Woods’ victory on stage 5 of the six-stage Zwift race came after a tense showdown with climbing flyweights Domenico Pozzovivo and Louis Meintjes (both NTT Pro Cycling). The win marks a reassuring sign for the Candian, who only four months ago broke his femur at Paris-Nice.
Moolman-Pasio dropped Sarah Gigante (Tibco-Silicon Valley) in the final kilometers of the women’s race after the pair had broken away from the lead group mid-way up the climb. Gigante’s teammate Lauren Stephens took third as the American squad further consolidated their lead at the top of the GC.
Woods on the comeback trail ahead of early-season Italian targets
Woods took the summit finish atop Chalet Reynard after the best part of 15 kilometers of climbing.
The 33-year-old was aggressive throughout the climb, setting the pace and whittling down the field. With five kilometers remaining, only NTT Pro Cycling’s Pozzovivo and Meintjes were left hanging on as they rode next to each other at a training camp.
Meintjes was yo-yo-ing on and off the pace through the climb and was finally dropped with 4km to go. One kilometer later, Pozzovivo also faded, leaving Woods to ride solo to the line.
Woods stayed out of the saddle for the majority of the ascent, using his running background to his advantage.
“It’s a lot more of a sustained effort. It’s quite similar to running since it’s a harder, higher sustained effort for a long period of time,” he said after the race. “I was able to keep the watts down and the power up and run my way on the bike.”
Although Woods was the aggressor through the race, winning by 18 seconds, he admitted it came down to brute force rather than clever tactics.
“Normally in a race you can look them in the eye and see how they’re going and see how they’re feeling, instead could just see the watts per kilo on the screen … I just kept trying to see when they’d crack hoping they’d crack a lot earlier than they did,” he said. “Fortunately, I was able to keep it going.”
The victory comes well-timed for Woods, who plans to return to racing at Strade Bianche August 1. He has spoken previously of how his recovery from his heavy crash in March was progressing faster than anticipated, and Saturday’s victory proved that.
“I think it’s certainly a good boost in confidence,” Woods said. “I’ve seen the same numbers I was putting out pre-crash, so we both knew I was fit and we started getting excited about the races to come, so this is just kind of a reaffirmation of that.”
Woods’ first major target is Il Lombardia, mid-August. Having been a likely candidate for EF Pro Cycling’s Tour de France team before his injury, his chances have taken a dent, but the opportunity for him to start his second tour this summer isn’t over just yet.
“At the moment, the team is just playing this race by race,” Woods said. “We don’t get too far ahead of ourselves. I am on the long list for the Tour but we want to see how things come along. It’s too far ahead to make any big predictions right now.”
Pozzovivo and Meintjes’ podium finishes in the race put NTT in command of the GC with one stage remaining. Rally Cycling is in second place, with EF Pro Cycling close behind them.
Virtual Tour de France stage 5:
1. Michael Woods (EF Pro Cycling): 0:46:03
2. Domenico Pozzovivo (NTT): +0:00:18
3. Louis Meintjes (NTT): +0:00:50
GC after stage 5
1. NTT Pro Cycling: 391 points
2. Rally Cycling: 219
3. EF Pro Cycling: 175
Moolman-Pasio avoids technical gremlins to outclimb Gigante
Moolman-Pasio took the stage after splitting down the lead group with 5km remaining. The South African’s surge drew out Gigante, and the pair remained locked together for the next three kilometers, trading small advantages as each looked to crack the other. The chase group was far behind, with Tibco-Silicon Valley dominating the pack with Stephens, Leah Dixon and Kristen Faulkner.
The CCC-Liv rider made her decisive move with around 2km to go to ride clear and win by 23 seconds. The small group chasing her and Gigante came in almost two minutes back, with Stephens edging third place.
With a second and third place on the podium, Tibco-Silicon Valley is over 150 points ahead on GC and all-but assured overall victory after Sunday’s final stage. The American team has dominated the virtual racing scene this year, with success at the Virtual Joe Martin Stage Race and Zwift Tour For All.
Moolman-Pasio, a relatively new convert to Zwift racing, was pleased to come through the race without the technical hitches that can make-or-break an online racer’s results. Last weekend, in stage 4, she was dropped out of the race after her Zwift connection failed.
“It was really great to win today for my team CCC-Liv,” Moolman-Pasio said. “Luckily, I had no technical problems today. Last week was a little bit disappointing with a dropout during the stage. … I’m very happy to have had a smooth ride today, and it was great to win the stage.”
Since Moolman-Pasio came to embrace online racing this spring as a means to maintain her fitness through lockdown, the 34-year-old has become an advocate of the use of Zwift and how it promotes women’s racing through equal broadcasting and media exposure. This year’s Virtual Tour de France has seen men and women race on the exact same courses and receive identical exposure and publicity.
“I think the racing on Zwift has been really great for women’s cycling, and already with the Tour For All,” she said. “I have a lot of appreciation for Zwift and the push they give women’s cycling. Everything they do, they make it their mission to do everything equal – racing and exposure. It’s really good to have forward-thinking brands giving us the platform. When we’re given the platform it shows there’s an appetite to watch our racing.”
The Virtual Tour de France wraps up Sunday with a sprint stage set around the iconic Champs-Élysées.
Virtual Tour de France stage 5:
1. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (CCC-Liv): 0:57:10
2. Sarah Gigante (Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank): +0:00:23
3. Lauren Stephens (Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank) +0:01:51
GC after stage 5:
1. Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank: 409 points
2. Drops: 252
3. Canyon-SRAM: 247