By Brendan Shykora
Mike Woods’ racing season was maybe more crushing but still triumphant than any cyclist’s in the world, and like always, his wife Elly had his back.
The Ottawa cyclist’s personal life was brought into the spotlight after his victory in Stage 17 of the Vuelta A Espana in September. In a post-race interview, a breathless Woods shared with the world that just months earlier he and his wife lost their unborn son, Hunter, to a stillbirth.
“The whole time I was just going up the climb, I was thinking of him,” Woods said in the tearful post-race interview. “I wanted to win so bad for him and I did it.”
In an interview with the Ottawa Sportspage, Woods explained how his wife has provided constant support and motivation for him.
“Elly is probably the biggest reason why I’m a pro cyclist now, she’s believed in me pretty much more than anyone else,” he said.
Elly supported the pair financially before Woods earned income as a cyclist.
“I say she’s my number one investor,” Woods said with a laugh.
Woods one-upped his top-spot finish in the Vuelta stage with a podium finish at the world championships for cycling, later that month.
In placing 3rd at the world championships, Woods became Canada’s first male cyclist to achieve the feat since 1984, with Steve Bauer being the last to do so. Estimates say more than 300,000 fans watched a breakaway group of Woods and two other cyclists, France’s Romain Bardet and Spain’s Alejandro Valverde, battle at the front of the pack in the 258 kilometre race’s second-last kilometre.
In a bold move, Valverde started sprinting with 300 m to go, about twice the distance from the line that Woods was expecting.
“I couldn’t believe how early he started his sprint,” Woods said of the 38-year-old veteran Spaniard.
Woods might have caught Valverde if not for a calf cramp that hindered him in the home stretch, a cramp that came from being short a bottle’s worth of electrolytes. As Woods was coming to the final feed station about 20 km from the finish line, riders around him were making aggressive moves and he found he needed to make a split decision to cover the attacks behind him or grab the last bottle. He chose the former.
“I did need one more bottle just to get me through that last 20 km, and I was kind of running on fumes.”
For Woods, crossing the line 3rd was a disappointing end to nearly seven hours of racing, but that feeling “quickly changed” during the flag-raising ceremony.
“Three days post-race and I’m still riding a bit of a high,” Woods said over the phone from Spain, where he and his wife now live most of the year.
Reflecting on his season, Woods called his earlier stage victory at the Vuelta in Spain’s cycling-crazed Basque Country one of the “coolest moments” of his career.
“There were so many people spectating throughout the day, and then on the final climb they were all over the road,” he said.
Next year he’s planning to take on his biggest race yet: The Tour de France.
It’s the last of the three Grand Tour races that Woods has yet to check off his career bucket list.
“Even though I’ve had some great accomplishments on the bike, I think to be validated as a pro cyclist you really have to do the Tour.”
It’s known simply as “the Tour” for good reason: merely competing at the showcase is enough to raise a rider’s profile in the sport. But after the year he’s had, Woods is not short on validation from cycling’s more avid spectators.
“I’m getting a lot more respect and recognition in the cycling world,” he acknowledged.
Woods is often described in cycling circles as a climber, which is a racer who makes his gains when the incline is steepest. Through this year’s ups and downs, he’s proved that’s the case off the bike as well.