Tour battle threatens to erupt
THE Herald Sun Tour has exploded into a man-on-man battle after Michael Woods and Richie Porte ripped the race apart in Gippsland.
Woods' sudden acceleration on the tough final climb of a windblown 127km Stage 2 on Thursday could be matched only by Porte as the remnants of a battered peloton rapidly faded from view.
The pair then waged a thrilling 13km war to the finish line - Woods' explosiveness on a steep gravel section distancing Porte before the Australian caught his Canadian rival on the high-speed bitumen descent.
Woods won the two-man sprint to the line after sneaking clear with 300m to go, but his cagey tactics irritated Porte.
"We said not to play around and he sits on for the last kilometre, but that's racing I suppose," Porte said.
"I tip my hat to Michael, though. He's a great athlete and a great guy. He deserved that."
Woods, who rides for EF Education First, now leads the Herald Sun Tour by four seconds from Trek-Segafredo's Porte. Frenchman Kenny Elissonde (+27 seconds) and young Aussie Lucas Hamilton (+33 seconds) are the nearest contenders with three days to go.
"When Woods hit it on the climb I felt pretty comfortable, but on the gravel he was a bit more punchy and I found it a bit hard to follow him there," Porte said.
"It was quite steep there … it's different climbing on that (gravel); you have to pick a bigger gear and sit on the saddle, which I was doing, but Woodsy was dancing out of the saddle so he's obviously done a bit more on the gravel than I have."
Woods' decision on Monday to drive to the little-known 3.5km climb in Jeeralang before the Tour for a sneak peak proved crucial.
"I knew that gravel section would be important, and it made a big difference knowing the course," Woods said.
"Richie is a champion. He was the man to beat at Tour Down Under and he blew me up. To get a win over him today feels really special."
On a brutal day of racing, the 96-man peloton was lashed by strong winds on the journey from Wonthaggi to Churchill.
A crash with 30km to go saw several riders hit the deck hard, with Futuro-Maxxis Pro Cycling left decimated when three of their riders couldn't continue.
Those that remained were then put to the sword by Team Sky veteran Luke Rowe, who did what Woods described as "going full biscuit" - driving the pace in a crosswind section and splitting the field.
Rowe's teammate Pavel Sivakov made his move on the lower slopes of the final climb. He was joined by Chris Harper and Elissonde before Woods made his move with Porte in hot pursuit.
With Friday's Stage 3 one for the sprinters, Woods and Porte will renew hostilities in Saturday's highly-anticipated Stage 4 where the peloton faces four ascents of Arthurs Seat on the Mornington Peninsula.