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Tour de France

Michael Woods: Planche des Belles Filles is day one of my Tour de France

The Canadian begins his search for stage wins with the polka-dot jersey on his mind.

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AMNÉVILLE, France (VN) — For Michael Woods (Israel-Premier Tech) the opening six days of the Tour de France have been a matter to be dealt with and his real race starts Friday.

Woods decided to avoid GC ambitions at this year’s Tour de France and, instead, went into the grand tour with the aim of taking some stage wins. With nothing on offer for him in the first stages, the Canadian has been keeping his nose out of the wind and trying to stay out of trouble.

That all changes with Friday’s stage from Tomblaine to the summit finish on Planche des Belles Filles. This is what he’s been waiting for, and it is a chance to kick his Tour de France into gear for the first time.

“Starting [Friday] the opportunities keep coming thick and fast and I’m really excited to try and get into the breakaways and tackle stages. [Friday] is day 1 for me for the Tour,” Woods said at the start of stage 6.

“Planche des Belles Filles has been typically won from the breakaway so I’m hoping that I can infiltrate the breakaway and see if I can challenge for the win. But there are quite a few opportunities out there after that, so it’s not the end of the world if I don’t make that break. It’s the first day that climbers who are targeting stages can really open up the legs.”

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As it did back in 2019, this year’s Tour de France will take on the extended version of Planche des Belles Filles. Now dubbed the Super Planche des Belles Filles, the longer route takes the riders up a gravel sector to the highest point on the climb at 1,148 meters.

After making its debut in the 2012 Tour de France, the Vosges climb has become a regular in the race and this is the sixth time the peloton will visit it.

“I’ve done it once before. It’s not the hardest climb in the race by far but it is a hard one, especially with the steep gradient at the front and then the gravel creates a bit more instability within the group and it forces you to think of positioning earlier than you’re supposed to. So, it’s not just a physically challenging climb but it’s mentally challenging,” he said.

Keeping out of trouble has been easier said than done in recent days, particularly with Wednesday’s cobbles stage. Unlike last year, when he was caught up in a crash on the opening day, Woods has avoided any big spills thus far.

His biggest scary moment came when he clipped a team car with his foot, but he stayed upright.

“It’s been challenging for sure, I think there have been a lot of guys who are in the same boat as me who are just focusing on stage wins because of the style of this opening week of the Tour,” Woods said. “It’s been a challenge for everybody to get through clean and safe, whether you’re at the front or the back it’s been hectic. That’s often the case in the Tour but even more so this year because of the cobbles.”

In addition to stage victories, Woods is hoping to take home another souvenir of his time in France with the polka-dot jersey of best climber. He battled hard for it last year too, but couldn’t hold off the eventual race winner Tadej Pogačar.

Woods would eventually quit the race just a few days before the end so that he could focus on the Olympic Games. He still harbors ambition of taking the jersey, but he’s taking a very different approach to it this time.

“I think the polka dot jersey is certainly a goal for me, but it is a secondary goal. Last year, I made a mistake of having that goal as the first goal and it cost me both the jersey and the stage win,” he said. “Fighting for the jersey constantly meant I had to sacrifice stages at the Tour and so I missed the opportunity to win stages and then, ultimately, I was so gassed fighting for the jersey that I lost the jersey. So this year the goal is to focus first on the stage win and then hopefully the KOM jersey will follow.”