Woods, a first-year rider on the Giant Factory Off-Road Team and the current Canadian national champion, has emerged as one of the top young stars in cross-country racing. The 22-year-old had two podium finishes at the second round of XC World Cup racing in Lenzerheide, Switzerland—finishing second in the XCO and third in the XCC—and he now has his first two wins of 2023. With the two wins in Italy, Woods now sits second overall in the XCC rankings and third overall in the XCO rankings.
Woods started things off in Val di Sole with a strong finishing kick to earn the win in Thursday’s XCC race. Riding his Anthem Advanced Pro 29 race bike and wearing the Giant Rev Pro helmet and Charge Pro shoes, he stayed in the front group throughout the fast-paced, 20-minute race. It came down to a last lap battle among four riders, and the Canadian had the strongest sprint to edge out French riders Luca Martin and Adrien Boichis, who took second and third respectively.
“There was a rock garden and there were gaps forming, so I wasn’t sure if I wanted to save some energy or just go to the front,” Woods told Canadian Cyclist after the win. “But the way the last lap played out, I just went to the front and got a small gap. I attacked the climb and still had a gap going into the final straight, so I just pushed through to the finish.”
Two days later, Woods came out swinging again in the XCO race. “After that boost of confidence from the XCC win, I knew I wanted to give it a shot in the cross-country,” he said. “After a tough start, I found myself on the chase, but after a few laps I made it into the lead group. One rider attacked off the front, but I decided to keep it steady because this track can ruin you so quickly.”
Woods held his position and made his move on the final lap. “Once I attacked third place and secured second position with first place in sight, I heard ‘flat tire in the front’ with only half a lap left. That’s when I went all in to secure the win. Crazy to do the double with the XCC and XCO. Now I’m looking forward to some time back home with all eyes on the World Championships in a month’s time.”
ELITE MEN’S XC
Belgian Jens Schuermans, also new to Giant this year, has been consistent throughout the first half of the World Cup season and currently sits 13th in the rankings after four rounds. The 30-year-old has been in the top-five at the past two XCC rounds—fourth at Leogang, Austria and fifth at Val di Sole. The current Belgian national champion will be aiming for podium finishes in the World Cup throughout the second half of the season.
The team’s other rider in the elite men’s category, Frenchman Antoine Philipp, crashed out of the opening round of the XCO World Cup series at Nove Mesto in the Czech Republic, and he missed the next round with a fractured left thumb sustained in that crash. The Frenchman has been training hard and showing steady progress, returning to action at Round 3 in Austria, where he finished 50th in the XCO, and jumping up to a 23rd place finish at Round 4 in Val di Sole.
The Giant Factory Off-Road Team also has a new look this year in downhill racing, with the addition of Australian brothers Luke and Remy Meier-Smith. Luke, the current Australian elite men's DH national champion, kicked off his World Cup season in historic fashion, winning the first-ever World Cup enduro race in Tasmania, but his downhill ambitions were unfortunately derailed with a broken collarbone from a training crash at the opening DHI event in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. The 21-year-old has been recovering as he eyes a return at the upcoming UCI World Championships next month in Scotland.
Meanwhile, Luke’s younger brother Remy is off to an impressive start in his first season of World Cup downhill in the elite men’s class. Racing on his new Glory Advanced team bike, Remy scored a top-10 finish at the latest round in Val di Sole, a stellar showing in just his third World Cup as an elite. The 18-year-old carries a top-20 ranking (19th overall) into the second half of the season as he aims to continue his upward trajectory.
“I came into the race at Val di Sole hoping to improve on my 19th place finish from the previous round at Leogang,” Remy said. “About 20 minutes before my finals run, it started raining, which was hard not to think about. I had one big mistake about halfway down and almost crashed, but I pushed even harder to the bottom to pull back positions. My time held up and I finished 10th at my third-ever elite World Cup. I’m fully stoked on these last two races, and I feel that if I continue to put in the work I will keep climbing the ladder.”
The team’s third DH specialist, French rider Rémi Thirion, also had an impressive finish at the last round in Val di Sole, finishing 15th.
In enduro racing, which is part of the UCI World Cup for the first time this year, Youn Deniaud has led the way for the team on his Reign Advanced Pro team bike. The Frenchman has been a consistent frontrunner, scoring four top-10 overall finishes in the first five rounds. Deniaud now sits eighth overall heading into the last two races of the World Cup season later this summer.
Deniaud’s teammate, Canadian Mckay Vezina, is also looking strong and having his best season of international enduro racing with several top-20 finishes and a ranking of 17th overall after five of seven rounds.
And finally, Australian Josh Carlson, the team’s lone E-MTB competitor, is having a strong showing in the E-EDR World Cup, sitting top-10 in the elite men’s overall with two races left on the calendar. Racing on his Trance X Advanced E+ E-bike, Carlson had his best finish yet, fourth place, at the last round in Val di Fassa, Italy.