Strada Bianche, 2018. The adjectives just tumble onto the page. Epic. Brutal. Savage. Exhausting. Muddy.
With 40-odd kilometres to go Roman Bardet and cyclo-cross wunderkind Wout Van Aert led the race.
Sagan, in the chasing group, waved his arms and railed at others who wouldn’t work with him to close the gap. Valverde, with muddy death mask, looked sprightly. Kwiatkowski menaced and threatened.
But it was Tiesj Benoot, the Belgian, who led a splinter group on the attack, soon dropping his comrades and joining up with the leaders. Bardet peered over his shoulder, no doubt hearing the bullish snort of a man possessed.
The Frenchman’s head slumped, slightly, at the sight.
Benoot rode with the two for a few K’s before one, big, gruesome attack on a steep section of muddy and rutted gravel. He was away. Still some distance to the finish but Benoot was visceral; strong, and raw.
To paraphrase Matt Stephens, from Eurosport, as the cameras lingered long over the mud-caked Benoot with his bare legs and arms: “Look at him…he’s wearing this race…short sleeved, bare-legged…the others are layered up with arm warmers and knee warmers…this is raw!”
From the moment the young Belgian broke clear the result was hardly in doubt, so strong did he look, yet it was impossible to look away. The spectacle of this man on a mission was entertainment enough.
And then Strade Bianche did what Strade Bianche does: the citadel of Siena swung into view, and that wall of a climb through the town appeared. Granite clad, narrow with buildings and thronged with roaring Italians.
A linear amphitheatre.Embed from Getty Images
Benoot strangled his way up it, tiptoed through the maze of turns at the top, and took his win. Bardet and Van Aert had a wrangle for second. The Frenchman dragged his carcass, pedal turn by pedal turn up the slope, but for Van Aert, cramp took hold.
Raw, right to the end.