If there was ever a finishing climb that was perfect for Michael Woods, it was the testing ramp that closed the second stage of the Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var.
The Canadian puncheur duly lived up to expectation and made the most of home territory to launch an unstoppable acceleration on the steepest slopes of the Fayence climb Saturday, scoring his debut victory for Israel Start-Up Nation in his very first race with the team.
“I knew I was one of the guys that were expected to do well today, but I really knew that I’d have to lean on my teammates,” Woods said after storming to victory. “Sep Vanmarcke positioned me perfectly, Hugo [Hoffstetter] and Daryl [Impey], they were incredible. All the guys were riding so well for me and I had to repay the favor.”
The climb to the line in Fayence at this weekend’s French race gave Woods the perfect opportunity to do what he does best – punching clear on short, sharp closing ramps.
Having already seen the 1200 meter climb once thanks to the looping nature of the course in the southern Alps, 34-year-old Woods chose his spot and committed to it. Woods was maneuvered through the pack on the lower slopes of the closing wall by Belgian veteran Vanmarcke and then simply rode away from the likes of Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), Jhonatan Narváez (Ineos Grenadiers) and David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ).
“It was such a good finish for me,” Woods said. “We went up it the first time and I felt really good, and after going up the first time I pinpointed where I wanted to attack and was in a great position to do so and just went for it.”
Woods dedicated his victory to his long-time mentors and benefactors Sylvan Adams and Paulo Saldanha. The Israel Start-Up Nation backer and leading coach Saldanha have worked with Woods through his cycling career, and they brought him onto the team at their first opportunity this season.
It took Woods just two days to repay his confidantes their years of help.
“This is my first race with Israel Start-Up Nation and Paulo Saldhana my coach and Sylvan Adams the team owner,” Woods said. “They brought me on in the hopes of targeting some big races and getting some big wins and it’s nice to start off the year by repaying them.”
Woods holds a one-second GC lead over Mollema heading into the extra tough final stage, which packs three categorized climbs and a handful more small hills. The Canadian was hopeful that his powerful team, which also includes Dan Martin, would be able to help him seal overall victory and get the season started with a bang for the newly reformulated Israeli squad.
“It’s a great position,” Woods said. “It’s going to be a hard stage to defend on because it’s so difficult, but we’ve got a really strong team and hopefully we can defend well.”