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There were many impressive performances in last Sunday’s Tour of Flanders but perhaps the most eye-opening was the performance of the Lotto Soudal rider Tiesj Benoot.
A first year professional who just turned 21 years of age last month and who is a student in university, the Belgian rider stunned many when he finished a superb fifth in Oudenaarde. He rubbed shoulders with far more seasoned riders, each of whom who had the advantage of several years on him, and crossed the line in fifth place, just 36 seconds behind the winner Alexander Kristoff (Katusha).
Benoot beat Astana’s Lars Boom in their two-up sprint to the line and was 13 seconds ahead of a strong chase group including the likes of John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin), his own team leader Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Soudal) and Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep).
The ride is a big one in itself but when you factor in his neo-pro status, his youth and the fact that he is also studying, Benoot’s class becomes much more apparent.
Speaking to CyclingTips in a video interview conducted at the Lotto Soudal team hotel on Thursday, Benoot admitted that the result took him by surprise.
“Last year I made a step forward but this year I think I made a bigger step forward,” he stated. “I didn’t expect at all to play a big role in the Classics already.
“It is great and for sure you feel more confident now. But you still have to pedal on Sunday, so we will see.”
Friendly and down to earth, Benoot indicated that he saw it as important that he remains that way. He knows that the worst thing for him would be to let the ride go to his head; indeed, cycling is littered with examples of riders who were very strong at a young age but who got swept away with the hype and didn’t progress.
He’s determined that this doesn’t happen to him. “Of course the team was very happy with my performance on Sunday. But they stay easy with it,” he said. “For me it is something also important, that they keep me down to earth.”
Hailing from Ghent, Benoot studies economics there. He told CyclingTips that his friends help him out with lecture notes, enabling him to keep working away on that side of things while pursuing his cycling career.
Even with their help he has demands on his time that other riders don’t face. This too reinforces the impressiveness of what he has achieved thus far in the pro ranks.
Competing from a very young age, his under 23 results include 8th place in the espoir Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2013 and fifth in the same race last season.
He was also second overall in the Triptych of Monts et Châteaux, third in the under 23 Tour of Flanders, third in the Ronde de l’Isard and fourth in the under 23 world road race championships.
He was riding for the Lotto Belisol under 23 squad since 2013 and so it was of little surprise that the WorldTour team snapped him up.
It quickly got confirmation that it had made the right decision, with Benoot netting third in the Handzame Classic, fourth in Le Samyn and sixth in the Dwars door Vlaanderen prior to his Flanders ride.
Next up for Benoot is Roubaix on Sunday. He will again be a protected rider, even if Roelandts is the official team leader. He may be called on to work for his compatriot, but the team will be interested in seeing again what he can do.
“Yesterday [Wednesday] I did the last 110 kilometres. The cobbles are way more bad than in Flanders, but for everyone it is the same,” he said. “I like riding on cobbles. I am looking forward to Sunday.”
Watch the video above to learn more about a rider who could become one of the top Classics riders in the future. Benoot speaks about his under 23 career and experiences in the espoir Paris-Roubaix, his Flanders ride, his thoughts on the Roubaix cobbles plus his goals for Sunday and much more.