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Woods aiming high again at Liege-Bastogne-Liege

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Michael Woods (EF Education First)

Michael Woods (EF Education First)
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Michael Woods (EF Education First) rode strongly on the way to his stage win

Michael Woods (EF Education First) rode strongly on the way to his stage win
(Image credit: Con Chronis)
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EF Education First's Michael Woods on the attack

EF Education First's Michael Woods on the attack
(Image credit: Con Chronis)
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A thumbs-up from EF Education First's Michael Woods having defended his race lead on stage 3 of the 2019 Herald Sun Tour

A thumbs-up from EF Education First's Michael Woods having defended his race lead on stage 3 of the 2019 Herald Sun Tour
(Image credit: Con Chronis)
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Michael Woods also leads the mountains competition

Michael Woods also leads the mountains competition
(Image credit: Con Chronis)

Michael Woods (EF Education First) is once again aiming for a top result in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, although this time around there are plenty of differences compared to 2018.

The course, whilst still very hilly, is also radically altered from 2018, with a much harder middle section to the 260-kilometre race as well as the return of a flat run-in to central Liege, rather than a long grind up to Ans. And after last year’s runners-up spot, Woods can no longer be described as an outsider.

On the plus side, Woods' form is good, EF Education First have a strong line-up and their collective Classics confidence has been boosted enormously after Alberto Bettiol's unexpected but well-deserved win in Tour of Flanders.

As for Fleche Wallonne, a race which favours him too, Woods said he was disappointed with his result because he had a mechanical at one of the worst possible moments in the race.

"There was a barrage, and it took a long time and a big effort to get back into the race, after which I didn’t have the legs," he said. "It was frustrating for me because it’s a good race for me, and I didn’t get the result that I wanted. But I’m still really excited for Sunday."

Would said he believes the new route for Liege-Bastogne-Liege, with the finale no longer an uphill finish, will make for a more open race earlier on.

"If anything, it will mean that guys will try things earlier in the race," he said. "It’s not going to make it any easier, as some people seem to think."

Like the vast majority of the teams, EF will do the reconnaissance of the route on Friday, focussing on the last 90 kilometres.

The elimination of the San Nicolas climb in the last part of the course is also a key change, Woods says, so that whilst the Cote de la Roche Aux Faucons, previously the penultimate climb and now the final ascent, remains critical, La Redoute, often seen as more of a dress rehearsal than a point where breaks went clear, could also regain its previous importance, too.

Woods will also be aided by what he believes is a deep roster for his team.

"My legs are there, I came second last year and I’m ready for a good result," he said. "But we have a guy who just won Flanders [Alberto Bettiol] and a guy who just came second in Amstel [Simon Clarke] too. So we are in the the fortunate position to not be lacking in depth, to have a really good range of riders, strong guys like Nate Brown and Lawson Craddock, who was riding really well at Amstel, Dani Martinez who won a stage at Paris-Nice, and Tangel Kangert too.

"So we’ll be able to play a game, similar to the Lotto Soudal and [Deceuninck] QuickStep team strategies, whereas in previous years we’ve just been aiming to be in the front group."

Woods says that if he was offered a piece of paper guaranteeing him a podium finish, rather than going in there with every option on the table, he’d take the former.

"Unless you're [top favourite Julian] Alaphilippe, you’d sign for that, no hesitation," he said. "Coming second at a Monument last year was a huge accomplishment for me, and I also got the World’s bronze as well, but nothing is guaranteed. I’d be more than pleased with a podium position.

"Obviously, I want to try to improve on my second place of last year, but bike races are so hard to win, and I think our best shot at winning is not just relying on myself but leaning on our strength in depth."

Compared to 2018, Woods has something of a target on his back, but as he says, “Far less of a one than a guy like Alaphilippe. I’m still flying way under the radar compared to him. The [other teams'] race meetings are not orientated around Mike Woods, they’re orientated around 'what’s Alaphilippe doing?'"

As for how the race could play out, Woods is very much in favour of the ‘ambush theory’ - that a rider could break off the front well before the finish and stay away.

"Totally. This race is one of the best shots for that to happen, and a lot of guys will be leaning on each other, and a real opportunist, a guy like Tim Wellens [Lotto Soudal] or like [Bob] Jungels [Deceuninck-QuickStep] did last year, could move away and get it."