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Woods and Porte name each other as the Tour Down Under's favourite

Jamie Finch-Penninger
17 Jan 2019

The GC defining days are yet to come, but two riders are already marking each other out as threats for the title

The two favourites for the Tour Down Under, Michael Woods (Education First) and Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) were at pains to distance themselves from the tag of favourite going into decisive General Classification days on Corkscrew Hill and on top of Willunga Hill.

Sparks flew briefly at the Tour Down Under as Woods attacked on the final climb into Uraidla, only to be hauled back in just before the final sprint to the line, which was won by Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe).

Stage 3 of the Tour Down Under proved to be a very trying day for the riders, with hot temperatures and over 3000 metres of climbing taking their toll on a peloton already on the ropes from the previous two stages, run in scorching conditions.

A tanned and lean Porte didn’t put in any big attacks on the stage and was quick to point to the animator of the day’s racing as the man to watch.

'If there’s one thing to take out of today, it’s that Michael Woods is the strongest,' Porte said. 'He put in a good attack there, we’ll see how he goes tomorrow.'

Porte was circumspect on the subject of his current form, which saw him finish 31st on the stage on the same time as stage winner Sagan.

'Not bad,' said Porte. 'It was hard… hot. I guess you just have to drink and eat and think of the coming days. It was the first real race day to be honest.

'It’s probably not been the greatest race to watch, but certainly it felt out there that you could feel your legs today.'

Woods was the man on everyone’s lips at the finish, illuminating what had been a relatively dull affair of attritional racing, with little in the way of attacks. He accepted the praise of Porte, albeit with a pinch of salt.

'That’s an honour when Richie says that because Richie is such an incredible climber,' said Woods after the race. 'I mean, he’s still the favourite going into Willunga, he’s won it five times. If you’re a betting man, you’d put your money on Richie.

'I just like animating races, being the leader in races, if anything it makes it more of a fun experience.'

Woods came with a dramatic flurry on the final climb that saw the Education First rider surge past the attack of Dries Devenyns (Deceuninck-Quickstep) and leave the majority of the peloton in his wake.

'I wanted to make some kind of move in the final,' said Woods. 'No matter what it was going to hurt, so I just wanted to try and test the legs and get away.

'That was the only way I was going to win on this course, unfortunately it was a bit of a headwind and I wasn’t able to stay away.'

After a 2018 season that included a stage win at the Vuelta a Espana, a second-placed finish at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and a bronze medal at the UCI Road World Championships, Woods is certainly marking himself as an elite climber in the peloton.

Whether that translates into his first WorldTour stage race victory is yet to be seen, with Woods playing down his show of strength in view of the challenge of Corkscrew Hill, which looms in the finale of the next stage.

'I feel pretty good,' said Woods. 'It wasn’t a major climb, the big test is going to be tomorrow.'

Porte echoed the comments of Woods, naming Corkscrew Hill as the first showdown for the climbers, and the first chance the public will get to see the likely race-winners battle it out.

'It’s the first real test I guess,' said Porte. 'The thing with the Corkscrew is that the run-in is down the gorge there. It’s pretty fast and if you can get in there in a good position then it’s the hardest part done really.'

The race then takes in a day for the sprinters before the battle for the General Classification recommences on Willunga Hill, where Porte will be aiming for his sixth victory in a row on the iconic queen stage.