Can Tiesj Benoot be the surprise winner in Tour of Flanders?

In a week marked by several tragic events, the peloton is preparing itself for the Ronde Van Vlaanderen. The 100th edition of the most important Belgian race will take place on Sunday 3 April. What the course is concerned, the organisation decided to maintain the same concept as previous years. Who will be the strongest after 255 kilometres, six cobbled sections and eleven hills?

The start takes place on the Market of Bruges, as usual. After eight kilometres in the neutralized zone, the official start will be given in Loppem. The peloton rides in West-Flanders for a while before it goes towards the hill zone. All hills and cobbled sections are situated in the final 150 kilometres and they are divided over three laps. The first lap contains ten hills and five cobbled sections, among those some well-known names such as Oude Kwaremont, Eikenberg, Paddestraat and Haaghoek.

After that the riders will come to the important part of the race. With about 70 kilometres to go, the peloton enters the second lap. This one contains five hills (Oude Kwaremont, Paterberg, Koppenberg, Steenbeekdries and Taaienberg, LTS) and one cobbled section (Mariaborrestraat, LTS). After this lap, it can be expected that the peloton will be seriously reduced and the riders then can prepare themselves for the real finale. The Kruisberg, Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg are the final hills on the course, they will certainly determine the race. After that, thirteen kilometres need to be covered towards the finish line in Oudenaarde.

Lotto Soudal really looks forward to this Spring Classic. The team will start with riders such as Tiesj Benoot, Jürgen Roelandts and André Greipel. They will compete against Fabian Cancellara, Jasper Stuyven, Tom Boonen, Niki Terpstra, Peter Sagan, Greg Van Avermaet, Sep Vanmarcke and last year’s winner Alexander Kristoff to name just a few contenders.

Last year Tiesj Benoot, a neo-pro of 21 years at that time, finished fifth in his first Ronde van Vlaanderen.

Tiesj Benoot: “Last year was the first time I rode such a long race and I liked it. This year I’ll start with a different feeling, but that doesn’t mean I am more nervous. I start with lots of confidence. The past three races (Dwars door Vlaanderen, E3 Harelbeke and Ghent-Wevelgem, LTS) I always rode the finale. That proves the condition is good. The Ronde van Vlaanderen is a race that suits me. Because of the distance and the hard route only the strong survive. You know much can and will happen during the race, although you never know when. It’s all about choosing the right moment, but I won’t tell my plans.”

Jürgen Roelandts: “Tiesj and I did a recon of the Ronde van Vlaanderen. It’s always good to take a thorough look at the course a few days before the race, for example to have a better idea of the wind direction. It’s also good to do a recon on Wednesday in between Ghent-Wevelgem and Ronde van Vlaanderen. I felt very well in Milan-Sanremo, but last Friday at E3 Harelbeke I got pain in the back and couldn’t continue the race unfortunately. Saturday I felt sick. On Sunday I still had some problems, but I managed to finish seventh, so the condition hasn’t disappeared. In the meantime I’m feeling much better.”

“The course of the Ronde has slightly changed. Before we get to the Molenberg we have to ride over some narrower roads with lots of turns, so it will be harder to control the race at that point. It’s still early in the race then, but it will make riders tired. For me that’s a good thing. The big favourites are known: Cancellara, Sagan and Van Avermaet. I don’t have any specific allies in mind, but maybe I will get some during the race. I certainly will have Tiesj by my side. It’s a pity Jens Debusschere won’t be able to ride on Sunday because of his injury. He has never been in such a good shape before the Ronde than this season.”

Herman Frison, sports director “Due to injuries of among other Jens Debusschere and Jelle Wallays we had to change our team roster for the Ronde. Our leaders Jürgen Roelandts and Tiesj Benoot are in excellent shape, that’s a fact. Today the two of them did a recon of the Ronde. The other guys from the selection for Sunday are all part of the team at the Three Days of De Panne and will be ready, I am convinced of that. Look at Pim Ligthart who attacked today or Sean De Bie.”

Line-up Lotto Soudal: Lars Bak, Tiesj Benoot, Sean De Bie, Jasper De Buyst, André Greipel, Pim Ligthart, Jürgen Roelandts and Marcel Sieberg.