Despite Strade Bianche entering only its thirteenth year, many fans already consider it as the sixth Monument: high praise for an event which can’t fall back on years of accrued history and tradition.
Last year, Tiesj Benoot was clearly the strongest rider on a wet and muddy day; he attacked the bunch at the right time, bridged across to leaders Wout Van Aert and Romain Bardet, and shed them before the final climb into Siena, finishing alone.
Benoot, 24, crashed heavily at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday and was forced to abandon with abrasions and cuts to his knee, but he’s been cleared to defend his title in Tuscany this weekend.
“The Strade Bianche is one of the races which suits me the best,” he commented. “Last year, I won but also in the previous years I obtained a good result, so I am really looking forward to it. It will be special to start with number 1 in a race of that calibre. For me, the finish at the Piazza del Campo in Siena is one of the most beautiful ones, maybe together with the Champs-Élysées. It is thus a special place for me.
“It will be very difficult to repeat last year’s performance but with the legs I had during the Omloop, I can certainly compete for the victory. I hope to have the same feeling on Saturday but the shape is already good. Of course, the crash was not ideal. My knee has been stitched and we will have to evaluate how it heals day by day.”
Benoot knows the course perfectly well and already has an idea in how the race can develop.
“There are a lot of heavy gravel roads but the biggest break-up will probably take place after the two long sections just before the feed zone,” the Belgian explained. “The area of Monte Sante Marie is very technical with some steep parts uphill and downhill.