Wheels Asia - - Tiesj benoot // q&a -

Tiesj Benoot is one of cy­cling’s hottest prospects. He was fifth in the 2015 Tour of Flanders, aged 21, and com­bines his cy­cling ca­reer with a de­gree in eco­nom­ics at Gent Univer­sity. How far can the Lotto-soudal rider go?

Were you sur­prised by your re­sults last year? Yeah, for sure: I sur­prised my­self, I sur­prised every­one. My goal was to have those re­sults at a lower level, in 1.1 races, but I could im­me­di­ately get re­sults in the World­tour, the high­est level in cy­cling. It was a big sur­prise.

How did it feel to be in con­tention for the win in your first Tour of Flanders? When I came over the Kware­mont and Pater­berg and looked around, I was with the big­gest names in Clas­sics cy­cling: guys I was watch­ing the year be­fore on tele­vi­sion. Feel­ing that I could fol­low them and play a role was re­ally spe­cial.

Given how pas­sion­ate Flan­dri­ans are about cy­cling, did that re­sult change your life? I come from a small vil­lage near Gent, I still live with my par­ents – I live an easy life ac­tu­ally. Not a lot changed in my life. I got more press at­ten­tion and some peo­ple recog­nise me but not a lot has changed. From time to time I get recog­nised in Gent, and some come up to you, but a lot don’t. I can still go and drink a beer and re­lax.

You are bal­anc­ing your stud­ies with a pro­fes­sional ca­reer, which is very un­usual – did you go to univer­sity be­cause you were wor­ried you wouldn’t make it as a pro cy­clist? Yes, two years ago, when I was 18, I had to choose what I wanted to study. I didn’t know if I would turn pro­fes­sional so it was nor­mal to go to univer­sity. I’m still happy to do it; I’ve put a lot of ef­fort into it so it would be silly to stop. But cy­cling comes first for me now. How do you sit ex­ams and when do you study – do you have your books with you at races and train­ing camps? I did one exam at the end of Novem­ber then one at the be­gin­ning of Jan­uary, so the first train­ing camp with the team I took my books, and I did a train­ing camp on my own and took my books. Ac­tu­ally, I only study on train­ing camps. But now I’m more fo­cused on the train­ing and rac­ing so I’ve stopped study­ing. Af­ter the Clas­sics I’ll start again. It’ll be four years be­fore I grad­u­ate, I think.

Do you have a lot of friends at univer­sity who help you with the course­work? I have and I need them be­cause I don’t have time for the classes. For the last year and a half I haven’t seen the in­side of a lec­ture the­atre. With­out them it wouldn’t be pos­si­ble to con­tinue study­ing.

As well as the Clas­sics you can ride stage races, you can climb, so do you have any idea what kind of rider you will be­come? The Clas­sics are my first goal but later [in my ca­reer] I will try to make the tran­si­tion to be­com­ing a lighter rider for the harder races: the [Clásica] San Se­bastián and the smaller stage races. It would be silly to do that now, be­cause the Clas­sics are where my heart lies. But I will try to do Am­s­tel Gold this year – a first step to some harder races.

How did you start cy­cling? Do you come from a cy­cling fam­ily? I wanted to start very early, when I was five, but it was not pos­si­ble. So I played soc­cer for six years, then I did the two sports for a year, then cy­cling only from when I was 11. My grand­fa­ther and fa­ther were cy­cling lovers but there are no cy­clists in the fam­ily. My grand­fa­ther was a run­ner – a steeplechaser. He was sec­ond in the Bel­gian Na­tional Cham­pi­onships one year.

Had you raced over such a long dis­tance be­fore the Tour of Flanders last year? No but I felt the week be­fore, at [E3] Harel­beke, that af­ter 200km I was still feel­ing fresh. I think the harder it is the bet­ter I am. The Tour of Flanders is also over my train­ing roads – that was a big ad­van­tage, to know the par­cours. I know ev­ery road – ev­ery stone, I would say.

You’re very ver­sa­tile: good in the Clas­sics but also able to climb and with am­bi­tions to do well in Grand Tours. Are there any cur­rent rid­ers you would like to em­u­late? Geraint Thomas is some­one I re­ally look up to, he rides well in ev­ery race from the be­gin­ning to the end of the season.

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