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Strade Bianche 2018: Tiesj Benoot unmatched as he leaves all rivals behind

Tiesj Benoot had his work cut out to catch the leaders but once he was back in touch he attacked and went away to the win

Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) won the 2018 Strade Bianche after chasing up to and then attacking the breakaway. The leading pair until that point had been Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) and Wout van Aert (Vérandas Willems–Crelan), but they couldn't match the attack of Benoot on a late section of white road.

Suited to the roads thanks to his cyclocross riding, van Aert had been active on the front of the race for much of the day and was the only rider to react when Bardet went on the offensive.

That move came with 46km still to race, and the grouo of favourites behind were soon arguing about who was going to ride, which sapped all impetus and allowed Bardet and van Aert to go clear.

Clearly irritated by this situation, Benoot pushed on and took Pieter Serry (Quick-Step Floors) with him. That effort was worth it for the former and it facilitated his later, winning move.

With 2km between them and the finish line, and 45 seconds to Benoot, the chasing pair of Bardet and van Aert started looking at each other as they knew they were racing for second place. They had plenty of time for such manoeuvres as their advantage to the next group on the road was out to almost a minute.

A late dig gave Bardet a gap and with it second place.

Stade Bianche 2018: Mud, rain and exciting racing

With a full 55km still to race, for much of the peloton the move had been missed and their chances of winning had gone. One of the riders to have missed that move, however, was Bardet, but he chased back on to the leaders and attacked to go clear of them almost straight away.

Cyclocross champion van Aert, who had already been active on the front, perhaps showing his nose to the wind just a bit too much, followed the Frenchman and the pair began to ride together with 46km between them and glory.

The lead pair had pushed their advantage out to 48 seconds with 34 km left to race, aided in part by the arguments and stalling pace in the chase group.

Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) had found himself the wrong side of a split but was back in touch with little bother. Whenever he appeared on the front of the bunch he soon turned his head as if to question the commitment of his fellow chasers.

Frustrated with the lack of progress, Benoot leeped out of the group and was followed by Serry.

This duo soon distanced the super-group of Sagan, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) and others but were struggling to get any closer to the leading pair.

Bardet and van Aert continued to stamp on the pedals and held a lead just shy of 40 seconds over the most immediate chasers and 1:16 over the next group after that with 21km left to the finish line.

Benoot left Serry behind 1.3km later and tried to bridge to the front on his own. Benoot's attack knocked nine seconds off the lead with ease, and came at a time when van Aert started to look tired for the first time all day.

Young Australian Robert Power (Mitchelton-Scott) bridged to Giovanni Visconti (Bahrain-Merida), who had earlier left the main chase group. That pair caught the slowing Serry, and while they were riding together, Benoot brought the head of the race into view and soon made it a leading trio.

Further back, and with the leaders 15.8km from the end, Sagan stared down his rivals and pushed on over a late section of white road but could not get back to the front of the race.

With their lead now under a minute, Benoot left his companions on an uphill section of muddy white road 12.3km from the end of the race. Bardet eventually reacted and got into his own rhythm to try and reel Benoot back in, and van Aert got back to Bardet's wheel.

The next group back, which had been a trio of Power, Visconti and Serry, was now a pack of five with the addition of Valverde and Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step Floors). Serry was the first to drop out of that group, paying for his earlier efforts.

Benoot pushed on and gained 23 seconds over his former, albeit brief, allies. That lead increased further to over half a minute and proved to be the winning move.

Strade Bianche 2018: Top 10

1. Tiesj Benoot (BEL) Lotto Soudal, in 5:03:33
2. Romain Bardet (FRA) AG2R La Mondiale, at 0:39
3. Wout Van Aert (BEL) Verandas Willems Crelan, at 0:58
4. Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Movistar, at 1:25
5. Giovanni Visconti (ITA) Bahrain-Merida, at 1:27
6. Robert Power (AUS) Mitchelton-Scott, at 1:29
7. Zdenek Stybar (CZE) Quick-Step Floors, at 1:42
8. Peter Sagan (SVK) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 2:08
9. Pieter Serry (BEL) Quick-Step Floors, at 2:11
10. Gregor Mühlberger (AUT) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 2:18

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