Improving on his finish from 2016 at La Flèche Wallone by one spot to 11th place, Michael Woods (Cannondale-Drapac) delivered the best result in years by a North American rider in the Belgian race.
The bright green Cannondale-Drapac garb of Woods and his teammates Tom-Jelte Slagter and Rigoberto Uran were well placed entering the third and final ascent of the famed Mur de Huy.
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As Team Sky upped the pace to bring back the Luxembourgish escapee Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) all three Cannonadle-Drapac riders were sitting pretty in the top ten.
While Slagter and Uran faded as the pitch steepened, Woods remained strong riding close to the eventual winner Valverde at the front of the depleted peloton before an attack from David Gaudu (FDJ) forced a small gap that he couldn’t come to terms with.
Although Woods may have hoped for more than an 11th place finish, it’s the best placing by a North American rider since 2010 when Chris Horner (Team Radioshack) finished seventh that year behind the winner Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team).
For the 30-year-old former runner from Canada, his form is clearly evident heading into the arduous, 258km Liège-Bastogne-Liège this Sunday. A non-finisher last year’s edition, Woods will be looking to jump into the top ten and his Cannondale-Drapac teammates are primed to continue their relatively successful 2017 Classics campaign.
Valverde who already has seven stage and three general classification wins this year, is clearly firing on all cylinders heading into Liège-Bastogne-Liège and is no doubt the favourite.
He’ll hope to secure his fourth win there after finishing a disappointing 16th in 2016, but don’t be surprised if Woods spoils the party in the final Spring Classic of the season.