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Who is Tiesj Benoot?

When the Tour of Flanders was over, not all the journalists who were attending the race rushed to take an interview to Alexander Kristoff, the winner of the 99th edition. The Belgians, left without a top contender for this year’s race after Tom Boonen’s injury, were more interested in getting a reaction from Tiesj Benoot. And why not, considering that Lotto-Soudal’s rider (just 21 years and 25 days at the start of the race) wrote a little piece of history, by becoming the best placed neo-pro in the last 41 years of Flanders, as well as the youngest rider since 1973 to finish in the top 10 of De Ronde.

As it often happened with many cyclists, Benoot didn’t discover the sport immediately, his first passion being football, which he played for five years, until he was 11. A goalkeeper (same position as Greg Van Avermaet, to whom he compares when it comes down to the skills he has), was at some point scouted by KAA Ghent, but the Belgian team eventually decided to back off, once the young Tiesj switched his focus to cycling, although his parents didn’t agree with this.

When he was just 15, he scored his first important result – 3rd at the Provincial Championship Oost-Vlaanderen, in the Novices race – but had to wait until 2012 before nabbing the first victory in the Junior ranks, which came in stage two of the International Junioren Radrundfahrt Oberösterreich, ahead of Matej Mohoric, as well as finishing second in the GC. Just a couple of months later, he took another win, this time in the prestigious Keizer der Juniores, and the feeder team of Lotto-Belisol noticed his potential and signed him for the 2013 season.

Under Kurt Van de Wouwer’s tutelage, he took three wins, the biggest of these being the overall classification at the Tour de Moselle, but most important, he made some significant improvements and emerged as one of the most versatile young riders in the U23 races, smooth on the cobbles and with a great punch on the short climbs. If there’s any need for some proof, then it’s enough to look at the outstanding results he has had in 2014: 3rd in the Tour of Flanders, 3rd in the Ronde de l’Isard d’Ariège GC, 4th at the World Championships, 5th in Liège-Bastogne-Liège and 5th in Flèche Ardennaise.

But Tiesj Benoot didn’t stop here and went on to mix it with the pros, finishing 8th in Binche-Chimay-Binche and 16th in Paris-Tours, where he pulled for Jens Debusschere. These placings came while racing as a stagiaire for Lotto-Belisol, and the team was so impressed by his display that it came up with a two-year contract. Benoot – who studies economic at the Ghent University, but is allowed to skip classes – needed only a couple of weeks once the new season kicked-off in order to underline his potential, with the one-day races providing him the opportunity to shine: 4th in Le Samyn, 3rd in Handzame Classic, and 6th in both Ronde Van Zeeland and Dwars door Vlaanderen.

Then, last Sunday, in the Tour of Flanders, he launched a late and surprising attack, with about 2,5 km to go, that netted him 5th place, just 36 seconds behind the winner, after a 264 km-long battle of attrition. The Belgian press was extatic after this result and dubbed him “the new Museeuw”. But they’re wrong, because he’s the first Tiesj Benoot and has every chance of becoming a cycling legend in the following decade, as almost every one-day race is within his reach.

 

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