ANS, Belgium — Michael Woods became the first Canadian to finish on the podium at the Liege-Bastogne-Liege race, cycling's oldest classic, when he sprinted to second place Sunday.
The 31-year-old from Ottawa, riding for the EF Education First-Drapac powered by Cannondale team, was 37 seconds behind Luxembourg champion Bob Jungels of the Quick-Step team. France's Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) was third.
"I struggled a lot at the start of the season with illness," said Woods. "I didn't have the season start I wanted to. Today is the first day I actually felt like a bike racer again. I felt awesome throughout the day and had really great support from the guys."
The 258.5-kilometre race takes riders from Liege to Bastogne and back to Liege. First run in 1892, Liege-Bastogne-Liege is the fourth of the five so-called Monuments — along with Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and Il Lombardia — the most prestigious one-day races in pro cycling.
On a sunny day in the Ardennes, a group of early breakaway riders escaped from the pack after just five
Jungels took advantage of the poor
As the chase lulled, Bardet attacked. Woods followed and beat him in a sprint for second.
"Bardet made an excellent move," said Woods. "I knew as soon as he went that it was the move to follow. I was able to get on his wheel, and we worked fairly well together up the climb."
Jonathan Vaughters, head of the EF Education First-Drapac team, said the race showed Woods' growing tactical skills.
"Woods is clearly progressing in his ability to read a race and to ride in front of the peloton," "Following Bardet's attack showed newfound tactical savvy."
Added Woods: "J.V. told me I could win an Ardennes classics, and I didn't believe him when he first told me. Now, I'm starting to believe."
Woods' parents were on hand to see his podium finish while wife Elly watched from their Spanish home in Girona.
"My wife had some tough news a few days ago, and I really wanted to get a good result for her here," Woods said. "I finished the race and gave her a call. We shared a big smile. I'm really happy to pull something off for her and the team after a tough start to the season."
A former elite distance runner, Woods switched to cycling due to a recurrent stress fracture in his foot. His last attempt at a track comeback ended with another break in 2011.
He has history at Liege-Bastogne-Liege. In 2016, he broke his hand and injured his back in a crash there. He was ninth in last year's race.
Seventh overall finish at last year's Vuelta a Espana, Woods is targeting May’s Giro d'Italia.
With files from The Associated Press
The Canadian Press