pro cycling

Benoot, Van Baarle, and the power of diesel

Tiesj Benoot Cyclist

Many of us first took a shine to diesel powered Belgian pro cyclist Tiesj Benoot when he won Strade Bianche back in 2018.

The weather that day had turned the usually photogenic white gravel roads of that exquisitely pretty race into a mucky porridge. He’d entered the finish town of Siena alone and clear, and emerged into the hum of the town square blinking like a coal miner surfacing from a twelve-hour shift.

Caked in shit but beautiful, Tuscan shit.

Iconic, epic, race winning, career defining shit.

It was memorable.

Embed from Getty Images

Fast forward to 2023 and Tiesj (pronounced Teesh, or in the words of Rob Hatch, fantas-Tiesj) has taken the second World Tour win of his career at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.

Which is odd, because Kuurne is the “sprinter friendly” classic. In this race the last fifty kilometres are flat as a Belgian waffle, and as the town of Kuurne comes into view the sprinters tighten their shoes, stick their chests out, and unfurl their massive wattage.

As anyone with even a working knowledge of Tiesj Benoot will tell you this is not his thing. He has a single, grim, powerful pace. Acceleration happens slowly. Like an oil tanker in a headwind.

He does not sprint.

His glorious victory at Strade all those years ago saw him drop Wout Van Aert and Romain Bardet with ten kilometres to go, point the oil tanker towards Siena, and refuse to relent. He’s the classic diesel engine.

At Kuurne, as it became clear that the elite group of five riders in the breakaway (Benoot, Van Hooydonck, Wellens, van der Hoorn, and Mohoric) would contest this finish, Benoot was surely the fifth most likely to win.

He looked shattered in those final few kilometres. But when has he ever looked anything other than dog-tired? Could he really find a way to win a sprinters classic?

And as we watched and wondered he just quietly snuck away.

While Taco van der Hoorn was hovering around looking menacing, stern of jaw, strawberry blond of eyebrow, looking more Dutch than Ronald Koeman, and Wellens was closing down gaps, apparently iron strong, giving nothing away, Benoot pressed the pedals just a little bit harder, gained a ten-metre gap, and was gone.

A subtle waft of a move a few hundred metres from the finish and the race was won.

Fantas-Tiesj indeed!

And this glorious one-paced grind was a theme of the weekend. A template perfected twenty-four hours earlier by Benoot’s Jumbo Visma teammate Dylan van Baarle – another diesel, more the sleek saloon of a regional sales manager in contrast to Teesh’s workmanlike family estate – who drifted clear with fifteen kilometres remaining of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and was never seen again.

The ack-ack-ack of the TV ‘copter tracked him across the familiar Flanders landscape – a functional iron bridge here, a tedious housing estate there, an endless patchwork of geometric agriculture in every direction – as he delivered his textbook race winning gambit: spotted by almost no-one in the moment, blindingly obvious in hindsight.

Stealth in broad daylight.

Had Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert been present they may have had something to say about these understated wins. But they weren’t. So they didn’t. Saving themselves for the 2023 edition of Strade Bianche apparently, which means we might well be back to dynamic accelerations, flamboyant adrenaline fuelled attacks, and glorious race winning moves.

Which is great.

If you like excitement, and that sort of thing.

It’s one way of winning I suppose.

(Top Image: by Filip Bossuyt via Wikimedia Creative Commons)

5 comments on “Benoot, Van Baarle, and the power of diesel

  1. I love the very apt comparison of the two riders to types of motor vehicles

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lovely bit of writing – we could almost be there.

    Liked by 1 person

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