Despite a nasty downhill crash, Michael Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation) emerged the winner of a ding-dong battle for the King of the Mountains leadership on Saturday’s Pyrenean stage of the Tour de France.
Woods had already stated earlier in the Tour he’d be going for the polka-dot jersey, albeit rueing his misfortune that he’d chosen to do so in a year when veteran climbing ace Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) had moved into the 2021 KOM lead in the Alps and was targeting the jersey as well.
But in fact, while Quintana quickly dropped behind on Saturday’s run through the Pyrenean foothills, another former KOM leader, Wout Poels (Bahrain-Victorious), re-emerged to fight Woods over the stage’s three third-category and two second-category climbs.
Both part of a 14-rider break, Poels claimed first place on two ascents, the Montségur and Galinagues, each time ahead of Woods.
But then the Canadian claimed maximum points on one climb, Col de la Croix des Morts, and crucially pushed ahead in a late four-man move behind solo breakaway and stage winner Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo). With Poels missing from the four-rider counter-attack, Woods claimed second on the last climb and a hard-fought King of the Mountains leadership was in the bag, at least for one day.
“It’s amazing, I’m really proud. This is the first time a Canadian’s worn this jersey so it’s really special for me,” Woods told a small group of reporters at the stage 14 finish. Woods, however, is the second Canadian to lead the mountains classification at the Tour de France after Alex Stieda in 1986, the same year Woods was born.
“The only thing that’s dampening my excitement is having crashed earlier in the stage. I was totally surprised by a corner, I just slid out so I’m ticked off at myself.”
Woods was not seriously hurt in the crash and could quickly regain contact with the 14-man break. “I’m just scraped up and hopefully I’ll get a good night’s sleep and be up there again tomorrow.”
Woods did not think, he said, that he would have won the stage had the accident not happened.
“I don’t think I’d have followed Mollema when he went. He often does that and no one wants to go with him when he does. I also had my eye on the KOM jersey as well. You can only have your focus on so many things.”
Initially, Woods said, he had had his eye on both the KOM jersey and the stage win.
“But eventually you have to pick and if I were to try to bridge across to Mollema that would maybe have cost me going into that last cat-2 climb. So I had to play those cards and try and be more conservative.”
The classification for the King of the Mountains title remains far closer than that of the yellow jersey. Woods has 54 points while former leader Quintana is at 50. Poels is very much in the fray with 49 and Mont Ventoux winner Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) is only a little further down the ranking, with 43. And with such a tight battle, and almost all the Pyrenees are yet to come, Woods is adamant he’ll have to try and get in the break again on Sunday.
“That’s going to be essential in terms of defending the jersey. There’s a lot more points on offer so I’m hoping I’ll heal up well tonight. Obviously the stage wins are important, but the KOM jersey is the first priority now.”
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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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