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No sophomore slump for Woods, on the attack in Pais Vasco

Michael Woods finds fine form at Vuelta al Pais Vasco ahead of the hilly Ardennes classics and an expected Giro d'Italia start.

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With his first WorldTour season behind him, Cannondale-Drapac’s Michael Woods is attacking his way into 2017 with confidence that belies his inexperience, relative to veterans like Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde who won the sprint in stage 5 of Vuelta al Pais Vasco Friday.

Woods, 30, approaches this season with confidence instilled in him by team director Juan Manuel Garate, and attacked the Basque tour’s hardest stage with aplomb.

“The attacks were a combination of both going for the stage and setting up Rigo [Uran]. Juanma [Garate] wanted me to attack from the bottom. It would force other guys to chase and give Rigo a bit of a smoother ride. And also it helped me with my ambitions of going for the win,” the Canadian said after the race.

This is his second time through Pais Vasco, a race often considered the most difficult one-week tour on the calendar. In 2016, he was 53rd overall. One year later, Woods sits in fifth-place overall on the eve of decisive stage 6 time trial after sprinting to fourth behind Valverde. Though he was perhaps hoping for an even better result at the top of Usartza.

“After Samuel Sanchez crashed right in front of Rigo and me, we both lost nerve a bit,” Woods added. “We were in a great position for the last 500 meters, but with that crash right in front of us, it’s easy to start pulling the brake a bit faster when you see something like that happen. That’s when and how Valverde and [Romain] Bardet were able to sneak in front of us.”

With two hilly classics on his schedule, Flèche Wallonne on April 19 and Liège-Bastogne-Liège four days later, Woods looks to be timing his peak well. He was 12th at Flèche in 2016, his debut.

Along with Woods, his American teammate Alex Howes is climbing well ahead of the Ardennes. “Not only was it a near-perfect day, but we also got Alex in the breakaway and in the KOM jersey. He locked it up successfully. With the time trial, there’s no KOM tomorrow,” Woods said.

Though Woods may not have much to show for himself in the Pais Vasco overall, due to his limitations in the time trial discipline, the confidence he takes out of the tough Spanish race will be invaluable in the hilly spring classics, as well as the mountainous Giro d’Italia, which he is expected to race.

“He has come the hard way to the top level, and this makes him hungry to make it count,” said team director Charly Wegelius.

An American in France

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