Just under 500 meters from the line, Michael Woods joined Matteo Jorgenson in the shadow of the cogwheel train that goes to the top of the Puy de Dôme. The silence accentuated the solemnity of the moment.
His ears were still buzzing with the encouragement of the public, forbidden to pass from the 4 km due to the narrowness of the road.
Five or six pedal turns to gauge his prey and presto! the Ottawa cyclist jumped from the saddle to drop off the American from Movistar, who had left alone 47 kilometers earlier.
After crossing the railroad, Woods gave the motorcycle camera a thumbs-up, allowing himself a smile he knew was winning, even as he took one last look back 250m from the line. At the speed he was riding, the Israel-Premier Tech (IPT) rider barely had time to raise his arms, gripping the handlebars to stop weaving.
This is how Michael Woods became part of cycling legend, winning the ninth stage of the Tour de France on Sunday at the Puy de Dôme, a mythical place that the race had not visited for 35 years.
“Winning a Tour stage was one of the biggest goals of my career,” Woods recalled on the phone with La Presse moments later.
The former running specialist, who converted to cycling in his mid-twenties after an injury, became the third Canadian winner on the Tour after teammate Hugo Houle, crowned last year at the 16th stage, and his sporting director Steve Bauer, who took the yellow jersey at the first stage in 1988.
Before the start of this 182.4 km stage launched from Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat, Woods had announced his intention to join the breakaway of the day, a task which promised to be difficult given the stakes.
By a strange coincidence, Jorgenson was at his side in the mixed zone. The 24-year-old American is the one who chased Houle in 2022 in the Mur-de-Péguère, while Woods was glued to his wheel. He had fallen in the descent, paving the way for an unprecedented Canadian double on the podium in Foix.
After giving him an encouraging pat on the shoulder, Jorgenson therefore found his interview neighbor in a breakaway that took a long time to settle permanently. Woods’ close friend and teammate Guillaume Boivin was also there, along with 11 other runners, including American Neilson Powless (EF) and Slovenian Matej Mohorič (Bahrain).
After a long fight, the group of 14 finally settled on a comfortable cushion for over 12 minutes. Neither Jonas Vingegaard’s Jumbo-Visma nor Tadej Pogačar’s UAE wanted to hunt all day.
By the time it became clear the winner was in the breakaway, Boivin was the first out, an unplanned move 62km from goal.
“It was downhill and I was the heaviest of the bunch I think! joked the Quebecer on the phone. After that, everyone in the group knew that Mike was the favorite for that stage. The attacks didn’t stop, and it was hard to control. I did my best. »
Caught on the Pontaumur coast, Boivin was then knocked out after a series of counterattacks including that of Jorgenson, which deprived IPT of its numerical advantage. A moment that the 34-year-old Montrealer preferred to erase from his memory…
“Let’s just say Mike saved my ass!” »
Jorgenson gave himself a priority of just over a minute over a trio of pursuers: his compatriot Powless and his polka dot jersey, Mohorič and the Frenchman Mathieu Burgaudeau (TotalEnergies). Woods was playing in his own line a minute over.
“I thought I wouldn’t be able to win with 15 km to go,” said the man who made his debut with Team Garneau-Quebecor in 2013. “Steve [Bauer] was talking to me on the radio and he told me: do what you can. »
With the Puy de Dôme (13.3 km at 7.7%) looming, Jorgenson could dream of imitating the Dane Johnny Weltz, the last winner on the volcanic lava dome of the Massif Central, in 1988.
Due to a financial disagreement between the organizers and the owners of Le Puy – and the commissioning of the train in 2012 – the Tour never again returned to the site of one of its most legendary climbs. Raymond Poulidor and Jacques Anquetil had a literal and memorable elbow-to-elbow fight there in 1964, and Eddy Merckx was punched in the liver by a spectator in 1975.
With a delay that increased to 2:17 with 4 km from the summit, Woods no longer appeared in the game for victory. But with average ramps at 11 and 12 percent, we were getting into “Mike Woods territory,” as Jorgenson pointed out.
In the 800m, the climber from Ottawa spotted the leader for the first time. “When I saw it, I was like, ‘OK, I’m capable of winning. It was an incredible moment. »
Deprived of radio communication and pedaling in “pure silence”, the American made the jump when the Canadian took him over.
“I barely heard his chain when he passed me and it freaked me out,” he told FloBikes. But at that point, I was mentally baked. »
As in Foix last year, the unfortunate Jorgenson finished at the foot of the podium, narrowly caught by Mohorič and the Frenchman Pierre Latour (TotalEnergies), respectively second and third.
In the fight for the general classification, Pogačar (UAE) released Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) at 1.5 km to grab eight seconds from the Dane, who nevertheless retained his yellow leader’s jersey with a priority of 17 seconds.
Like Houle last year, Woods fell into the arms of Canadian trainer Jon Adams, a longtime employee of the now defunct Canadian team SpiderTech founded by Steve Bauer.
Boivin, a resident of Andorra like Woods, shared the same emotions a few minutes earlier: “I train practically every day with Mike. We are almost neighbours. As Canadians, we do not have our families with us in Europe. So we spend a lot of time together, we have “family” dinners with our girlfriends and her children. I am very proud and happy for Mike, who deserves it. »
Hugo Houle, 85th at 26 min 12 s, was able to follow the fabulous comeback of his teammate through the headset and the giant screen located 5 km away. “It gave me motivation to climb to the top!” It went faster with a smile. »
The Sainte-Perpétue cyclist is perhaps best able to understand what awaits Woods.
“Of course, having been through this last year, I can gauge what he will be going through in the next few days. He will remember it for a long time, especially with the type of stage he won, a legendary stage. So I am very happy that he managed to achieve his dream. He worked hard, and you made a lot of sacrifices for that day. When that happens, it’s just wonderful. »
Woods, the 2018 Worlds bronze medalist and two-stage Vuelta winner, thanked everyone who helped him through a tough past year, with a crash and COVID-19 on his back. the last Tour and an illness which slowed down his winter preparation. He mentioned team owner Sylvan Adams, his coach Paulo Saldanha, his parents, his wife Elly and his children Maxine and Willy.
“They all supported me. I have been through some tough times over the past year. But I’m back on top and I’m really proud of it. »
At the top of the Puy de Dôme, her smile shone for miles around.