There were a few reasons for Mike Woods to feel the pressure before the start of today’s second stage of the Tour des Alpes-Maritimes et du Var.

“I was brought to this team by Sylvan Adams and Paulo Saldanha to win,” he said, referring to the team’s owner, who backed him financially, and his coach, who believed in him when he was an unknown aspiring talent years ago. And more than that, he was about to start a stage where everyone viewed him as a clear favourite to win, with that steep climb to the finish perfectly suiting his riding style.

But there he was, standing before the start, taking it all in calmly. When we asked him how he blocks the pressure he turned on his smile and said, “Look, I just try to enjoy it. This is one of the reasons why you race bikes. That’s why kids watch sports. When you are young you choose your favourite guy. That’s what makes it fun. You know the cameras are on you so, instead of using it as a source of pressure, I try to enjoy it.”

Four hours later he proved that his formula for success was effective, securing his and the team’s first victory of the season with such an overpowering force and calm in the last few hundred meters, despite the 10-15 percent gradient climb to the finish line. “He has a big heart,” marveled our French Sports Director Lionel Marie. “Of course, he had the power that nobody could match, but everybody was watching him. So, in the money time, he just showed he is a rock.”

Of course, it wasn’t a solo show, and the Canadian was the first to give credit to his teammates who protected him all day and enabled him “to relax and breathe and not waste too much energy.” His new teammate, Sep Vanmarcke, was the catalyst – positioning him in the lead on the foot of the climb; from there it was all Woods. “I was able to execute the plan, kept the lead and accelerate with 300 meters to go.” Nobody could touch him, and he was able to take two seconds on his closest rival, Bauke Mollema of Trek-Segafredo. Woods secured the yellow jersey – taking it from the Dutch rider – with one second to spare.

Now what?

The third stage, which awaits the riders tomorrow, is a 134 km mountain stage with three Cat. 1 climbs. We anticipate a fierce battle on the final climb, the Col de la Madone, where Woods’ rivals will attempt to distance themselves from him and escape on the 15 km descent to the finish.

Once again Woods calls for calm, saying, “We have a strong team. I have real faith in the guys. I have to keep a cool head, be smart, descend well, and make sure that I can follow Mollema. The rest is out of my hands, right?”