Tiesj Benoot, guest of the week at Cafe Roubaix
A first year neo-pro and a U23 Lotto-Belisol alumni, Tiesj Benoot rode to an impressive fifth place at the 99th running of the Tour of Flanders, a performance no one would have anticipated before the start. Not only he became the youngest cyclist in the past 42 years to finish in the top 10 of De Ronde, but he impressed with his cunning and aggressive approach in the closing kilometers of the Monument, after the Taaianberg, making all the Belgian media dub him as the country’s next superstar in the Classics.
An economics student at the University of Ghent, the 21-year-old rider of Lotto-Soudal didn’t sleep on his laurels and continued to land some strong results in the following months, when he came second in the Tour of Belgium, ninth at the National Championships, eight in the Eneco Tour, and, more recently, fifth in the Grand Prix de Montreal, his last race before going to the United States. Here, Tiesj Benoot made his debut at the World Championships, racing with Lotto-Soudal in the team time trial, but his most important appointment will come this Sunday, when he’ll line-up for the 259,2 km-long road race.
Belgium has a very strong team for this year’s Worlds – arguably, the strongest in the race – and Tiesj hopes to help his colleagues land the victory in Richmond and thus take the country’s first rainbow jersey in three years. Just a couple of days before the event, Tiesj Benoot – which was one of the season’s revelation – sat down and talked for Cafe Roubaix about his 2015 results, the Worlds and the plans he has for 2016.
– Tiesj, what were your expectations going into this season?
My primary goals were to try to do a good job for the team in the bigger races and get some experience there. Besides that, I was aiming for some results in the smaller .1 races.
– Your breakthrough result came at the Tour of Flanders. What meant for you to finish fifth?
The Tour of Flanders was the race I dreamed about as a child and it still is my favourite Classic, so finishing fifth as a neo-pro was really something unbelievable for me. If someone would have told me in the winter that I’ll get selected for Flanders, it would have already considered it a big achievement.
– Did you feel that the result brought not only a bigger interest from the media and fans, but also extra pressure, as now people are talking more and more about you as a future Classics star?
Maybe the pressure is a bit bigger, but at this moment I think I can handle it and in the same time remain calm under the pressure. Also, it’s very important that the team gives me the chance to grow and develop without any stress.
– One week after Flanders, you line-up for Paris-Roubaix. How did you find the race?
I liked it as well, but I had two punctures on bad moments and that was it, the race was over for me from that point.
– Looking behind, how would you rate your Spring Campaign?
Overall, it was a really big step forward. I feel I have improved a lot. My engine got bigger and I am performing better on shorter efforts.
– Considering your strong string of results on various types of races and terrain, did this season help you make a clearer picture on what races you can target in the future?
After this year, I think I can maybe try to do also the Ardennes Classics in the following seasons and see how I perform there, but truth being told, at this moment I still don’t know which races suit me best.
– Speaking of the future – even tough it’s still early – what are your plans and goals for 2016? Are you thinking about making your Grand Tour debut?
My big goal for next year will be to confirm the results I had in 2015. Going into a Grand Tour is something I will talk about with my trainer and my team in the winter.
– Until then, you’ll race the World Championships in just a couple of days. What do you think of the course?
In my opinion, it’s a nice and demanding parcours, but the weather will have a decisive role. If there’s bad weather I think we won’t have a bunch sprint, but if there’s nice weather on Sunday, then there will be a big chance for a bunch sprint.