At the start of the week at the Tour Down Under, Cannondale-Drapac arrived with a fully motivated Michael Woods and the experienced Tom Jelte Slagter in their ranks: two cards and two riders looking to shine. But on the key stage to Willunga Hill, with the podium still within reach, both riders succumbed to the ferocious pace and dropped down the standings after Richie Porte demolished the peloton with a solo attack.
Woods, who was fifth in the Tour Down Under twelve months ago was the first to lose contact on the short but punishing Willunga slopes, while Slagter hung on for slightly longer to take tenth. With one stage to go the Dutchman sits 14th overall, with Woods 21st.
“We’ve not actually debriefed yet, and we’ll do that when we get to the hotel as I want to give the guys a chance to cool down but you’ve either got it or you haven’t on a finish like that,” team director Tom Southam told Cyclingnews as his riders came over the line one by one.
“As far as I could see the guys did a good job and we wanted a hard race.”
From the start Cannondale-Drapac rode on the front foot. Will Clarke infiltrated the early break and the rest of the team protected Woods.
“Last year they dawdled up so that’s why we put William in the break. That was great because I knew that with De Gendt in the break too there they would keep going and make it hard up Willunga. Tactically that was good because we wanted to tire out guys like McCarthy.”
However the plan unravelled as the peloton hit Willunga Hill for the second and final time. Team Sky, Orica-Scott and finally Porte traded blows, with Woods soon distanced. Slagter set about riding at his own tempo to rescue a top ten position on the stage.
“We had Tom and Mike for the climb. Tom rode a good climb but for Mike the legs just weren’t there. Tom was pretty regular up there and got tenth but Mike is fit and he’s going well. It’s hard at a race like this because when you’re riding GC and backing that then you have to do it 100 per cent. This stage came so close to the end of the race and he was still close but today it just didn’t happen.”
While Woods’s season has not started the fashion he or his team would have hoped, Southam stressed that the Canadian climber had bigger ambitions further the line and that the rider’s season would not be judged by one week in January.
“Mike will go to the Cadel Evans but to be honest he’s got a big year in Europe coming and this will long since be forgotten by the time he does the Giro d’Italia.”