Michael Woods is back.
The EF Pro Cycling climber formally marked his rapid comeback from a broken femur while also taking a big step forward in his still-blossoming career as a pro cyclist Wednesday.
Having only raced three times since crashing out of Paris-Nice mid-March, the Canadian took a convincing victory in Tirreno-Adriatico’s third stage, attacking on the super-steep final climb of the day and easily outsprinting Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) to the line in Saturnia.
The 33-year-old now sits at the top of the classification with a series of mountain stages to come in the eight-day race.
“This victory is definitively a big step in my career, it’s the first time I’ve worn the leader’s jersey in a WorldTour race,” Woods said after the stage. “I don’t think I am the favorite for the overall victory, because there is the final ITT and there are other riders stronger than me in time trials, but I will definitely defend the jersey and go on the attack again.”
Though not backing himself in the race’s final time trial next Monday, the tough climbing stages to come give him further opportunity to extend his lead to create some breathing space against the likes of Majka, Geraint Thomas (Ineos) and Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb).
Tomorrow [Thursday] will be another tough day, followed by another tough day, so the GC is not yet over,” Woods said. “It’s going to be a long week, but we have a strong team here.”
Having last taken victory at Milano-Torino last October having placed second at Giro dell’Emillia a few days beforehand, Woods was more than happy to learn of the world championships relocating from Switzerland to Imola, Italy.
“I love Italy. It’s one of my favorite places in the world to race,” Woods said. “The courses always suit me and they are super hard, super challenging, and I like that. I hope to be able to have the same success in Imola. It’s a very challenging course, and hopefully I can have a repeat performance of my worlds in 2018.”
Woods will be leading his Canadian team alongside Hugo Houle in Imola, September 27. Having taken third-place behind Alejandro Valverde and Romain Bardet in Innsbruck, going one step better later this month would cap a remarkable return.
After that, his next step will be racing alongside Chris Froome at Israel Start-Up Nation in 2021.