By Curtis Rafter
Ottawa native Mike Woods recently competed in the first Grand Tour of the cycling season – the Giro d’Italia – where he finished 19th in the general classification despite dealing with a brutal case of bronchitis and crashing on Stage 11 of the race.
Woods was hit by a chest infection near the beginning of the Giro, but he certainly didn’t show it, taking 2nd place in Stage 4 of the race. “I made a big effort on Stage 4, came 2nd, but I think going so deep means my allergies really started kicking in… it’s kind of been hampering me on the longer climbs, from a respiratory perspective,” explained Woods in a previous interview with CyclingNews.
Weeks after the competition, Woods says he’s still dealing with the infection.
He was unable to maintain his breakneck pace after Stage 4, with his next best finish being 9th in Stage 8.
While his respiratory infection made climbs more difficult, Woods still felt as though he had a good opportunity to move up in the rankings.
He was in 15th place heading into the final five-kilometre stretch of Stage 11 and saw an opportunity to strike. “I knew if I took the risk and moved up, I’d be in position five,” said Woods. Unfortunately, the gap he tried to shoot closed earlier than Woods anticipated and he was launched into a fence. The crash left him with banged up knuckles, some road rash, and a 40th place finish.
Woods persevered through the back half of the Giro, finishing as high as 10th and as low as 139th, eventually landing in 19th place overall. He spent more than 90 hours on his bike and finished just an hour behind Chris Froome, holder of the top spot in the general classification.
Woods was ultimately disappointed with his performance, though he was reluctant to use his illness as a scapegoat. “If you don’t try you’re never going to win,” he said.
Woods’ unwavering effort through the Giro d’Italia opens a portal to the story of his career. Since the very beginning he’s had to overcome challenges ad nauseam.
Shaky cycling start
Woods originally competed in track as a runner – and still holds several junior records from those days – but recurring foot fractures ended his promising career early while he was still at the University of Michigan. The injuries forced Woods off his feet so he took up cycling simply as a way to stay in shape and quickly fell in love with the sport.
Given his late entry to cycling, Woods found it quite difficult to turn pro, especially after breaking his collarbone during an amateur race in Alberta. “It was a depressing fall. I went from teams being interested in me to radio silence. No one was communicating with me,” recalled Woods.
Eventually he received an offer from an Italian team called Amore an Vita. His tenure with the team was largely forgettable, save for a devastating crash that left him concussed for six weeks and a minor doping controversy in which then teammate Luca Benedetti was busted for the use of performance enhancing drugs.
Woods has said in a previous interview with the Ottawa Sportspage how difficult it was to work with someone who was obviously cheating, having to be “fake happy for a teammate” who was clearly breaking the rules. “I’d gone through so much crap that season. I got super sick in Mexico, I had all these mechanical troubles in every race I did,
I smashed my face in Italy – I just felt I couldn’t catch a break,” mentioned Woods glumly.
“Now I’m proud of myself for at least not losing all hope.”
The Hillcrest High School graduate would go on to make his Grand Tour debut on Cannondale’s team in the 2017 Giro d’Italia where he finished 38th overall. He followed that up with a historic performance in the final Grand Tour race of last season – the Vuelta a Espanã. Woods finished 7th in the general classification, which is the best finish for a Canadian in the Vuelta, and 5th best performance for a Canadian in any Grand Tour ever.
Heightened expectations surrounded Woods heading into this year’s Giro following his phenomenal rookie season on the tour, and while he didn’t quite meet them in his first major race of the year he will have a few more opportunities to redeem himself this summer. Woods told the Ottawa Sportspage that he intends to race in the Tour of Utah between August 6th and August 12th as a way to prepare for this season’s Vuelta a Espanã, which is scheduled between the end of August and September. He’ll then travel to Austria to compete in the UCI Road World Championships between September 22nd and September 30th.
While the Tour de France isn’t in the cards for Woods this summer, he admitted that it’s one of his top goals and one that he says he will complete in it at some point in his career.