Wout van Aert, Tadej Pogačar, Marc Hirschi and Julian Alaphilippe all used the Tour de France to prepare for the 2020 UCI Road World Championships in Imola, Italy, but Michael Woods is hoping the road less travelled, via Tirreno-Adriatico and specific training, can give him a shot at the world title.
"I think it’s a bit of a disadvantage not having the Tour de France in my legs. I think it was the best prep for a World Championships but I've done my best to be ready," Woods told Cyclingnews as he prepared to travel from Spain to Italy for Sunday’s elite men’s road race.
"I had a good preparation with Tirreno-Adriatico and my confidence and fitness is coming up. I think I’ve got a shot at the podium. Winning could be hard with some of the riders that will line up Sunday but the podium is possible.
"Since riding Tirreno-Adriatico I spent some time at home in Andorra and then did some solid training with the guys in Girona. My coach Paulo Saldanha created a good, specific training plan and I also did some good motor-pacing work."
Woods leads a four-rider Canadian team that includes Guillaume Boivin, Alexander Cataford and Hugo Houle. He swapped the pink of EF Pro Cycling for Canada’s baby blue kit decorated with the distinctive maple leaf.
He finished third in the 2018 World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria. He was strong enough to be part of the three-rider selection on the final steep climb that year, but cramped in the sprint, finishing behind Alejandro Valverde and Romain Bardet.
He is hoping for some Innsbruck inspiration in Imola.
"Innsbruck gave me a lot of confidence," Woods said. "And since then so have other races and results. My win at Milano-Torino last year and my rides at Liège–Bastogne–Liège, and more recently at Tirreno-Adriatico, showed that if I’m on form, that if I commit fully on the steep climbs, then I have a good shot as anybody."
Woods is happy to see two steep climbs on the 28.8km Imola circuit. He will train on the Imola circuit for the first time on Friday morning, but knows it should produce a selective race much like an Ardennes Classic race.
"Some of my Canada teammates are already in Imola and they've said it's super hard and challenging. That’s right up my alley," he said.
The route clearly suits the likes of van Aert (Belgium), Pogačar (Slovenia), Hirschi (Switzerland) and Alaphilippe (France). The Belgian’s multiple skills and superb 2020 form make him especially hard to beat.
"It’s hard to think of a way to beat Wout van Aert. He was super strong at Strade Bianche and then through the Tour de France," Woods said in quiet admiration. "It’s hard to think of how to drop him on the two-kilometre climb, then how do you outsprint a guy who can produce 1400 watts for 10 secs at the end of Milan-San Remo? He’s a tough nut to crack.
"He’s got all the cards in his hand. I can’t imagine him losing but cycling is a tricky sport, anything can happen to him or anyone other rider which can change the race."
Rain is forecast for Sunday and could upset any pronostics. Rain could even help van Aert and hinder his rivals. Woods is hoping for better weather than a year ago in Yorkshire, where like many, he suffered and failed to finish in Harrogate in the torrential rain.
“I really hope it’s not going to be another Yorkshire. I got really light for that race but then suffered in the cold and rain. I hope it’s warmer and that the rain, if it comes, passes quickly. I also hope to be smarter this year in the way I fuel and stay warm."
Whatever happens in Imola, the World Championships will mark just the start of Woods’ late season with EF Pro Cycling before his move to Israel Start-Up Nation, alongside Chris Froome, in 2021.
"It’s non-stop from now on," Woods confirmed. "I fly to Belgium at 9pm on Sunday after the road race and ride in La Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday and then Liège–Bastogne–Liège. After that I’ve got the Vuelta a España too.”