POZO ALCON, Spain (VN) — Michael Woods came to this Vuelta a España to help Rigoberto Urán. EF Education First-Drapac also promised not to overlook opportunities to chase stages even when the team is backing Urán in the GC.
Two days ago Simon Clarke delivered the team’s first WorldTour win of the season.
It was Woods’s turn Friday in the hilly and challenging stage 7 across southern Spain. An early crash handicapped his chances, but he was the last man standing out of the day’s breakaway effort. Woods promises more.
“I had good legs and I was hoping we could stay away. We needed a bit more of a leash,” Woods said at the line. “I crossed wheels at 50kph and I came down pretty hard. I knew I could get away on the last climb but the peloton was too close. Bora was riding hard all day. We were riding hard but it just wasn’t enough.”
This is a very different Vuelta a España for Woods and he is hoping to see more chances to go for a stage victory. Second at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and second in a stage during the Giro d’Italia, Woods wants to be first across the line before the season is out.
“I would like to win a stage in this Vuelta,” Woods told VeloNews on Thursday. “Simon won and his job is typically to protect Rigo. Guys are getting opportunities and I hope to have my chance.”
Woods’s first chance came Friday. He finished the stage with a bandage covering wounds on his lower right leg. He vowed to keep fighting even as his ambitions for this Vuelta changed.
Woods enjoyed a breakout performance in last year’s Vuelta, punching into the top-10 with seventh overall. After a challenging Giro d’Italia, where he was sick in the final week to finish 19th overall, the Vuelta was meant to see another GC effort.
That focus changed after a crash during the Tour of Utah, prompting Woods to reset his priorities for the Spanish grand tour.
“I had a bad crash at Utah and lost a lot of skin in stage 2. I had an infection and I had to go on antibiotics, so it set me back a little bit,” Woods said. “I had big hopes for this Vuelta but I had to change my priorities. We have Rigo [Urán] here and that takes pressure off me. It might be a blessing in disguise.”
Looking beyond a stage win at the Vuelta, Woods’s other big goals for the end of the season are the Austria world road cycling championships and the late-season fall Italian classics. Second at Milano-Torino in 2016, Woods wants to finish off the season with a bang.
“It’s a challenging worlds course and I want to do well there,” Woods said. “I love those Italian races. That year  was my neo-pro year and my descending was so bad. I was actually in the first group [at Giro di Lombardia] but I got dropped on the descent. I have improved a lot and I am not so concerned about my descending.”
After coming out of the Giro this year, Woods realized that he is allergic to the olive trees that are in bloom across Italy in May. He fell sick in 2017 and this year he said it was even worse.
“It messed me up into the Giro,” he said. “I was coughing so much. I had one sport director tell me he had never seen a rider cough so much in a race. I felt like I was drowning on certain days.”
Woods said he has the condition under control with treatment of antihistamines under the guidance of the EF Education-Drapac medical team.
As ambitious as ever, Woods wants to win before the season is out.
“The margin between the best and the worst rider is so minimal,” he said. “It’s so difficult to win. Even when you’re in the best shape of your life. The WorldTour is so hard to win at.”