Cannondale’s Michael Woods Gets PEZ’d!
Rider Interview: If you want an outside bet for Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège, you need not look further than a man from Ottawa – Cannondale-Drapac’s Michael Woods. With top performances in the GP Indurain, Volta a Catalunya, Volta al Pais Vasco, and in Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne, he could just be the man to pull off a surprise. Ed Hood caught up with Michael just before he finished 11th in Flèche Wallonne.
Alejandro Valverde was watching Michael Woods in Flèche Wallonne
Michael Woods (Cannondale-Drapac & Canada) has come a long way in a short time. Originally a runner to international standard with a sub four minute mile to his credit, Woods turned to the bike when he couldn’t shake off persistent injuries incurred with his running.
The results were startling; in 2014 with the 5 Hour Energy squad he was top six in the notoriously tough Tour de Beauce in Canada. Optum-Kelly grabbed him for season 2015; he didn’t let them down, wins in the Challenge Loule in Portugal, a stage in Gila, a stage in Utah and third overall in the UCI Americas Tour meant the World Tour teams would come a calling.
Sure enough, Cannondale was the name on the jersey for 2016; there were two stage podiums in the Tour Down Under, a top 12 in the Flèche Wallone and despite a bad crash in the Tour of Poland there was a runner up spot in the prestigious Milano-Torino. The event was first run in 1876 making it the oldest of the Italian classic races and one of the oldest in the world.
This season he was second in the GP Indurain, fourth after an ‘exploit’ in Stage Five of the Tour of the Basque Country then just after our interview 11th in the Flèche Wallone. High times we spoke to the man from Ottawa.
Woods in the TT stage of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco
PEZ: The Pais Vasco, Stage Five – that was a spectacular ride to fourth place Michael, talk us through it, please.
Michael Woods: Thanks! Pais Vasco is a special race for me. The area is stunning, and its small and twisting roads make for hard racing; which really suits my style. Unfortunately, for me, the organizers this year made the race a bit easier than in years past, but the ‘Queen Stage’, five was right up my alley. There were six categorized climbs on the day finishing on a very steep cat 1 climb up Arate (a major feature in almost every edition of the race). When we hit Arate I was in good position and I felt great so I decided to attack and put pressure on the other GC guys in the race; enabling our team leader Rigoberto Uran to sit on the wheels and have a smoother ride.
Unfortunately I was caught near the very top of the climb, but the group had been whittled down to seven riders. In our team meeting we discussed how we wanted to approach the final two kilometers. The key was going to be taking the lead with 500m to go as it was a fast and technical finish. Both Rigo and I were in great position, but Samuel Sanchez crashed right in front of us with about 700m to go and it resulted in us losing a bit of nerve and position. Although I was a bit disappointed to have finished fourth on the day, my attacks on the climb and how I rode throughout the day really demonstrated that I am capable of riding with the best climbers in the world on days like that, and it gave me a big boost in confidence.
Woods climbing next to Kwiatkowski and Valverde in Flèche Wallonne
PEZ: GP Indurain, second place, any ‘what ifs’?
No, I was pretty happy with my performance and execution in this race. In many cases, if you want to win a race, you have to be willing to lose. When Simon Yates attacked our group with 10 kilometers to go my director, Juan Manual Gárate, and I made the decision to not follow as our group had the numbers and looked as though it would make a cohesive chase. Had this happened I am confident I would have won, but this gamble didn’t pay off, as Yates managed to stay away and I was forced to sprint for second. It was a good learning experience for sure, but if I were in a similar situation I’m not sure if I would have played things differently.
PEZ: Have all the injuries sustained in the Poland crash healed properly?
Yes, I still have a bit of tightness in my left glute, but I have been very fortunate to have such a solid support team in B2Ten (who coach and advise Canadian athletes in a variety of sports, ed.) and the medical staff with Cannondale-Drapac. B2Ten and my coach Paulo Saldanha played a crucial role in my recovery, particularly over the offseason. They put together a great integrated support team that made sure I would get back to where I was pre-crash.
Signing autographs Down Under
PEZ: How was your Olympic experience?
My Olympic experience was pretty special. I started cycling with the singular aim of one day doing the Olympics, so to have achieved this, and been sitting down in the Olympic village watching the best athletes in the world just strolling around was special. The energy and the level of excitement at the games is insane, and to have just had the honor of being a part of it was something I won’t forget. Unfortunately due to my crash in Poland three weeks earlier my body was just not the same as it was pre-crash. I broke my greater trochanter [an anatomical part of the femur connecting to the hip bone, ed.] in the crash, and this left me with a lot of discomfort on the bike, and lacking the top end that I needed to really compete for a result.
