TERME LIUGIANE, Italy (VN) — Michael Woods leaned against the race barrier Thursday as soigneurs, journalists, and tifosi swarmed the chaotic finish line. The grand tour rookie was 39 seconds and four warm bodies away from winning a stage at the Giro d’Italia.
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Cannondale-Drapac went all-in in Thursday’s 217km sixth stage along Italy’s toe, but a determined five-man breakaway and roaring tailwind spoiled the Hollywood ending.
“I told myself I had to have a good performance for the guys; they were burying themselves for me,” Woods told VeloNews. “Unfortunately, those guys were riding super-strong [in the breakaway] … bad luck.”
Cannondale put four riders on the front to lead the chase, and Woods did his part to win the bunch sprint ahead of the likes of Adam Yates (Orica-Scott), Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb), and pink jersey Bob Jungels (Quick-Step), but the main pack left the chase too late.
Silvan Dillier (BMC Racing) edged Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), and Woods led the peloton’s elite across the line 39 seconds later.
When you beat the main pack across the line in an uphill finale at a race like the Giro, bad luck today means good luck tomorrow.
Coming off a pair of top-10s in the Ardennes classics, Woods carries impressive form into the Giro, and he’s intent on making it pay during his grand tour debut. He already finished with the GC contenders up Mount Etna on Tuesday, and two days later was knocking on the door of a stage victory.
“The form’s good; I’m coming around,” Woods said between breaths. “The tailwind was really pushing it along … Everyone was riding hard.”
That Woods would be so close to a Giro d’Italia stage victory reveals just how far and how fast the 30-year-old Canadian has come.
A natural-born athlete, he was forced to give up on a middle-distance athletics career due to injury. His talent earned him a scholarship to the University of Michigan. Doctors ordered cycling as part of his rehabilitation, and he was soon hooked on the speed of two wheels. He didn’t even start racing bikes seriously until 2012.
Flash forward five years, and he almost delivered Cannondale-Garmin’s first WorldTour victory in two years, since Davide Formolo won a stage in 2015 Giro.
“The fact is simple: He is strong,” said Cannondale-Drapac sport director Fabrizio Guidi of Woods. “When a rider is strong, we give them opportunities. You don’t get the leader’s jersey just for the name. Mike deserved to be there as a leader. He was fifth, step by step, he’s getting more confidence, and that’s good for the future.”
Thursday’s explosive uphill finale is one that Guidi had circled on his calendar. It was ideal for Woods and Dutch puncheur Tom-Jelte Slagter. The team put Alex Howes, Davide Villella, Kristijan Koren, and Joe Dombrowski on the front to chase.
A gusting tailwind helped push the leading quartet along. When other teams started to pile on, the gap came down, but it was too late to reel in the breakaway. A technical finale also slowed the cautious GC chase group, and helped give the attackers the rope they needed.
“Today I am a little bit sad, we had an opportunity, and we missed it,” Guidi said. “The spirit is also good, we saw them up front and to take the responsibility. We will have more chances.”
Woods might have one as soon as Saturday, with another uphill kicker at Peschici well-suited for the Canadian rocket.