Top ten for Benoot and Wellens in Strade Bianche
Lotto Soudal-leaders animate the race.
On Saturday 9 March, the Strade Bianche takes place around the Tuscan city of Siena. The race on the white gravel paths is already being called a Classic although it is only the thirteenth edition. Since 2017, it is also a WorldTour race. Last year, Lotto Soudal rider Tiesj Benoot took the victory in a heroic way. Together with sports director Bart Leysen he estimates his chances this year.
Tiesj Benoot: “The Strade Bianche is one of the races which suits me the best. Last year, I won but also in the previous years I obtained a good result, so I am really looking forward to it. It wil be special to start with number 1 in a race of that caliber. 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.”
“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 area of Monte Sante Marie is very technical with some steep parts uphill and downhill. It is really a grueling race which is underestimated by many riders. Percentage-wise there is even more gravel in the Strade Bianche than cobbles in Paris-Roubaix. Moreover, there are around 3,000 altimeters to overcome. Last year, the cold weather also had an influence. The forecasts are better now but I do not focus on that since the course is tough enough to make the difference.”
Bart Leysen, sports director Lotto Soudal: “After the Flemish opening weekend, the feeling within the team is good. The riders were alert during the two races and we are very satisfied with the podium place of Tim Wellens in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. The unfortunate crash of Tiesj Benoot might not have consequences for the Strade Bianche. We will have to wait and see how he feels on the bike but he is certainly fit enough.With Tim Wellens, we also have a second candidate for the victory. For me, they are equal so I do not put one of them forward as the real leader. I am very glad that we can head towards a Classic such as the Strade Bianche with two irons in the fire.”
“The best scenario for us, is riding solo to the finish. However, I also dare to wait for the last climb in Siena. Tiesj and Tim can certainly handle that climb in a select group. After such a race, you never know exactly how strong the other riders still are. The influence of bad weather is also big because the chance of a setback is higher, which has often proved to be fatal. This year the circumstances will be better than the last edition, which is a significant difference for the evolution of the race. I expect that a rather large group will remain after the last gravel stretch. After that it will be a cat-and-mouse game direction Siena. It will especially be important not to end up on the defensive at that moment.”
Line-up Lotto Soudal: Tiesj Benoot, Carl Fredrik Hagen, Jens Keukeleire, Tomasz Marczyński, Lawrence Naesen, Tosh Van der Sande and Tim Wellens.
Sports directors: Bart Leysen and Mario Aerts.
It wil be special to start with number 1 in a race of that caliber.