Michael Woods

Michael Woods’ two late-sea­son achieve­ments came with help from oth­ers. In one case, a di­rec­tor found a mean­ing­ful phrase, its power com­ing out of tragedy. In the other, a dili­gent plan­ner used his lo­gis­ti­cal wizardry.

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Matthew Pioro

Early in Stage 17 of this year’s Vuelta a Es­paña, in an EF Ed­u­ca­tion First Dra­pac pre­sented by Can­non­dale car, Juanma Garate told team me­chanic Luis La­mas that he had cer­tain line ready, the right phrase. Garate, the team’s sport di­rec­tor, was think­ing of the stage’s fi­nale: the steep Alto del Bal­cón de Bizkaia, a 7.3-km climb with an av­er­age grade of 9.7 per cent with some ramps hit­ting 24 per cent. It could be per­fect for Michael Woods. If Woods was there at the end of the stage fight­ing for the win, Garate knew what he’d say to his rider over race ra­dio to push and in­spire him to­ward the fin­ish line.

Woods’ team­mate Si­mon Clarke made sure the for­mer-run­ner-turned-world­tour-climber was in a good po­si­tion for the Bal­cón de Bizkaia. Then it was up to Woods to beat Dy­lan Te­uns of bmc Rac­ing, David de la Cruz from Team Sky and Bora-hans­grohe’s Rafał Ma­jka. Woods could barely see be­cause of the fog. He fol­lowed a move by Te­uns. Woods as­sumed by the force of the Bel­gian rider’s at­tack that they only had 200 m to go, maybe fewer. “I caught him, came over top of him and re­al­ized he was cracked,” Woods said of Te­uns. “I thought, This is it, I’m go­ing to hold on for the win. I looked up and saw a sign: 500 m.” Woods would still have to suf­fer for at least two more min­utes.

Garate came on race ra­dio and said to Woods, “Twenty sec­onds left. You have to hold on for 20 more sec­onds.” Those sec­onds passed and Woods still couldn’t see the 300-m-to-go sign as the other rid­ers still fought hard be­hind. “You’re liv­ing the dream. You’re liv­ing the dream,” Garate yelled in Woods’ ear. Then, Garate said the line, “Do it for your fam­ily!”

In the months be­fore the Vuelta, Woods’ fa­ther-in-law passed away. Later, his wife, Elly, who was 37 weeks into her preg­nancy, gave birth to a still­born boy. They named their son Hunter. Out the of tragedy, Woods wanted to do some­thing to hon­our his son and his wife. Garate, who has been work­ing closely with Woods since the Ot­tawa rider started with the team in 2016, knew Woods’ frame of mind well. “Af­ter Mike´s tragic thing hap­pened, I spoke with him,” Garate said. “I knew how much en­ergy he had in­side. He worked re­ally hard for this Vuelta think­ing to do some­thing re­ally im­por­tant here to ded­i­cate it to his fam­ily. It was his way of over­com­ing those hard mo­ments. The only thing I was wor­ried about was when and how to try to chan­nel all that en­ergy he had at the right mo­ment. The day ar­rived and we hit the right key at the right time.”

Garate’s line worked. Woods crossed the line atop Bal­cón de Bizkaia five sec­onds ahead of Te­uns. The EF Dra­pac rider was just able to raise one arm in vic­tory be­fore he came to a stop on the steep road cov­ered in fog. He put his head down on his bars.

“When he won,” Garate said, “I cried like a baby in the car.”

