Mike Woods sprinted to ninth place at Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday. It is the first time the Canadian has cracked the top ten at a Monument. While it’s an impressive result for the second-year professional, ninth tells you nothing about the exhilarating performance #GreenArgyle delivered.
During the final 20 kilometers of the the oldest one-day race on the calendar, Cannondale-Drapac animated the race. Woods attacked over the top of Côte de La Roche aux Faucon. The move inspired a swift reaction and the formation of an eight-rider move that included both Woods and Davide Villella.
“The group wasn’t super cohesive, but I hoped we’d be able to make it to Saint Nicholas,” said Woods. “I wanted to attack from there, but we got brought back before then.”
No bother. Davide Formolo took over the reigns. The Italian was feeling spritely despite having 250 kilometers in his legs. He saw those around him were on his limit up the final categorized climb and seized his opportunity.
“I said to myself: ‘All in. Take the risk to arrive alone. Everything or nothing.’ and then I attacked,” Formolo explained. “I went away and got some seconds. I was there trying to look where the last corner to the left was and to keep pushing to the line.
“The problem was just before La Redoute someone hit my back shifter,” noted Formolo. “My back shifter didn’t work too much, in the final, so I had to push the wrong gear all the way.”
“It’s always difficult with only ten seconds,” added sport director Juanma Garate. “There was the chance that after Saint Nicholas, they all look to each other, but it never happened. It was always one rider riding. That made the speed always higher in that group. That meant it would always be difficult for Formolo, but it was a really nice move.”
Four hundred meters from the finish, the reduced bunch swallowed up Formolo. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) took the win from Dan Martin (QuickStep Floors). Woods finished on the same time as the podium.
“I felt better than I did on Wednesday,” said Woods. “I’m still coughing quite a bit, but I felt a lot better than I did on Wednesday. I had better legs. I wish I had the legs I had today on Wednesday. Flèche is such a special race for me. I really wanted to do well there, to get that result for the guys. I wasn’t happy with the result then. Today I was pretty happy.”
The work done by Formolo, Villella and Woods was highly visible, and that highly visible work was made possible by work done behind the scenes. The trio arrived to the finish fresh enough to race aggressively in large part due to early efforts from their teammates.
“Toms [Skujins] had a really important role today,” noted Garate. “This race is divided into three parts. The first part is at the bottom of Côte de Pont. It’s important to arrive there in good position. Toms did his job then and he repeated that job at the bottom of La Redoute, before La Redoute, to bring our riders in a good position there. His job was super, super important.
“Then we have our road captain Simon Clarke,” Garate continued. “He did a perfect job at the bottom of the Côte de La Roche aux Faucon to bring our leaders in a good position. Also Alex [Howes] and Tom [Slagter]. All of them today, every one of them did his job. It’s a job you cannot see from the television, but it’s all important.”
Cannondale-Drapac’s key animators for Liège-Bastogne-Liège are set to race the Giro d’Italia. Their collective strength in Belgium bodes well for ambitions in Italy.
“The guys rode exceptionally well,” said Woods. “It was a really cool team effort being able to attack and having Villella there with me. Formolo rode so well, and everyone did such a good job setting us up. I think it’s a really positive experience for the week despite not getting a big win, and I think the big win is coming.”
Woods has personal reasons to have fond feelings about the 103rd edition of Liège-Bastgone-Liège compared to his first experience at the Belgian classic during his neo-pro season.
“It was infinitely better this year,” said Woods. “The weather was significantly better, and I didn’t crash. Last year, I got onto the team bus after the race and thought I had broken my back. I couldn’t move my hand, which turned out to be broken, and I just stood under the shower suffering. This year, I’m feeling significantly better.
“Last year, Liège was my last race before the Giro, and I managed to screw up that Giro start because of my hand,” Woods said. “Now I’m going to head home and put on all my hockey equipment and lock all the doors and not go outside for ten days. Hopefully I can show up in Sardinia in one piece.”