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Michael Woods strikes blow for relegation battlers Israel-Premier Tech at Route d’Occitanie

Stage win and GC lead for Canadian climber in France adds to all-star week at Tour de Suisse for struggling squad.

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It might only be June, but strategies are changing and the fight to stave off relegation is raging for several WorldTeams.

Next year, the WorldTour will contain 18 squads, with points gained from the 2020, 2021 and 2022 world rankings deciding the selection.

Twenty-two teams are in the frame for a possible spot and Israel-Premier Tech is staring demotion in the face. The team looks set to be one of two current WorldTour squads that goes down, given the healthy point hauls of ProTeams Arkea-Samsic and Alpecin-Fenix.

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However, Israel-Premier Tech has had a bumper week of stage racing. Their last-minute inclusion in the Route d’Occitanie event has paid off handsomely, as Michael Woods won Saturday’s mountainous third stage and moved into the overall lead.

The 35-year-old, who put over a minute into Carlos Rodríguez (Ineos Grenadiers) on the steep climb to the finish at Les Angles, only has to survive a flat final stage to claim overall victory in the 2.1-rated stage race.

It goes hand-in-hand with a Tour de Suisse stage win for Daryl Impey and two days in the leader’s jersey for GC contender Jakob Fuglsang. The Dane is expected to finish inside the top-four overall after tomorrow’s 25.5km race-closing time-trial.

The squad stands to gain in excess of 400 points from the Tour de Suisse and Route du Sud, reducing their deficit to Lotto-Soudal and BikeExchange-Jayco, the two teams closest to them in the standings.

Recognizing its precarious position, Israel-Premier Tech’s switch to a more points-based strategy already showed at the Elfstedenronde one-day race last week, where sprinters Rudy Barbier and Giacomo Nizzolo were fifth and sixth respectively.

“We’ve got some really strong riders and we’ve just had some bad luck. We’re hoping that luck will turn our way, we’ve got the riders who can score the points,” Woods told VeloNews a fortnight ago.

Israel-Premier Tech will hope that the Woods and Fuglsang show continues at next month’s Tour de France as the fight against relegation goes on.