Second in Milan-Torino 2016
PEZ: Milano – Torino 2016, second – those ‘what ifs’ again?
Yes, for sure in this one. I hit out way too early and left a big opening for Miguel Lopez to take advantage of my mistake. The reason for the early attack was that I misread the distance in the final kilometer and thought we were a lot closer to the finish. This taught me that moving forward I need to be more relaxed in these situations and this mistake is likely the reason why I executed so well in my sprint for second at GP Indurain.
Climbing with teammate Tom-Jelte Slagter on stage 5 of Paris-Nice 2017
PEZ: Your 2017 Tour Down Under perhaps wasn’t as strong as last year’s?
2017 TDU was certainly a failure for me. I came into this race with high expectations, as I had done so well there last year. I was on great form for this year’s race, but my execution and timing was off. The level is so high at the World Tour and the margin for error is so small, that if you are not operating at your best, not just physically, but mentally, then, unless your name is Peter Sagan, you aren’t going to be finishing close to the podium.
Climbing with Rafal Majka in Catalunya
PEZ: That was a nice ride on the La Molina stage in the Tour of Catalunya.
Thanks, I think this stage really started to get the moment rolling in a positive direction for me this season. That stage is one of the stages I am most familiar with in Europe, as it is not that far from where I live in Girona. Having a good sense of the course, and having good legs on the day really helped me get my confidence back.
Putting the pressure on in the Cadel Evans Ocean Road Race 2017
PEZ: Will we see you in the Ardennes?
I’m in Europe at the moment, and yes I will be doing Flèche and Liege this year. [he finished 11th in The Flèche, ed.]
Finishing 11th in the 2017 Flèche Wallonne
PEZ: Have the Canadian media caught up with you and your achievements yet?
I have chatted with a few new outlets, particularly in Quebec. Cycling is really growing in Canada at the moment, but it is still not hockey.
PEZ: The Giro is on your program; has the team given you instruction on how they want you to prepare?
Because of my solid relationship with my coach, Paulo Saldanha, the team has a lot of faith in my ability to train and prepare for races. Cannondale-Drapac also has a great staff with excellent sports nutritionists and coaches, so in concert with them my preparations have been going really well. I also think the big key for me going into a Grand Tour is just getting a lot of race days in the legs; which I have done so far this year, as I am now at 31 days of racing.
Hitting the front on the Mur de Huy
PEZ: Do you have your own coach or does your coaching come from within the team?
Yes, I have my own personal coach, Paulo Saldanha from Montreal. Paulo has played a huge role in my career and is one of the major reasons why I am racing at this level. I am really lucky to have him guiding my training and I see him as not just a coach but a mentor and great friend.
PEZ: How are you liking Girona and how’s the Spanish?
Spanish – more like Catalan! My wife, Elly, is actually in the process of learning Catalan, but I am still working on my Duolingo [language learning program, ed.] in Spanish. Elly and I love it here in Girona. We will always call Ottawa/Gatineau home, and plan on living there full time when I am done cycling, however Girona is a special place. The food scene is excellent, and the riding, and running (my wife is an avid runner) is amazing.
Wrapped up for a cold start in Liège ’16
PEZ: Cannondale-Drapac have been getting close but no cigar yet – how’s team morale?
The team morale is definitely on the upswing. Being a team that has the smallest budget in the World Tour, we aren’t going to be able to show up to every race and expect to dominate like a team like Sky, however this being said, we did not have the start to the season that we wanted. Over the past two weeks though, we have definitely got our mojo back. Both Rigo and I were going well in Pais Vasco and Alex Howes was able to win the KOM jersey there, and, despite some bad luck (Taylor Phinney and Sep Vanmarcke crashing in Flanders) the boys in the cobbled classics were riding exceptionally well; we had Dylan Van Baarle step up big time in Flanders and place fourth, and then Sebastian Langeveld had a very impressive third in Roubaix. So at the moment there is a real sense amongst the squad that a big result is coming.
PEZ: 2017 will be a success for Michael Woods if. . .
I don’t have to speak in third person!
Santos Tour Down Under 2016
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,500 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.