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Cannondale-Drapac believes Woods can deliver the Vuelta goods

VILLA REAL, Spain (VN) — Cannondale-Drapac is going all-in for a stage victory during this Vuelta a España with Michael Woods.

In just his second grand tour start, the 30-year-old Canadian confirmed Wednesday he’s in top form. In what was a very good sign for what lies ahead in this Vuelta, Woods smashed it across the top with the frontline GC favorites on the steep climb above the shimmering Mediterranean at Alcossebre.

With this Vuelta riddled with steep, explosive climbs, the U.S.-registered team is betting Woods will deliver the goods.

“Michael is better than he was in the Giro,” said Cannondale-Drapac sport director Juanma Garate. “We believe he can beat the top riders head-to-head. He can fight against Chaves, Froome and Contador on climbs like Xorret de Catì and Cumbre del Sol this weekend.”

Those high expectations reveal just how far and how fast Woods has climbed inside the team’s pecking order. In just his second grand tour start, Woods is already receiving protected-rider status.

His grand tour debut at the Giro d’Italia in May revealed he has the racing chops, and can handle the day-in, day-out stress and demands of racing grand tours.

A former collegiate runner, Woods posted two top-fives, and rode into the top-40 on GC at the Giro. That came on the heels of a solid WorldTour debut last year, when he was top-five at the Santos Tour Down Under to start the season, and was second at Milano-Torino to close out the year. This year, he’s more experienced, and even hungrier.

“We don’t know what his limit is yet,” Garate told VeloNews. “Even though he is 30, he is like a new rider. He has so much potential. We do not yet know his potential.”

So far in this Vuelta, Woods is patiently picking up places on GC, moving from 102nd after Saturday’s team time trial, and into the top-10 following Wednesday’s uphill finale. Woods just missed the front group in Monday’s foray into Andorra, and rubbed shoulders with Esteban Chaves, Chris Froome, and Alberto Contador to the Ermita de Santa Lucia perched nearly 1,000 feet above the tourists baking on the beach.

That’s heady company, but Woods seems to be taking it all in stride.

“This route is ideal for him,” said teammate Joe Dombrowski. “I think Woodsy will see how he goes on GC. He’s not doing it with a lot of pressure. These shorter, explosive climbs in the Vuelta are perfect for him. We’re riding to support him to win a stage.”

Garate said the priority is a stage victory, but quickly added they’re not giving up on GC, either.

“We don’t want to just give up time for free. So far, it hasn’t cost him much effort to stay up front,” he said. “We didn’t start with the GC idea. We need to remember that Michael has only done one grand tour. He doesn’t have that experience yet to live that pressure for 24 hours a day.”

Woods’s next best chances come this weekend. Both stages feature steep, explosive uphill finales.

If he can pull it off, it would put him in elite company. Ryder Hesjedal is the only Canadian to have won a stage in the Vuelta, winning stages in 2009 (Alto de Velefique) and 2014 (La Camperona).

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