WORLDS PEZ Talk: Mike Woods
There are not many riders on WorldTour teams who have come from middle-distance running. Mike Woods set Canadian national junior records in the mile and 3000 metres in 2005 as well as taking the gold medal in the 1500 metres at the 2005 Pan American Junior Athletics Championships. A recurring stress fracture, made worse by running, persuaded Woods to start cycling and he hasn’t looked back since.
Cannondale-Garmin’s head honcho Jonathan Vaughters may have lost Ryder Hesjedal and Dan Martin but he’s also managed to sign one of the most promising new names on the scene, albeit he’s 28 years-old – Mike Woods (currently Optum & Canada).
Originally a runner Woods has changed sports and risen to World Tour level in just a few seasons, winning his contract on the back of a year which saw him fifth on a stage of the Big Guns early season fave The Tour of the Algarve; a win in the Challenge Cidade de Loule, also in Portugal; a stage win in Gila; a stage win and second on GC in Tour of Utah and a top 10 on GC in the Tour of Alberta.
‘Interesting guy’ we thought to ourselves, best have a word. . .
PEZ: You were a runner at a high level, Mike – what were your best performances?
Mike Woods: I had a few really good years in running, particularly between 2005/2006. In ‘05 I broke the Canadian Junior records in the mile and 3km (they still stand). I believe I am still the youngest Canadian to run a sub four minute mile, and I was the first Canadian junior to go under 8 minutes for the 3km. In 2006, when I was 19, (my first year as a senior) I managed to get a top 50 world ranking in the 1500m.
PEZ: What was the injury you sustained which curtailed your running career?
I had a series of stress fractures in my left navicular bone. Really, it was one stress fracture that I never gave adequate time to heal. Because of bad guidance, impatience, poor diet, and a bunch of other factors, the bone never fully healed after my first injury, but I continued to race/run on it, and it eventually got to a point where every race I ran I would break the bone. I’ve had two surgeries on it, and have two pins in the bone, so it is now pretty solid, but it still can’t sustain the intensity required to train at elite level.
PEZ: Does it affect your cycling at all?
Nope, not at all. I think, when I first started, that was one of the biggest draws that I had to cycling. After being injured for so long, when I got on the bike, for the first time in what seemed like ages, I could push myself without career ending consequences.
PEZ: Tell us about your first bike race.
Oh, it was a gongshow. If you had taken a picture of me, it probably would have fit in with that instagram account #triathletestryingthings.
I probably committed every cycling fashion faux pas, and rode the most tactically inept race, but, because I had this big aerobic engine, I was able to hang tight, and finish just off the podium. To be racing, after being off for so long, was cathartic, and I was pretty much hooked on cycling after that.
PEZ: How does the world of top level cycling compare to it’s running equivalent?
They are pretty different. Relative to cycling, there just isn’t the same level of money in running, so you have very few guys being able to support themselves while training full-time. Also, with the absence of teams, once you get out of university, it is a pretty lonely existence. Cycling on the other hand has fields full of riders making liveable wages. When compared to football or other big professional sports, the money and sustainability seems laughable, but compared to running, there is far more stability, money and longevity in the sport of cycling. Also, due to the team nature of the sport, there is a lot more camaraderie in cycling than in running.
PEZ: When did Cannondale make the approach – did it come as a surprise?
I had been talking Jonathan Vaughters a bit over the past few years because I broke Ryder Hesjedal’s (and formerly JV’s) record on Haleakala the world’s longest paved climb, (36 miles long, 10,000 vertical feet on the Hawaiian Island of Maui, ed). However, what really got the ball rolling were my results in Portugal at the start of the season. I think that showed to Vaughters, and the team, that I was able to handle myself in a European style race. It definitely was a surprise getting the call from JV, but it was also a goal of mine to make it to the World Tour in 2016, so I wouldn’t say it was completely unexpected.
PEZ: When and where is the first camp with the team?
Our first team camp is likely going to be in Aspen, Co. at the end of October. I’m not 100% sure of the details yet though; I am still trying to focus on the last race of the season.
PEZ: Has your programme for 2016 been discussed?
No, not yet. Although, my big goal is Rio; I really want to represent Canada there, as the course seems very suited to my skill set.
PEZ: Where will ‘home’ be in 2016?
My wife and I have weighed a few options, but it looks like Girona.
