Michael Woods: The Rash

Philly, Beauce and marginal changes

"Hey, you know Woods right?" said an acquaintance of mine to my former coach, and good friend, Nick Vipond. "Well, tell him ever since he started writing for Cyclingnews, his blogs have been shit. Tell him he has sold-out." This information, likely said in jest, was relayed to me two weeks ago, while sitting in Nick's backyard on a lovely evening in Ottawa. As they say, "there's many a true word said in jest," and since posting blogs to Cyclingnews, I have been told, in less blunt terms, that I have "toned it down a bit," or that Cyclingnews must have edited my blogs. For the record, Cyclingnews has yet to edit a word in my two blog postings submitted to the site, and to say I have sold-out, well I am not getting paid a cent for these suckers. I mean, in my last blog post, I literally talked about my bowel movements for about 700 words, so piss off. You want vulgar, you want gore then I give you this:

The Rash

If I once doubted my passion for cycling, the validity of my love for this sport was quantified last Thursday night. Quantified while sitting in the emergency room of a small hospital in the town of St. Georges, Quebec, the home-base town of the Tour de Beauce.

With two gaping wounds — one in my elbow and one in my knee — saturating the bandages covering them, and road rash covering the majority of my chest, quads, hands and arms, I looked around the emergency room to see if anybody was looking at me, and lifted the waistband of my sweatpants. To my great disappointment, the rash that made its way down my chest, stomach and pelvis, was still present... still there, right on my crown jewels. Yes, this past Thursday, I managed to get road rash on my penis, and yet, in what has to quite honestly be the worst predicament of my life, I was trying to figure out how I could get into a comfortable position for the time trial I was scheduled to start 12 hours later.

Tour de Beauce has a special place in my heart. This undulating race is where I got my first lucky break as a cyclist. As a Cat 2, I had won two local races in the Eastern Ontario region, and Nick, my coach at the time, who was also working at Cycling Canada, was chatting with some colleagues concerning who would ride for the national team at the 2012 edition of this race. While going down the list of potential riders for the sixth position on the roster, Nick, stepped up, and said, "Mike's stronger than all of these guys." I got super lucky, and two weeks later, I was racing a UCI 2.2 race, on the same team with Svein Tuft and Christian Meier. At the time, I thought nothing of it, but in retrospect, this was the equivalent of Russ Tyler getting selected for the US national team because of his "knuckle puck" in Mighty Ducks 2.

Despite the absurdity of the selection, I managed to prove Nick right, and ride well enough to gain the interest of several teams, including Optum. It would take another two years before Optum would take the same leap that Nick had, but Beauce was the race that really got the ball rolling in my cycling career.

Tour de Beauce is basically like an amateur triathlon. It is not very technical, and with its crosswinds and unrelenting undulation, riders gain little advantage by being in the draft, so, for a guy who had relatively no bike-handling skills and an overdeveloped aerobic capacity, Beauce was the only place where, back in 2012, I could get a result. I mean, despite causing a crash at the base of Megantic (the mountaintop finish stage) that year, and losing significant time to the leaders, I finished 13th.

I like to think my abilities as a rider have improved dramatically since that week in Beauce three years ago, and I believe my result at the Philadelphia Cycling Classic, three days before the start of Tour de Beauce, is a testament to my transformation as a cyclist. "That's a bike racer's race," said Phil Gaimon, congratulating me on my race in Philly, as we met up the following day in St. Georges.

At Philly, I was on form and on point. I was well positioned throughout the race, and when Chris Horner went up the road, on the penultimate climb of the 9-lap course, I was easily able to follow. My teammate Guillaume Boivin, who has been riding some incredible form, also stuck the group, and turned himself inside out in an effort to keep, the select group of 15 riders, away going into the final time up the Manayunk wall.

