“Everyone was working so hard for me, and I wanted to honor their hard work.”
Mike Woods made it two for two for EF Education First Pro Cycling Team at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour. The Canadian out-climbed and then out-sprinted Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) to take the stage two win.
Woods will start stage three in the race leader’s jersey worn by his teammate Dan McLay during Thursday’s stage.
“We have been riding so well as a team here in Australia,” said Woods. “It had been frustrating that I hadn’t been able to finish it off. Dan felt the same way. Everyone was doing his part, executing on his part, but the results weren’t reflecting that. This race. Today. It was a continuation of the great teamwork. Having Dan win yesterday was a bit of a release.
Read: McLay sprints to first win of the season
“Everyone was excited and rode out of their skin again today,” Woods added. “Mitch [Docker] and Scud [Tom Scully] were on the front all day controlling and still managed to make the front split in the wind. Dan McLay was in yellow and getting bottles and protecting me. Lachy was there in the end. Everyone was working so hard for me, and I wanted to honor their hard work.”
A six-rider breakaway escaped early into the 127 kilometer stage between Wonthaggi and Churchill. The leaders managed only a three-minute maximum advantage ahead of the bunch paced by Docker and Scully.
Just inside the final 40 kilometers, first a crash and then an uptick in speed due to winds split the peloton.
“It wasn’t a problem for us,” said sport director, Tom Southam. “Sky hit it in a small crosswind section, and it caught Jimmy [Whelan] out unfortunately, which meant we had one less for the climb. But having a smaller bunch reduced the potential complications in the group for Mike, so that was fine for us.”
Tips: Find out why the wind has such a huge impact on racing
The stage came to a climax up Jeeralang, the category one climb that topped out 12-kilometers from the finish and included a 1.1-kilometer dirt-road section near the summit.
Team Sky’s Pavel Sivakov and Bridgestone’s Chris Harper were the first to attack. Kenny Elissonde (Sky) bridged the gap, giving Sky two up front. Behind the leaders, an elite chase group formed that included Woods, Porte, Dylan van Baarle (Sky) and Mitchelton-SCOTT’s trio of Lucas Hamilton, Damien Howson and Nick Schultz.
As the chase group made grounds on the leaders, Woods attacked and only Porte could follow. The pair reached the gravel sector alone with Woods leading Porte across the summit.
“It couldn’t have gone better today.”
“We reconned this stage three days ago,” said Woods. “Southam spent over five hours in the car, driving to the course, driving behind me, to make it happen. We had a long talk about the stage, and we executed exactly as we had planned. It was a huge advantage, and it paid off. It couldn’t have gone better today.”
Although Woods slightly distanced Porte uphill, the pair agreed to work together on the descent to keep their chasers at bay. They reached the line together with Woods besting Porte in the sprint. Their efforts netted them a 17-second advantage on Elissonde and 19 seconds on both van Baarle and Hamilton.
Having picked up a 10-second bonus for the stage win, compared to Porte’s six seconds for second place, Woods holds yellow by four seconds over Porte heading into stage three.
“We’ve got such a strong team right now and have been riding so well together,” said Woods. “I’m confident in our abilities to defend. That said, four seconds over one of the best climbers in the world is not a margin you can rest on. We’re going to have to be smart, and I’m going to have to lean on my teammates heavily.”
Woods has grown increasingly comfortable with the leaning that leads to winning.
“To be 32 and feel like you have this whole world to still learn and understand and explore, it’s really exciting.”
“I’ve learned so much over the last three years,” said Woods. “Every year I’m progressing. Last year I took a big step in terms of finding the front of a race on a regular basis, but I hadn’t yet figure out how to win. It’s only been in the last six months that I’m starting to figure out that part. And I’m enjoying that quite a bit. It’s a lot more fun to be at the front of the race, having expectations and living up to them on occasion. To be 32 and feel like you have this whole world to still learn and understand and explore, it’s really exciting.”
“Mike is a born winner,” said team founder Jonathan Vaughters. “He’s learning how to use his talents, and as he learns, we’ll see him win more and more.”
The Jayco Herald Sun Tour continues on Friday with a 161-kilometer stage between Sale and Warragul. While hilly, it’s not a big day for the general classification.
“There are only a small number of guys close on the general classification now,” said Southam. “We just have to focus on that and the rest will take care of itself.”
Learn more about the challenges Mike has faced becoming a team leader