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Well, he did not win the race, but Canadian cyclist Michael Woods was all smiles after the Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var. Formerly known as le Tour du Haut Var, this three-day race along France’s picturesque Côte d’Azur has long been a respected, early-season race. And it grew in stature this year as many WorldTour teams flocked to southern France to race it as other events around the world have been canceled due to COVID-19.
It is safe to say that Woods came to southeast France with his new Israel Start-Up Nation team with an eye on victory. In the end, he finished second to Italian Gianluca Brambilla. But after storming to victory on stage two, not to mention taking over the lead for a day, Woods knew that his condition was right on track.
“Yeah I was really happy with it,” Woods told VeloNews, when speaking about his stage-two victory before the start of the final stage in Blausasc. “This is the first race for us and I think we’ve really gelled together well here. I was happy with the way the team rode. We just worked well together and positioned well together. It is so easy to get into a good position when you have a guy like Sep Vanmarcke or Daryl Impey leading you into the final climb. But all of the other guys did a great job of keeping me calm and in position all day long. And that makes it so much easier for me and I was able to deliver.”
The final climb to Fayence, with a steep 1.5-kilometer kicker, was not unlike the Mur de Huy in the Fleche-Wallonne. Victory goes to the rider with the perfect combination of timing, power, and punch. And Woods unlocked that winning combination. “I knew I wanted to be on the front with 400 meters to go and to be able to kick with 300 meters to go. And I was able to do that.”
For the 34-year old, who came to cycling only after a career in track and field, victory in his first race was the perfect way to thank not only his teammates but also the staff—several of whom were key figures in his transition to the professional ranks.
“The main reason that I came to Israel Start-Up Nation was because of Paulo Saldanha, the head of performance, and Sylvan Adams, one of the owners of the team,” Woods explained. “Both of them played a vital role in my career, so really it was just a matter of time. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be a professional today. When I first started cycling it was Paulo offered up free coaching services to the team I was on, Garneau-Quebecor in Canada. I took him up on it and he quickly said, ‘Dude, quit your job. You can be a pro cyclist.’”
“I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can do that.’ I was 26 at the time and I couldn’t afford to quit my job. But he managed to connect me with Sylvan Adams who funded me for the next two years. So it wasn’t for Paulo and Sylvan I certainly wouldn’t be here today. And once they started building a team, I knew it would only be a matter of time before he would be at the WorldTour and only a matter of time before I would join them.”
2020 was a complicated season for Woods — like many other pro cyclists — having to deal with the coronavirus crisis. But the season was made even more complicated for Woods when he broke his femur at Paris-Nice.
Woods has clearly been savoring his transition to Israel Start-Up Nation, where he is riding with Irishman Dan Martin, another punchy climber, as well as four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome.
Along with Martin, the two will offer a strong one-two punch in the Ardennes classics where Martin has won Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and Woods has finished on the podium. “Dan has already been helping me out here, giving me advice. He is like a GPS. He has a photographic memory when it comes to the roads. So he has been giving me guidance. And I think when it comes to the big Monuments we are going to feed well off of each other and raise the bar.”
Regarding the Tour de France, Woods is clear. “It is all in for Chris! I mean the guy has won four Tours already. Anybody who saw him race on the Colle delle Finestre in the 2018 Giro knows that you can’t count that guy out.”
Obviously, Woods has followed the British rider’s struggles to return to Tour-winning condition after a devastating training accident while warming up for the time trial in the 2019 Critérium du Dauphiné. But the Canadian is anything by a skeptic when it comes to Froome. “Chris is such an inspiring rider. Obviously, it is not going to be easy to get back to his best. But you can’t count a guy like him out.”