Out In Front
Canada’s Michael Woods (EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale) claimed the biggest podium of his career, finishing second at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, “La Doyenne,” the oldest of the five Monuments first held in 1892.
Woods, 31, became the first-ever Canadian to podium at Liege-Bastogne-Liege when he bested 31-year-old Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) in a two-up sprint, finishing 37 seconds after Luxembourger road champion Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) soloed to victory.
“I struggled a lot at the start of the season with illness,” said Woods. “I didn’t have the season start I wanted. Today is the first day I actually felt like a bike racer again. I felt awesome throughout the day and had really great support from the guys.”
The fourth Monument of the season unfolded predictably until the final hour of racing. Nine riders slipped away in the opening 10 kilometres of the hilly 286-kilometre race.
By the time the peloton reached La Redoute, only Jerôme Baugnies (BEL, Wanty-Groupe Gobert) remained at the head of affairs, and his gap hovered around the minute mark. Bahrain-Merida lifted the pace on the run-in to Roche-aux-Faucons, overtaking Baugnies just before the penultimate climb. Fellow Belgian Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) was the first of the dangermen to make a move on the 1.4-kilometre ascent.
Gilbert’s move was countered by Sergio Henao (COL, Sky), who drew out Jungels, Woods and Jakob Fuglsang (DEN, Astana). Jungels was the first to crest the official top of the climb and persisted with the effort beyond the summit marker, immediately opening up a gap.
“I was a bit to blame for that,” admitted Woods. “I was right on his wheel, and I grabbed a gel when he went. He rode a strong and courageous race. I wouldn’t expect anything less from him. He’s a classy guy.”
The long-range attack proved the race-winning move, as the chasers scrambled to organize. Several counter-attempts failed to gain clearance until Jelle Vanendert (BEL, Lotto Souda) escaped on Saint-Nicolas, five kilometres from the finish. As the chase lulled, Bardet attacked.
“Bardet made an excellent move,” said Woods. “I knew as soon as he went that it was the move to follow. I was able to get on his wheel, and we worked fairly well together up the climb.”
For Woods, the result is yet another confirmation of the potential the team saw upon offering him his first WorldTour contract three years ago.
“Jonathan Vaughters told me I could win an Ardennes Classics, and I didn’t believe him when he first told me,” said Woods. “Now I’m starting to believe.”
Woods’ parents were on hand to see his historic achievement. Wife Elly Woods watched from the couple’s in-season home in Girona, Spain.
“My wife had some tough news a few days ago, and I really wanted to get a good result for her here,” Woods said. “I finished the race and gave her a call. We shared a big smile. I’m really happy to pull something off for her and the team after a tough start to the season.” – PM
Final podium at 2018 Liege-Bastogne-Liege (l-r) Michael Woods 2nd, Bob Jungels 1st,Romain Bardet 3rd