PEZ: 2015 started well for you with your performances in Portugal – that must have set you up nicely for the season?
Definitely – one of the biggest draws for me, when signing with Optum last year, was talking to Jonas Carney about starting the season with some European races. I knew if I could get some results there it would draw more attention from World Tour teams, so my coach, Paulo Saldanha, came up with the plan to really push the envelope over the course of the off season in preparation for these races, and it paid off. I think doing well there showed me that I was ready to make the jump to the World Tour, and the confidence that that gave me, carried me through much of the season.
PEZ: Second in Philly – any ‘what ifs’?
Hahaha, for sure.
I think Carlos Barbero was the worthy winner in Philly, however on the final time up Manayunk, when you look at the replay, I think I had him on the ropes with about 200m to go, however, I wasn’t confident that I could drop him, I hesitated, and I eased off on the effort. That opened the door for him to win, and when you give a classy rider like that an opportunity like I did, he is going to take full advantage. I have no regrets from the race though, as it was a valuable learning experience, and because of it, I committed fully to my move on Stage Five at the Tour of Utah (a very similar finish to Philly’s) and it paid off.
PEZ: The Tour de Beauce saw you DNF, what happened?
For me, Beauce, along with Tour of California, were my two biggest disappointments of the season. At California I got sick, and in Beauce, just before the climb on the queen stage, our entire lead-out train was taken down by a rider trying to jump in front of us. This was a huge disappointment, as I think I was ready to win that stage, and it ultimately cost me taking the overall lead, after Utah, in the UCI Americas tour. The crash itself also created one of the worst cases of road rash I have had. The pavement in Beauce is super rough, and I hit the deck at about 50km/h, so I lost a lot of skin, and had to abandon.
PEZ: Utah – second on GC and a stage win – do you consider that your breakthrough?
Without a doubt. I think before Utah, I had shown a lot of potential – winning a stage at Gila, and a race in Portugal, and finishing with some top guys at bigger races but I had never won a race that involved World Tour Teams. Winning there, taking yellow, and eventually finishing second overall to Joe Dombrowski I think proved that I deserved a shot at racing in the World Tour.
PEZ: Top 10 in the Alberta Tour, were you happy with that?
No. I came in with the goal of cracking the top five, and based off of my fitness and my performance on Stage Three I think that was a realistic goal. However, on stage Four I just had a bad day, and no excuse for it. I ended up finishing 10th on the stage, and ultimately was 10th overall. I wasn’t too disappointed though, as this has been a long season, and it is pretty hard to be good at every single race, so to finish 10th overall, against a very good field, despite having an off day, I think was a good mark on my consistency over the course of the season.
PEZ: How did Quebec and Montreal go for you?
These are great races, and Montreal, particularly, is almost a home race for me; I live about 90 minutes from Montreal, my coach lives there, and I do a lot of training both at his studio (PowerWatts) and on Camillien Houde (the big climb on the circuit). So, despite it being one of my last races of the year, I try to get fired up for these ones.
In Quebec, unfortunately, I had some bad luck with pot holes, I crashed, and broke my spare bike, so I had to abandon. Quebec’s finish really suits me, so it was tough having to watch it on the TV from the hotel room. However, Montreal went well. This year’s field was truly world class, and the race was incredibly hard throughout the day. Also the conditions were very dangerous (it rained all day and the roads were super slick) so although I only finished 23rd, I think to finish in the front group, around so many great riders, is a mark of how far I have come in the past season.
PEZ: The Worlds – Canada has a strong team, you must be looking forward to it – have you seen the course yet?
No, I haven’t seen the course yet, but you are right, our team is very strong. This is the first time, in a long time, that we are sending six guys to this race, so I am very excited to a part of the squad. Based off of the feedback that we have, this year’s course looks like it is going to suit more of a classics style sprinter, so my job is going to be to play a support role to Guillaume Boivin and Ryan Anderson. I am really looking forward to have a bit of the weight off of my shoulders for this, and be in a supportive role for these guys, as they have been so helpful to me throughout the season.
PEZ: 2016 is about. . .
Getting a contract for 2017! Hahaha. No, I think the big goal for me is going to be the Olympic Games. I was voted the most likely to go to the Olympics in my high school year book, and I managed to screw that up in the running department, so hopefully, I can live up to that billing through another sport.
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 1,100 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.