Michael Woods (EF Education First) played a significant factor in a pulsating day of racing on stage 2 of the Criterium du Dauphine, and although he missed out on the stage, the Canadian rider impressed with a set of attacks that put several race contenders on the ropes.
The stage was a frantic affair with a star-studded break including Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) and Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) racing clear in the early kilometers. The caliber of the break meant that Team Ineos were forced to chase on Chris Froome’s behalf, but with designs on the stage, Wood’s EF-Education First teammates joined the pursuit. With the break eventually caught, Woods and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) attacked on the final climb of the ôte de Saint-Victor-sur-Arlanc with Dauphine and Tour de France contenders sent scrambling for cover.
Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida) hung on up the road to take a deserved stage and the race lead, but Woods’ efforts netted him fifth place at the finish, and the 32-year-old now lies in sixth overall. Woods has made the top 10 in every WorldTour stage race he has competed in thus far in 2019, and that run looks set to continue if his stage 2 form at the Dauphine can be backed up over the remaining six days of racing.
"A huge tip of the cap to Alaphilippe. He’s the world number one and if he gets in a break no one wants to give him an inch. Ineos particularly rode super hard, and we even rode hard because we wanted to go after the stage today. That resulted in the break never having much time, and then everyone just suffering," Woods told Cyclingnews as he warmed down on the rollers next to his teammate Tejay van Garderen.
"I was able to attack and then Pinot came across to me. He was just flying, and I was doing everything that I could just to hold the wheel. I could occasionally pull through and my legs came around for the end. We weren’t able to bring the guys back, but I was happy with how I rode today."
Woods' goals for the Tour de France remain very much open. On paper, Rigoberto Uran should lead the EF-Education First challenge, given his previous pedigree in Grand Tours and his second place overall behind Chris Froome in 2017. However, Woods has a top-10 Grand Tour finish of his own, while his consistency over the past 18 months has been noted by the team’s management. That said, Woods also has the capability of targeting stages, as his Vuelta a Espana showed last year. For now, the all-rounder is giving little away, but the rest of the Criterium du Dauphine will be key when it comes to creating a blueprint for July.
"When you take six weeks off you never know how the legs are going to be. I hadn’t made many hard efforts before this race as I wanted to use this as my preparation for the Tour, but I’m happy with where I am at the moment,” he told Cyclingnews.
“I just want to focus on the GC here. My Achilles heel is the time trial, and ultimately I want to be a bit more of a stage hunter. It would be nice to test the legs a bit so I’ll wait for those final three stages."
With a 26.1km time trial on stage 4 and then three days of climbing to end this year’s edition of the Dauphine, Woods will have ample evidence on which to decide his goals for the Tour de France.