In a gripping finale to Innsbruck 2018, Michael Woods won a bronze medal in the elite men’s road race, while Alejandro Valverde earned his first world championship at the age of 38, the second oldest elite man to do so. Woods and Valverde were in a high-powered quartet that climbed the vicious Gramartboden the best.

It’s Canada’s first medal in the elite men’s road race since Steve Bauer’s bronze in Barcelona in 1984.

The Course

There was plenty of climbing on tap for the elite men over 252-km: the Gnadenwald ascent in the opening route, seven clambers up Igls (7.8-km of 5.7 percent) on the six laps of the circuit and finally the Hell Hill, or Gramartboden. Hell Hill was 2.9-km of 11 percent with a maximum of 28 percent, peaking 9-km from the finish line.

The Britton Breakaway

Canada’s Rob Britton was in the first move of the day, one that grew to 11 riders and pulled out 11:00 over the peloton at the 44-km mark. As the gap approached 14:00, France and Austria began to up the pace in the field.

Up and over Gnadenwald Britton’s breakaway went, entering the circuits with a 17:00 lead. Slovenia, France, Great Britain and Austria started relaying on Lap 3, the gap 10:00 with 100-km to race.

On the fourth climb of Igls, riders started to drop away from the breakaway. Peter Sagan lost contact with the peloton.

With 73-km remaining, Spain was leading the peloton 7:15 behind. By the top of the fifth passage of Igls, Britton and three others remained in the break with a 5:50 gap. Behind, a dangerous move involving Vincenzo Nibali tried to flare away, but France, Russia and the Brits closed it down.

The Final 50 Kilometres

Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium) initiated a move just before the start of the penultimate lap and had to work to get commitment from other riders. Britton couldn’t hold his breakmates anymore on the second to last ascent of Igls. Multiple attacks from the peloton doomed the Van Avermaet move.

The pressure dropped Simon Yates, Angel Lopez, Michal Kwiatkowski, Ilnur Zakarin, Wout Poels, Bob Jungels and Dan Martin.

The two riders who remained in the breakaway heard the bell for the last, extended lap with a 2:18 lead. Italy pulled the train. Michael Woods moved up on the right hand side as the drastically reduced peloton climbed Igls for the last time.

Square-shoulder Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk made a dig that stretched out the field. Vincenzo Nibali was found out, as was Van Avermaet. The breakaway was over with 2-km of Igls to climb.

Brit Peter Kennaugh attacked towards Igls’ peak. First Dane Michael Valgren counterattacked and then Frenchman Thibaut Pinot. Kennaugh, Pinot, Gianni Moscon, Rui Costa and Jon Izagirre formed a chase of Valgren on the descent.

Gramartboden, the Hell Hill

Valgren took plenty of risks on the downhill to have a 31-second buffer before the beast that is Gramartboden. Woods was still in the French-led peloton.

Woods, Alaphilippe, Romain Bardet, Moscon, Valverde, Pinot and another French rider comprised the main chase on the Hell Hill. They grabbed the Dane.

Woods, Bardet, Moscon and Valverde were left before the crest. Tom Dumoulin was coming. Woods then cracked Moscon.

Then it was Woods, Bardet and Valverde. It was what the edge of your seat was made for.

Down the hill they went, Woods sitting on. Three kilometres remained. Dumoulin was still on his way and with the Dutchman closing in, Woods tried to attack. Dumoulin caught them with 1.5-km to go.

Valverde led under the kite with Woods in second spot. Dumoulin feigned an attack. Valverde had to lead out the sprint from the front and the Spaniard held off Woods and Bardet. Valverde was in ecstasy. Nairo Quintana came over to hug his Movistar teammate.

It was an incredible September for Woods as he became the second Canadian to win a stage of the Vuelta a España on the 9th.

Innsbruck 2018 Road World Championships Elite Men’s Road Race
1) Alejandro Valverde (Spain) 6:46:41
2) Romain Bardet (France) s.t.
3) Michael “Rusty” Woods (Canada) s.t.

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