Af­ter the Vuelta, Woods went to Girona, Spain, for roughly two weeks of re­cov­ery be­fore for the elite men’s road race at the world cham­pi­onships i n Inns­bruck, Aus­tria, at the end of Septem­ber. That race, like the Vuelta stage, fea­tured a dif­fi­cult fi­nal in­cline. The Höt­tinger Höll climb, a 2.9 km stretch that av­er­ages 11.5 per cent and has one sec­tion at 28 per cent, would come af­ter more than 200 km of hilly rac­ing. On the day of the race, Woods got to the base of the the climb in an ex­cel­lent po­si­tion thanks the the work of team­mates An­toine Duch­esne and Hugo Houle, as well as Rob Brit­ton who spent most of the day in the break­away. As rid­ers dropped from Woods’ group, he pushed the pace. Only Ale­jan­dro Valverde and Ro­main Bardet could say with him over the top. Be­fore the event, Woods prac­tised the fi­nal de­scent with Duch­esne. His job was to try to drop Woods on the fi­nal run-in dur­ing those re­con­nais­sance rides. Woods could stick with his team­mate. On race day, he had no trou­ble stick­ing with Valverde and Bardet.

As the trio ap­proached the fin­ish line, with Tom Du­moulin in tow, Woods was feel­ing con­fi­dent. Valverde was lead­ing. Woods sensed that the Span­ish rider was des­per­ate to win. Valverde went with 300 m to go. Woods fig­ured he could fol­low and come around for the vic­tory. Ev­ery­thing seemed to be go­ing to plan. “I felt like Neo in The­ma­trix,” said Woods, “like I was con­trol­ling ev­ery­thing and it was go­ing ex­actly as I wanted it to.” Then, in

the fi­nal 150 m, Woods cramped. The dis­ap­point­ment of not win­ning was later re­placed with sat­is­fac­tion of tak­ing bronze. He was proud to be on the podium see­ing the Cana­dian flag rise up next to those of Spain and France, the maple leaf by the flags of two strong cy­cling na­tions.

While Woods’ race went ac­cord­ing to plan on the day, prepa­ra­tion for that event had ac­tu­ally be­gun about a year be­fore. Woods cred­its Kevin Field, Cy­cling Canada’s head of per­for­mance strat­egy, for lay­ing the ground­work. “Kevin Field is the real ar­chi­tect of all of this,” Woods said of the di­rec­tor who’s worked with Sym­met­ics, Spi­dertech and Rally Cy­cling. “He’s the guy who was talk­ing to me more than a year ago about how we were go­ing to medal at Inns­bruck. He put to­gether an amaz­ing plan for me. Just like ev­ery­thing went to plan dur­ing the race, ev­ery­thing be­fore the race went to plan ex­actly how Kevin said it would.”

Well be­fore worlds, Field ap­proached Jonathan Vaugh­ters to con­vince the owner of EF Dra­pac that Woods should make the cham­pi­onships a goal. Then, Field con­sulted with Garate to de­vise a race strat­egy that would work for the rider. He was also in touch with Houle, Duch­esne and Brit­ton. Then, there was the lo­gis­tics for worlds. Field wran­gled a car from Rally Cy­cling and one from Groupama – fdj. He got his rid­ers ac­cess to the Boels-dol­mans bus. Field’s work not only helped Woods, but other Cana­dian rid­ers: Si­mone Boilard who took bronze in the ju­nior women’s road race; Leah Kirch­mann who was fourth in the elite women’s time trial; and Karol-ann Canuel, who rode to sixth in the elite women’s road race.

“All the things Kevin did con­trib­uted to mak­ing me feel like I was just do­ing an­other World­tour race. We’re spoiled in the World­tour,” Woods joked. “You can for­get all the stuff peo­ple do for you.” When Woods goes to races where he doesn’t have his reg­u­lar sup­port, he brings a list so he re­mem­bers to do all the lit­tle things, such as pick­ing up his race num­bers. He didn’t need that list at worlds. “Ev­ery­thing was taken care of, and it was lovely,” he said. “It re­ally does make a dif­fer­ence on your per­for­mance be­cause you’re not stressed, your not anx­ious. You’re mind isn’t rac­ing on things you have to do. It’s just think­ing, How can I win this race?”

“I felt like Neo in The­ma­trix, like I was con­trol­ling ev­ery­thing and it was go­ing ex­actly as I wanted it to.”

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