Canadian Michael Woods delivered an impressive solo effort to claim the biggest success of his career at the top of a legendary Tour de France climb on Sunday as two-time champion Tadej Pogacar further reduced the gap with overall leader Jonas Vingegaard.
“I’ve never won a stage of the Tour. It’s something I’ve talked about doing and wanting to do, but have never been able to achieve and I finally did it,” Woods said.
“I am still having a pinch-myself moment. I can’t believe I did it. I am really proud of myself, really proud of my team. It’s special.”
Woods, who rides for the Israel-Premier Tech team, has no ambition in the general classification and was part of an early breakaway that the main contenders allowed to form early in the ninth stage. He managed to catch American Matteo Jorgenson just 500 metres from the summit after his 24-year-old rival jumped away from the leading group with less than 50 kilometres left.
The 36-year-old Woods, who was born in Toronto and raised in Ottawa, then dropped Jorgenson at ease and reached the summit of the Puy de Dome, a famed volcanic crater in the Massif Central region of south-central France that last hosted a stage 35 years ago.
“With Jorgenson being so strong … I (knew) it was going to be very, very difficult to come back and I doubted it,” Woods said after the race. “But, I didn’t really worry about that. I just focused on myself and continued to believe. Regardless of the outcome, I was going to go my hardest all the way to the top.”
A group of 14 experienced riders managed to break away soon after the start of the race. On the hilly roads of the Limousin region, the peloton first kept them on a tight leash. They were finally given permission to move away, and they built a lead of more than 16 minutes.
There were a lot of attacks in the break, and Jorgenson managed to go clear with 47 kilometers remaining. The young American kept on pushing hard on the roads leading to the foot of the last climb and opened a one-minute gap, but it didn’t last.
“I just started to feel empty with one kilometre to go, and then before I knew it, Mike was there and passing me and it was a surprise but there was absolutely nothing I could do,” Jorgenson said.
Fellow Canadian Hugo Houle, Woods’ Israel-Premier Tech teammate, won Stage 16 of last year’s Tour. Woods finished third that day.
Houle’s victory was Canada’s first stage win in the historic race since Steve Bauer captured the opening stage of the Tour in 1988.
Bauer is now sporting director at Israel-Premier Tech.
“Mike showed us again that he is one of the best climbers in the world … Due to my personal relationship with Mike and the other Canadians on our team, I couldn’t be more proud,” said Israel Premier-Tech team owner Sylvan Adams, a Canadian-Israeli entrepreneur.
Woods and Houle are joined by fellow Canadian Guillaume Boivin on Israel Premier-Tech’s Tour de France squad.
“I’m 36 years old, turning 37 this year, I’m not getting any younger,” said Woods, who also owns two stage wins at the Spanish Vuelta. “To win a Tour de France stage was my ultimate goal and I could see the window closing.”
Riding well behind the breakaway, Pogacar and Vingegaard were again in a class of their own in the group of contenders. After another great collective effort from Vingegaard’s Jumbo-Visma teammates in the final ramp that destroyed the field, Pogacar launched his attack with 1.5 kilometres left and accelerated again on the steepest gradients.
Vingegaard lost ground but did not panic and managed to limit the deficit to eight seconds to retain the yellow jersey.
Ahead of Monday’s first rest day, Vingegaard has a 17-second lead over Pogacar in the general classification, with Jai Hindley in third place at 2 minutes, 40 seconds off the pace.
Frenchman Pierre Latour finished the 182.5-kilometre (113-mile) stage in second place, with Matej Mohoric completing the podium. Jorgenson ended up fourth.
With files from The Canadian Press.