After turning professional at 29, the Canadian has faced a steep learning curve to catch up with his rivals. But at the finale in Ans, Woods proved that he was more than capable of taking on some of the top Classics racers of his generation as he etched out a remarkable second place at La Doyenne.
Already very active in the closing kilometres, Woods darted onto Romain Bardet’s wheel as soon as the Frenchman moved away after the Côte de Saint-Nicolas. The two caught and passed Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Soudal) when they reached the crest of the Ans climb, having combined well on the run-in.
"We worked well together," Woods later told Cyclingnews. "We talked a bit, Bardet was like 'allez, allez', and that was inspiring because he's a guy who's podiumed on the Tour. He's a courageous rider. He definitely got me going and made me believe we'd stay away.
"We went pull for pull until about 500 metres to go, then Bardet pulled through super hard and tried to drop me, but I knew then that if it came down to the sprint, I'd have a shot. So I took his wheel and sprinted for the line."
Woods was, he agreed, still pinching himself at the result to believe that it could all come together so well: "Certainly, this is a cool moment."
Woods placed seventh in the Vuelta a España last year, and ninth in Liège, which were in themselves breakthrough results for the Canadian. Finishing second in Liège this year was, Woods said in his post-race press conference, "a very special day for me.
"I started off the season having a rough start, I got sick in Abu Dhabi, I had no legs, I rode the start of the season questioning my abilities as a rider," Woods said.
"Today was the first day [of the season] I actually felt like a bike racer, I felt light, I felt good, I felt confident. A great day."
Initially, Woods had a plan to wait for the finale, and maybe attack on the Côte de Roche aux Faucons or a little later. But when he realised how strong he was feeling, he opted to wait for a sprint in the finish.
"But then I was fortunate enough to see Bardet attack, and I was able to follow him. I was able to pull through with him and I knew if we could make it through to the finale, I had a good sprint," Woods.
Woods was asked whether his podium spot constituted an upper limit for him, or if he thought he still had room for improvement.
"I'm enjoying where I'm at,” he said. "I came to cycling very late and I'm probably the oldest neo-pro in history, turning pro at 29. When I was a runner I used to always think I could get better, but the best race I ran was when I was 18. And I didn’t really cherish that because I thought 'I'm going to get better.'
"But today's a result I'm going to cherish. Obviously I want to try and improve but you have to be happy with where you're at."
So could he consider this result as one where he lost Liège-Bastogne-Liège, or was it a victory?
"Certainly it was a win for me. It was a great result. I've still yet to win a big WorldTour race, and that's one of my goals, but I raced the best I possibly could," Woods said. "Bob Jungels is a phenomenally strong racer and he deserved the win today."
Looking at his achievements so far, Woods had no doubt in calling his Liège performance the finest of his career to date.
"This is the best result I've ever had in my life," he said. "The Vuelta, and placing seventh there was a great result, I'm proud of it, but I wasn't in contention to win. But today, I was at the front of the race, I was there."
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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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