Team EF Education First's directors for Liège-Bastogne-Liège put a brave face on Michael Woods' fifth place at La Doyenne, praising the rider for a strong effort on one of the toughest races of the season, much of it held in very difficult weather conditions..
Woods went with the key move of the race at a point when almost all the other top favourites, including Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep), had fallen off the pace.
The Canadian and Davide Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe) stayed with Jakob Fuglsang (Astana Pro Team), with Woods the first to fall behind, then Formolo when the Dane made his final, definitive acceleration.
It was only on the final, long descent to Liège that Woods, second last year, was brought back, and he still hung on for fifth.
Woods' directors pointed out that even if they and the rider had obviously hoped for more than a top-five finish, Woods and the team had given it everything they could, with Tanel Kangert part of a dangerous breakaway, too, that only died in the final 30 kilometres.
"We had Tanel move because I thought the big guys were going to come across on La Redoute," Southam told Cyclingnews, "The gap was 30 seconds at that point, so it could have happened, but nothing actually happened there and it was a bigger group behind than I had expected.
"Alaphilippe wasn't feeling great, and that might have had something to do with it. But Astana still had six guys at the bottom of the Roche aux Faucons.
"Mike really tried, he was in the right place. It would have been nice if he could have made it over, but he tried as hard as he could.
"He did it right, there was no point in trying to save a little bit and then go for third."
As Southam pointed out, two years ago Team EF would have been "truly chuffed" with a fifth place in Liège. But since then the team has radically raised its game in the Classics, and hence their regret they did not get a better result, "so that's actually a good sign."
"Fuglsang was superior and he blew us apart, to the point where we couldn’t get the podium," added Garate. "We’ve raced well, we've been offensive and followed our plan."
Garate explained that strategically there had been a domino effect of misfortunes after the team sent Kangert up the road. "The Redoute wasn't tackled as fast as we'd expected, that meant there was a bigger group later on and that cut down on Tanel's options.
"That affected our chances, because we didn't think there'd be as many support riders after the Redoute. If that hadn't been the case, then maybe Tanel could have got to Roche aux Faucons ahead," rather than being reeled in.
"In any case, Mike was going well, we saw Alaphilippe wasn't going as well as everybody had thought, and finally Fugslang made it impossible. So that blew us apart and finally we couldn't fight for the podium, even."
The plan, Garate said, was for Woods to be in the key attacks, "and that's exactly where he was. He accelerated, then there were three riders ahead, but that final kilometre of false flat after the Roche aux Faucons, where Fuglsang attacked, ended up being absolutely decisive for the outcome of the race.
"We can only congratulate him, because Fugslang has been trying very hard for a long time, he's hit the post quite a few times, and today he's scored a goal."
Woods has proved, in any case, Garate agreed, that last year’s result was no fluke. "He already showed that in the World's too, and he's showed again that these kinds of climbs are the ones that really suit him."
In terms of the race overall, "We're disappointed, though, because we thought we could get on the podium, and all the guys raced really well. They deserved to get that podium place."
As for Woods, fighting for third, first alone and then fighting in the sprint to stay on the podium, "it was not easy, everybody was tired after a long day of racing and it was hard to recuperate after such a hard effort on the Roche aux Faucons. But weve done a good race."
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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