Michael Woods (EF Education First) came into Il Lombardia with a hot hand after winning Milano-Torino earlier in the week, but the Canadian who turned 33 on Saturday wasn’t able to celebrate his birthday on the podium after finding himself heavily marked in the finale.
Woods finished fifth in his third attempt at the ‘Race of the Falling Leaves’ after Trek-Segafredo’s Bauke Mollema slipped away from the select lead group on the penultimate climb and successfully held the chasers at bay.
“No gifts for anybody, but especially today,” Woods told Cyclingnews in the finishing straight in Como. “I think just the fact that I rode well earlier this week, a lot of guys were leaning on me. That’s kind of my first experience where everyone was leaning on me a bit more, and even [Primoz] Roglic was not keen to collaborate with me. That resulted in me sprinting for fifth instead of a podium spot.”
Once Mollema was gone, the favourites group that included Woods, Jumbo-Visma’s Roglic, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), among others, played a game of cat-and-mouse that allowed the Dutchman to stay away.
Bernal, Fuglsang and Valverde battled for the final podium spots, with Valverde grabbing second and Bernal third, while Woods was left to lead in another group of three 18 seconds later.
“Mollema made a great move and tactically rode very well,” Woods said. “It was very difficult to beat him today by virtue of his savviness, but I really felt like I had a shot of at least coming second.
"I got a bit taken advantage of just on that descent; guys were attacking and I followed, but then someone else would attack and no one really collaborated at the end.”
A podium spot would have provided an ideal end-to-the-season birthday gift for Woods, but he told Cyclingnews he couldn’t be too disappointed with fifth in just his third Il Lombardia.
“I wanted to get a good result here, but even with fifth I can’t be too disappointed,” he said. “I really had the legs today, and wining Milano-Torino is great. It’s a really positive end to the season.”
Woods, who started his season in January at the Tour Down Under, isn’t ready to hang up his wheels for a well-deserved post-season break quite yet. He’ll fly to Japan next to race the Japan Cup on October 20. He’ll also use the trip to take a look at the 2020 Olympics road race course in Tokyo.
“Unfortunately my flight got cancelled, so I’m going to go a bit later now and then recon the Olympics course after the race,” he said.