Woods Makes History at Vuelta
Canada’s Michael Woods (EF Education
First-Drapac) continued his incredible season with a stellar performance at the 2018 Vuelta a
España, from Aug. 25 to Sept. 16, taking a fabulous victory on the
157km Stage 17 from Getxo to Balcón de Bizkaia for his first-ever Grand
Tour stage win.
He celebrated in the fog, raising a single hand as he came across the line in first, too tired to truly celebrate. And then he began to cry. His amazing win was overshadowed by the tragic loss of his son earlier this year, after he and his wife suffered a stillborn last July.
“My wife had a stillbirth two months ago,” Woods said in a heartbreaking post-race interview. “We lost the little guy. His name was Hunter. The whole time I was going up the climb, I was thinking of him. I wanted to win so badly for him, and I did it.”
This would be the driving force that pushed Woods up the final excruciating 480-metre, 18% climb of the Balcón de Bizkaia, putting him out front of all competing rivals, including top riders such as Vincenzo Nibali (ITA, Bahrain-Merida) and Rafal Majka (POL, BORA-hansgrohe), as well as Dylan
Teuns (BEL, BMC Racing Team) and David de la Cruz (ESP, Team Sky).
Teammate Simon Clarke, already a stage winner at the 2018 Vuelta a, España had dedicated himself to Woods, marking all attempts from the leading group. Launching his own attack at the beginning of the final climb softened the legs of the breakaway, but it was the upper slopes that were the most decisive.
De la Cruz set a tempo that saw all but Woods, Majka and Teuns fall away in the final 3 km. Woods marked an attack by Teuns and another by De la Cruz before launching his own to take the win.
It took everything Woods had on the final brutal climb and he left it on the road. Woods finished five seconds in front of Teuns and 10 seconds ahead of De la Cruz, becoming the second-ever Canadian to win a stage at the Spanish Vuelta.
“I had Juanma [Garate, EF Pro Cycling sport director] in my ear telling me to do it for my family, and I just channeled all my energy into thinking how tough this year has been,” said
Woods. “I used my little guy Hunter as inspiration.”
The emotional victory marked a milestone for Woods, who finished second at Liège-Bastogne-Liège this year and was also a close second at a stage of the Giro d’Italia. There was a feeling of not “if,” but “when” with Woods.
“To win is great,” said Jonathan Vaughters, EF Pro Cycling CEO.
“To overcome the sadness he and his wife have been through truly makes me grateful & humble [in having] someone like Mike amongst us.”
Woods had been dubbed “Mr. Fourth Week” by the team for his increasing strength as the Grand Tour went on. Stage 17 marked what was likely his last opportunity to make optimal use of his form.