Optum Pro Cycling’s Michael Woods was able to briefly test his climbing legs Wednesday at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah after he surged to the front ahead of the final KOM on the closing circuits of stage 3 in Bountiful.
The former middle-distance runner, who is in his first year with Optum, jumped away from a reduced peloton to track down lone escapee Joey Rosskopf (BMC) as the race neared the finish.
Woods pressed the pace on the front, along with Lachlan Norris (Drapac) and Daniel Martinez (Colombia). The trio had a gap, but they were quickly joined by Flavio DeLuna (Team SmartStop) and Rob Squire (Jamis-Hagens Berman), with DeLuna taking top honours over the top.
The leaders had a slight gap when they Crested Bountiful Bench, but that was quickly neutralised as the reduced field bore down on them during the technical descent through a residential neighbourhood leading to the finish on Main Street. Axeon’s Logan Owen eventually took the win in a bunch sprint.
“I wanted to try and get a gap and go for the stage win,” Woods said. “Unfortunately the two other guys were out of gas. I’d take a pull and they’d come around and we’d just slow up. I’m disappointed but it was fun to mix it up finally and test the legs a little bit. I’m feeling really good.”
Woods started the year at Optum with an impressive fifth-place finish during the Queen stage of Volta a Algarve, where climbed alongside Richie Porte (Sky), Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-QuickStep), Ion Izagirre (Movistar) and Geraint Thomas (Sky). He followed that with a win at a one-day 1.2 race in Portugal. [Read about his exploits in his Cyclingnews blog]
Illness and a nasty crash slowed the middle of Woods’ season, but he appears to be back in form now, as does teammate Phil Gaimon, who helped launch Woods’ attack on Wednesday.
Gaimon and Woods are able to play off each other’s strengths, as they did at the Redlands Bicycle Classic queen stage in May when Gaimon attacked on the final climb before Woods countered the chasers and took the win. Optum’s dynamic duo is hoping they can use similar coordination this week.
“We kind of tried that today, so, yeah, I don’t see why not,” Gaimon said “I think the steep stuff for Woodsy, and I can kind of get in other guys’ ways.”
Gaimon raced Utah last year for Garmin-Sharp, playing a key role in helping Tom Danielson defend his 2013 title on Danielson’s way to winning again in 2014. He said he’d be excited to play a similar role for Woods.
“Defending for Woodsy would be a blast,” he said. “That would be a true honour.”