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In an instant Saturday in the iconic Italian classic, the Jumbo-Visma rider went from being perfectly positioned at the front of the race to being eliminated with injury.
A photograph by Belgian photographer Tim de Waele of Getty Images captured the emptiness and disappointment of the moment.
With his knee bloodied and his arm raised to call a team car, the Jumbo-Visma rider knew his spring campaign was permanently altered.
“I felt like I was riding well. I managed to stay in front on the gravel sections,” said Benoot, a Strade winner in 2018. “At the moment of the crash I was with the front of the bunch. I don’t think you can be much safer than that. Unfortunately, I could not avoid the two riders who crashed. A gust of wind made us all smash into the tarmac.”
Wind blew riders off their bikes: ‘Sometimes you have days like this’
A gust of wind blew that literally blew riders off their bikes Saturday provoked a major crash that also implicated Julian Alaphilippe, Tadej Pogačar, Sepp Kuss, Quinn Simmons and dozens of others.
Some were not seriously injured, and continued racing. Pogačar went on to win. For others, like Benoot, an entire winter of preparation could be down the drain.
Benoot was right at the nose of the peloton. The wind gust pushed an Alpecin-Fenix rider across the front of the bunch, provoking a domino-effect crash of bikes and bodies. Luckily, there do not appear to be any serious injuries, but Benoot was out.
The Belgian rider later waited for a team car and exited the race.
Team doctors already confirmed he will not race Tirreno-Adriatico, and with a deep gash on his knee, it’s uncertain how long he will remain sidelined.
“The important thing is recovering quickly. My back is hurting me at the moment, so it won’t be easy to sleep tonight,” Benoot said. “My left knee has an open wound and cannot be stitched up. I need to take it from day to day, see how I will recover, so hopefully I can set new goals for this spring as soon as possible.”
Benoot was among around 100 riders who did not finish Saturday’s brutal edition of Strade Bianche, where only 87 riders made it to the finish line in Piazza del Campo.
Kuss continued racing after the big pile-up, then later crashed again, but led the way for Jumbo-Visma colors with 31st.
Crashes are part and parcel of professional racing, despite the fact that the riders are expert bike-handlers. Teams simply try to limit the damage when crashes happen.
In Saturday’s crash, TV images revealed how quickly riders tried to remount their bikes and take up the chase just as soon as they could.
For every champagne celebration, there are typically dozens of tales of disappointment and frustration in any bike race. Benoot tried to carry on, but simply could not.
“These kinds of races are too hard to overcome any setbacks,” said Jumbo-Visma sport director Maarten Wynants.
“This was a disappointing day for us. Before the majority of the peloton crashed, we had everything under control. We can’t blame anyone today. Sometimes you have days like this.”