Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) cemented his tag as a future star by claiming his first ever pro win – soloing to victory at a mud-splattered Strade Bianche.
The Belgian, 23, bridged across to leaders Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Wout van Aert (Verandas Willems-Crelan), before accelerating away on the final gravel sector to claim the win.
Caked in mud during an edition of Strade Bianche that will go down in history, Benoot’s race-winning move came on the steep, uphill final sector and left Bardet and Van Aert with no answer as they came in second and third respectively.
It was a race packed with action, with the peloton splitting very early in the race – the bunch halved before it had even tackled the second stretch of white gravel road (or brown, wet, muddy gravel as the case was).
Bardet initially missed what proved to be the crucial break as the race was blown apart ahead of the long, punchy eighth sector, but the Frenchman bridged across solo and simply rode straight past the elite group of leaders.
Van Aert was the only man to track Bardet’s move, with Benoot in the chasing pack at this stage, alongside the likes of world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe) and defending champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky).
It was the Belgian who forced another split when the race returned to the tarmac, however, and he kicked again with 30km remaining.
Bardet and Van Aert’s efforts had kept them clear, but when Benoot dropped the hammer a final time and bridged across to them, they were already paying the price.
The future Classics star caught and passed them, and stretched his lead on the final run-in to Siena to claim the first of what his national press hope will be many Classics victories.
Strade Bianche 2018: result
1) Tiesj Benoot (BEL) – Lotto-Soudal – 5.03.33hrs
2) Romain Bardet (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +39"
3) Wout van Aert (BEL) – Verandas Willems-Crelan +58"
4) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +1.25
5) Giovanni Visconti (ITA) – Bahrain-Merida +1.27
6) Robert Power (AUS) – Mitchelton-Scott +1.29
7) Zdenek Stybar (CZE) – QuickStep Floors +1.42
8) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Bora-hansgrohe +2.08
9) Pieter Serry (BEL) – QuickStep Floors +2.11
10) Gregor Muhlberger (AUT) – Bora-hansgrohe +2.16