EF Education First continued its solid run across the first week of the Tour de France by pushing two riders into the top-10 overall.
After a solid team time trial, the U.S.-registered team avoided landmines in the opening stages in the first week to position Rigoberto Urán and Michael Woods into ideal position going into La Planche des Belles Filles. The pair delivered Thursday and punched into the top-10 overall up the explosive ramps in the Vosges.
“The escape took the wind out of the sails in terms of a stage win, but I had a bit of an off-day,” Woods told VeloNews’ Gregor Brown. “So to have an off-day and still be in the top-10 in the overall and only lose 15-20 seconds on the top GC contenders, I am pretty pleased.”
Tour rookie Woods and team captain Urán were in the mix in the explosive finale Thursday and ceded little more than 15 seconds to defending Tour champion Geraint Thomas (Ineos). Both moved up the leaderboard, with Woods in ninth at 1:13 back and 2017 Tour runner-up Urán to 10th at 1:15 back.
“To move up into the top-10 is going to take continued consistency,” said team boss Jonathan Vaughters. “Today was the first real test of the Tour. We’ve got Woods and Uran in ninth and 10th overall, which is a good place to be.”
Woods remains in contention after the GC picture took shape Thursday and remained unchanged after Friday’s long transition stage that pushed the peloton toward some tricky stages across the Massif Central. With the Pyrénées and the Tour’s lone individual time trial next week, the team will be riding to protect the Canadian and Colombian through the next few stages.
Thursday’s uphill finale was the first real test for the GC contenders and Woods walked away impressed.
“We started to see who are contenders, but what surprised me was the level of depth,” Woods said. “There are still 15 guys who are in contention. It’s still early days, but Geraint Thomas looked great.
“I thought there would be more disparity in the top-10, but it’s still pretty tight,” Woods continued. “The only thing surprising were how few guys displayed weakness. Stage 8 is going to be tricky and it’s going to play out like an Ardennes classic, and some guys could get caught out. This stage [Belles Filles] isn’t going to determine who will this Tour. It’s still early days.”
Just when things were looking good, Tejay van Garderen was involved in a pileup early in Friday’s stage. The American, just one of four in this year’s Tour, was banged up and tried to stay in the race. However, he was forced to abandon after the stage when the team revealed that he had broken his left hand in a crash that had also impacted former race leader Mike Teunissen (Jumbo-Visma).
“Rigo [Uran] and Woods, they both have a big chance to podium, to win stages, even to win the whole damn Tour. I would have loved to have been a part of that, to contribute to that,” van Garderen said of his disappointment in being unable to continue.
However, with a depth of talent on its team and solid first week under its belt, EF Education First will be looking to carry their momentum through to the next series of pivotal stages in the Pyrénées.