The Belgian fought through the rain and mud to beat a stacked field to victory at the 2018 Strade Bianche in Tuscany

Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) says his Strade Bianche victory on Saturday in Siena, Italy, will be one that will be remembered for its bad weather and one that must have “looked crazy on TV.”

The Belgian soloed into Piazza del Campo ahead of Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) after an attack at 12.3 kilometres out. Much of his red jersey and black bike were blanketed by mud from recent snowstorms and rain.

>>> Tiesj Benoot puts in super show of strength to win 2018 Strade Bianche

“Without these extreme conditions it would’ve been a hard race, but now it was so important to stay in front,” Benoot said. “I like the bad weather, so it was an opportunity and an advantage.

“It will be an edition of Strade Bianche that will be remembered for a very long time. I haven’t seen the TV images, but I bet it looked pretty crazy.”

Benoot joined the front duo of Bardet and cyclocross world champion Wout Van Aert (Veranda’s Willems-Crelan) with 15 kilometres to race and went free in the last of 11 gravel sectors.

He arrived after 184 kilometres in the famous square where Siena holds horse races and where he had an ice cream with his girlfriend on vacation. “I didn’t have that same attention on me then,” he said.

“Two years ago, I was eighth, but I said on Twitter, ‘I’m f***** but I’ll come back for more.’

Tiesj Benoot wins the 2018 Strade Bianche (Foto LaPresse – Fabio Ferrari)

“I felt really strong and I am proud to say to feel like a hero. I’m proud of that. I am going to remember this for a long time. It’s my first professional win. I’m just really happy it happened here.”

Snow fell last weekend and again heavily on Thursday. The weather warmed slightly and heavy rain turned the 63 kilometres of white gravel roads to mud tracks.

To win, the 23-year-old left behind Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), two-time winner Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) and Bardet, who placed twice on the podium in the Tour de France behind Sky’s Chris Froome.

“There are big hills out there. In the first section, I was a bit too far back, there was a crash and many favourites with me so I didn’t stress,” he said.

“I felt good, I could move around easily and no stress. The biggest problem, I had my glasses full of dirt. I took them off, but now my eyes are full of dirt. My eyes are red, but it’s more for the dirt than emotions to be honest.”