco Frapporti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli-SidermecRow 116 - Cell 2
DNFKevin Rivera (CRc) Androni Giocattoli-SidermecRow 117 - Cell 2
DNFMatteo Spreafico (Ita) Androni Giocattoli-SidermecRow 118 - Cell 2
DNFLeonardo Basso (Ita) Team SkyRow 119 - Cell 2
DNFMoreno Moser (Ita) Astana Pro TeamRow 120 - Cell 2
DNFDario Cataldo (Ita) Astana Pro TeamRow 121 - Cell 2
DNFOscar Gatto (Ita) Astana Pro TeamRow 122 - Cell 2
DNFTruls Korsaeth (Nor) Astana Pro TeamRow 123 - Cell 2
DNFVincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-MeridaRow 124 - Cell 2
DNFSonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-MeridaRow 125 - Cell 2
DNFMark Padun (Ukr) Bahrain-MeridaRow 126 - Cell 2
DNFKristijan Koren (Slo) Bahrain-MeridaRow 127 - Cell 2
DNFAlberto Bettiol (Ita) BMC Racing TeamRow 128 - Cell 2
DNFFrancisco Ventoso (Spa) BMC Racing TeamRow 129 - Cell 2
DNFDamiano Caruso (Ita) BMC Racing TeamRow 130 - Cell 2
DNFLoïc Vliegen (Bel) BMC Racing TeamRow 131 - Cell 2
DNFMaciej Bodnar (Pol) Bora-HansgroheRow 132 - Cell 2
DNFLukasz Wisniowski (Pol) Team SkyRow 133 - Cell 2
DNFBruno Armirail (Fra) FDJRow 134 - Cell 2
DNFAntoine Duchesne (Can) FDJRow 135 - Cell 2
DNFGeorg Preidler (Aut) FDJRow 136 - Cell 2
DNFMatthieu Ladagnous (Fra) FDJRow 137 - Cell 2
DNFLéo Vincent (Fra) FDJRow 138 - Cell 2
DNFJens Debusschere (Bel) Lotto SoudalRow 139 - Cell 2
DNFTosh Van Der Sande (Bel) Lotto SoudalRow 140 - Cell 2
DNFLuke Durbridge (Aus) Mitchelton-ScottRow 141 - Cell 2
DNFSvein Tuft (Can) Mitchelton-ScottRow 142 - Cell 2
DNFMichael Hepburn (Aus) Mitchelton-ScottRow 143 - Cell 2
DNFJack Haig (Aus) Mitchelton-ScottRow 144 - Cell 2
DNFCarlos Verona (Spa) Mitchelton-ScottRow 145 - Cell 2
DNFDaryl Impey (RSA) Mitchelton-ScottRow 146 - Cell 2

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