EF Pro Cycling climber Michael Woods' victory on stage 3 of Tirreno-Adriatico on Wednesday indicated that the Canadian is on an upwards trajectory for the rapidly approaching World Championships in Imola, Italy, at the end of this month, and for his longer-term future at Israel Start-Up Nation in 2021 and beyond.
Woods fractured his femur on the last day of racing at Paris-Nice in March, but has used the enforced break from racing due to the coronavirus pandemic to fight back to fitness, and returned to competition at Strade Bianche at the start of August.
By winning stage 3 of Tirreno in Saturnia, Woods also took the leader's jersey, which he holds with an advantage of five seconds back to Wednesday's breakaway companion Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe).
"This is certainly a big step for my career," Woods told reporters at the finish. "I've never taken a leader's jersey in a WorldTour race before, so to do that is special.
"My time-trialling is not strong," he admitted, looking ahead to Monday's 10.1km test against the clock, which is the final stage of the Italian race. "And I don't expect to win this race, but we'll see how long we can hang on to this jersey.
"I don't think I'm the favourite," Woods added. "I think Jakob Fuglsang [Astana] and Geraint Thomas [Ineos Grendaiers] are stronger at time trials, and so I'm not the guy to win this race, but I'm going to defend the jersey as well as I can and hopefully attack even more."
A new home at Israel Start-Up Nation
Whatever happens, Woods will leave the relative comfort of EF Pro Cycling after this season – following five years with the American WorldTour team – and join Israel Start-Up Nation, where he also expects to quickly feel at home.
"I've loved racing for EF Pro Cycling – it's been an honour. It was not an easy decision to change teams, but I'm such a good friend with Sylvan Adams, the co-owner of the Israel Start-Up Nation team, and my mentor and my coach since I started, Paulo Saldanha, is also the performance director at the team. They made me this incredible offer – a three-year offer – and gave me a place I want to retire at, so that's why I decided to go there. After a three-year contract, it's the place where I want to end my career."
Looking ahead to the World Championships road race on September 27, Woods feels he's ready, no matter how tough the new course proves to be. The original venue for the championships – Aigle and Martigny in Switzerland – last month had to cancel the event in response to a Swiss government ruling on public gatherings as a result of the coronavirus crisis, with Imola instead stepping in as a last-minute replacement.
"I'm really excited about it. I think it is a bit easier than the course that was scheduled for Switzerland. However, it's still a very challenging course, and hopefully I can have a repeat performance of my Worlds in2018," said Woods, who finished third behind Spain's Alejandro Valverde and France's Romain Bardet in Innsbruck, Austria, two years ago.
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