Mike Woods' time on the bike with current team EF Pro Cycling may be just days away from ending but the Canadian showed again on Wednesday in the Vuelta a España he is determined to go out on as high a note as possible.
Second on stage 6 at Formigal, the winner at Orduña 24 hours later, and also working hard to protect teammate and GC option Hugh Carthy on mountain stages like the Angliru, Woods got in a very solid seven-rider break en route to Ourense on stage 14, one of the Vuelta’s tougher transition stages.
One of the strongest riders in the move and able to pull back time after the group split on a late descent, Woods was narrowly out-powered at the line in a technical uphill finale by Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal). Woods said afterwards that a mis-calculation about a late lefthand bend played no small part in his defeat.
“I knew it was turning and that’s why I wanted to be on the front with 200 metres to go,” Woods told Cyclingnews afterwards, “but I didn’t expect it to turn as hard as it did.
“And so even though Wellens got in front of me [going into the corner], I was hoping I could still come around him.” Indeed, Woods tried to do exactly that as the two came round the final sharp bend, but as the saying goes, the line arrived too quickly for the Canadian to get back on terms.
On the plus side, Woods had come impressively close to victory in what was a dauntingly powerful break. It included not only Wellens but also riders as well-known as former Paris-Nice winner Marc Soler (Movistar) and Classics expert Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-QuickStep) as well as Ineos-Grenadiers' Dylan Van Baarle, one of Richard Carapaz’s top domestiques in this year’s Vuelta.
Two more riders, 20-year-old Thymen Arensman (Team Sunweb), who is riding a hugely impressive first-ever Grand Tour and already third behind Wellens in the first week in another break, along with the formidably experienced French racer Pierre-Luc Périchon (Cofidis). They showed their strength, as well, by bridging across soon after the original move had formed.
“It was one of the better breaks I’ve ever been in,” Woods said, “I’ve rarely been in a move with that level quality of rider and you felt it. It was heart-rate racing all day, we were just crunching it. I think even though you wanted to win, there was a good feeling in general - after the stage we were all giving each other fist-bumps.”
In an intensely tactical finale, on the last ascent of the day, the third category Alto de Abeilaira positioned 22 kilometres from the line, the Canadian opened up the round of late attacks.
“I was on the front and I just got a gap and I tried to capitalize on it, it was similar to how I went on stage 7,” Woods told Cyclingnews. “Someone just let the wheel go a bit and I went for it, I figured maybe only one or two guys would get across.
“But because everyone was a winner there, everyone fought to come back. And then on the descent, I made the mistake of getting behind Dylan and the rider from Sunweb [Arensman], so I was last onto the the descent.”
“Stybar”, riding an aero-bike, so clearly a man on a mission, “opened a gap on the descent and Dylan and the Sunweb rider weren’t able to follow. I could get around the Sunweb guy, but not around Dylan and then the gap was open by then.
“Wellens, Soler and Stybar capitalized on that and then it was three”, with Woods, Arensman and Van Baarle chasing and Périchon dropped, “against three for almost nine kilometres,” back into the centre of Ourense for the final showdown.
“We were all riding full gas and we were able to make it back. It was touch and go, but I figured if we kept on riding hard we had a shot.”
The final shoot-out with Wellens did not go Woods’ way, but as Woods said, looking at the global picture, EF are riding a notably successful race in Spain
“This has been the best performance in a Grand Tour I’ve been a part of with EF,” said Woods, who has racked up three Vueltas, two Giros and a Tour with the American team since he joined in 2016.
“We’ve had two stage wins, I’ve had two second places and now Hugh is sitting in third overall right now. It’s really nice, the morale’s high and I think the way Hugh’s riding, we’re confident he can protect that podium position as well. It’s a really nice place for the team to be.”
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