12-09-2018 Vuelta A Espana; Tappa 17 Getxo - Balcon De Bizkaia; 2018, Ef Education First - Drapac Cannondale; Woods, Michael; Balcon De Bizkaia;

Michael Woods left everything he had on the road on the final brutally steep ramps of Stage 17 of the Vuelta a España. Taking his first victory since joining WorldTour team EF Education First-Drapac on Balcón de Bizkaia, Woods couldn’t contain his emotions at the finish line. It was not only a relief to finally win after knocking on the door for years but because of a very difficult time his family has been through in recent months.

“It feels amazing. I have had too many second places in the last three years. I haven’t had a victory since 2015 and I needed this one. I couldn’t believe it was happening in those final 300 m,” Woods said describing the final excruciating meters. “I blew up pretty hard and kept looking back thinking someone would come but I just managed to hold on in the end.”

Woods was pursued by Dylan Teuns (BMC), David de la Cruz (Team Sky) and Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) on the crowded slopes of the finishing climb. “You couldn’t see anything up the road they were crowding it so much,” Woods told Eurosport. “My director Juanma [Garate] just kept on yelling in my ear, ‘Do it for your family! Do it for your family!'”

The win was extremely emotional for Woods and in post-race interviews, he revealed why it meant so much. “My wife had a stillbirth two months ago. 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,” the 31-year-old Ottawa-native said in a tearful FloBikes interview.

“It’s overwhelming. I already talked my mom on the phone and had a cry,” he said. Woods wife had been 37 weeks pregnant when she had the stillbirth two months ago. Shortly before that, she had lost her father.

“I just channeled all my energy into thinking how tough this year has been,” said Woods. “I used my little guy Hunter as inspiration.”

Woods timed his surge to victory to perfection the steep climb suiting his strengths perfectly. “It was a very difficult climb,” noted Woods. “De Marchi was pacing it pretty evenly at first. I was able to breathe well and relax. When the first attacks went, I felt like one of the strongest guys and thought I responded well. I managed to answer some of those early attacks, but then Juanma came on the radio and told me to stay relaxed. To wait, wait, wait.”

“Today was his last real chance,” Woods director Juanma Garate said. “We knew it. He knew. And he won.”

Woods has been selected to represent Canada at the UCI Road World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria later this month. With second places on a stage of the Giro, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and now his Vuelta win his confidence will be high. That strong form he’s shown all year was part of Wednesday victory.

“The climb is only as hard as your form is bad, and this year I felt good,” said Woods. “I love this area. Basque Country is special to me. I felt so good, and in those last few hundred meters, I could hear all the fans screaming my name.”

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