By David Hunter
After exploding onto the scene in 2015, a lot was expected of Tiesj Benoot in 2016. Still an incredibly young man, he only turned 22 in March, competing at such a high level at this age is remarkable. It is a sign of pure talent, but expectations can get too high.
He started the season off in great form, but 2016 will go down as a frustrating year for Tiesj. It was a season dominated by crashes, illness and bad luck. However, it was another season in the bank and one full of learning.
“I think I was really stronger in the start of the season till Flanders compared to 2015. You see also a clear improvement in my results in the races before Flanders.”
He started the season with a 3rd and 4th place in Mallorca. This was followed up with 3rd place in Omloop, only being beaten by Greg Van Avermaet and Peter Sagan. Then it was 8th in Strade Bianche and a couple of top 10 results in Tirreno. It was a very impressive start to the year for the youngster. He was at his attacking best in Dwars door Vlaanderen, before finishing 7th in E3 and 15th in Gent-Wevelgem. I will remind you that some of these results were achieved at just 21 years old!
Back to Omloop. Tiesj managed to get into the crucial move of the day. He escaped from the pack with Sagan, Van Avermaet and Rowe. They picked up Alexis Gougeard from the morning break and the Frenchman was a great help in keeping off the charge of the pack, but he also stopped Tiesj from going solo.
“It was a nice finish for me and I knew the finish well (my university campus is there). But I knew with Sagan and GVA I had to do something and my plan was to attack close to the finish but there were 3 factors that force me not to do it: full headwind, Gougeard pulling full for 5th and the peloton coming really close.”
Like many of his fans, I was delighted to see Tiesj over in Strade Bianche. Given his explosive ability and bike handling skills, it’s a race I think he can win in the future. Finishing 8th on his debut was a fine result, full of promise for the coming years.
“I think I did a good race there, but I trained maybe a bit too much the week before and I didn’t feel really fresh on raceday. Anyway 8th between those big names felt good.”
After finishing 5th in the Tour of Flanders, in 2015, a lot was expected this year. Sadly, a crash ruined any chance of a good result and also put a huge dent in the races that followed. Despite crashing hard, he still raced in Paris-Roubaix, but was not competitive. Then, Tiesj had to abandon Amstel Gold, a direct consequence of pushing himself into Roubaix.
“At Amstel Gold Race I got sick, for sure because I forced my body in Roubaix. The biggest disappointment was Amstel, because there I really got the feeling the crash fucked up the 3 biggest goals of my first half of the season.”
This marked a turning point in the season. Even once Tiesj recovered from his crash, he was hounded by illness and bad luck. I asked him how frustrating this period was.
“REALLY frustrating. I was always working really hard to come back better than before but when you get sick too often you are taken down again and again. Now I know it all started with my crash and I know the cause so I am working on it this winter.”
The second half of the season did contain some good results, but Tiesj struggled to find a rhythm after several periods of illness. He was 5th in the Tour of Poland, including finishing 3rd in the Queen stage. This result should have set him up nicely for San Sebastian, but he was ill before the race and was a DNF.
The inability to build momentum was the story of those closing months of the season. Just when a good result was obtained, more bad luck struck. It must have been very frustrating, but at least Tiesj will have many more seasons ahead of him. His team were not slow in offering him a 3 year contract, which was happily signed towards the end of the season. A sign from the team that they have full confidence in their young star.
What improvements did Tiesj notice this season?
“Physically I got stronger and I still think I showed that my results as a neo were no luck. Mentally I also learned a lot.”
Any changes to be applied in 2017?
“My trainer will put a bit different accents in my training schedule but I’ll keep the details for myself😉.”
Where does Tiesj feel he can improve?
“TT and acceleration.”
What about his normal training routine?
“Waking up, a nice breakfast and getting out for training. After training a good meal and then I take a nap if I feel tired, if not I do something else, maybe a bit studying, getting some stuff done, watching a movie. What I eat is difficult to say here, my mother has a bioshop so we eat biological. To describe my style of eating I would say just healthy food with from time to time some cake as guilty pleasure😉. I think I train good, I’m really motivated and dedicated. Most of the time I train with the other professionals who live around Ghent: Nikolas Maes, Bert De Backer, Iljo Keisse, Otto Vergaerde, Edward Theuns and Dimitri Claeys. We have a training group called ‘SVGG’.”
Away from cycling, Tiesj is continuing on with his studying. He is still working his way through a degree in Applied Economics. This is no dumb sportsman! What can we expect from him in 2017?
Crucially, he will compete in his first grand tour. We are all aware of the boost riders feel after going through three weeks of hell. Considering the experience Tiesj already has, the extra boost a grand tour will provide him with should have a huge impact. What are his targets?
“I’ll start with the classics till Amstel.”
After a frustrating finish to 2016, I think Tiesj will be a very busy boy over the winter period. I would expect to see him peaking very early in 2017. Despite all of his success, he’s still to take his first pro win. Now, he’s still just 22 years old, so that’s not a big problem. I expect to see him taking that first win, early in 2017. Watch out for him in Omloop!
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