Even last year, going into Philly, I was putting out the numbers in training, to get a podium. However, at the time, I didn't have the skills, or equipment (I suffered four mechanicals in the 2014 race), to employ these watts when it counted. This time round, through riding smart, and with the aid of a solid team, I hit the Manayunk wall in the perfect position. With about 600m to go, I attacked, and in what was really the only blemish on my race that day, I didn't commit fully to the move. With about 300m to go, I looked under my arm and saw one wheel still wavering in my draft. With the grade of the road flattening, I worried that I would be towing the rider behind me, Caja Rural's Carlos Barbero, to victory, and so I eased up, hoping that I could hit out again and lose his wheel. This was a big error, as Barbero quickly responded and rolled to victory, while I shortly followed in second. I imagine the order would not have been reversed had I committed fully to my attack, but my decision to ease up was what turned a possible victory into a certain defeat.

So, going to Beauce, I told myself that when I hit out on the stage 2 mountaintop finish up Mt. Megantic, I would commit fully to the move. My soigneur Myriam, even put a little sticker on my stem that said, "Don't Wait." I didn't. When I decided to make my move on the final climb of stage 2, I invested myself fully, and the result, a 16th place; my worst showing to date in the four editions I have started.

With 3km to go before the beginning of the climb, Phil Gaimon, myself, and Pierrick Naud, were placed perfectly. We were on the left of Team Hinacpie's lead-out train, and Pierrick, who has done this race on four occasions, was getting ready to slingshot past Hincapie, with Phil and myself in tow. As we approached the final turn before the climb, Pierrick began to inch forward, however, before we began to brake in preparation of the turn, a rider from H&R Block slingshotted around us and tried to enter the Hincapie lead-out. His efforts were rewarded with lost balance and a wipeout at 50km/h. His skidding body, connected directly with Pierrick, taking him, along with the entire left front of the peloton down like a set of dominos. I was right behind Pierrick, and both the H&R rider and Pierrick created a barrier that held my bike and sent my body flying. Mid-air, I began to turn towards my right side.

However, having already broken my collarbone once, I knew that connecting with the road at 50km/h, on my right shoulder, would almost certainly result in a re-fracture, so instead, I landed on the pavement superman-style; a decision that I am not sure was a good one. As I slid along the pavement, and then was propelled even further down the road from the momentum of riders crashing into the rear of the pile-up, I knew that I was going to be losing a lot of skin.

After untangling my body from other bikes and riders, I stood up and took stock of my wounds. It wasn't pretty. My knee had a big hole in it, as did my elbow, my belly was completely red, my hands were shredded and pretty much every article of clothing I was wearing was in tatters. I spent some time talking to Phil, who had hit his head badly in the crash, and Pierrick. Pierrick couldn't stop apologizing. The crash wasn't his fault, but he knew how badly I wanted to win this stage.

After standing around for some time, I found my bike in the ditch. I did a full check, and found it to be, unlike my body, in proper working order. I knew my chances at a stage win and the GC were over, but I figured, if it was just road rash, I would be able to finish and set my focus on the final two stages of this race.

I got on my bike and rode relatively easily to the base of the climb. En route to the base, I got a brake adjust from my mechanic, Eric Maresjo. Just before we arrived at the base, the race commissaire told Maresjo he had let me go, and so I began the climb thinking I would just ride an easy tempo in an effort to save my legs for the final days of the race. However, as I began to climb, my legs felt good, I began to pass riders, and my DS, Eric Wohlberg, said, "have a go at it." I did, and I'm not sure if the effort was worth it, but at least it meant I got some medical attention earlier than the other riders involved in the crash.

In the end, I would not start the race the next day. Sitting in the hospital for four hours, getting a few stitches and having two people I respect a ton, both my coach and Wohlberg, tell me that I should pull out, squashed my fantasy of racing the final days.

Now, six days removed from the race, I sit here with a smaller ego, and a marginally (and ladies, I mean marginally) smaller penis, wondering if much has changed since 2012, besides my bait and tackle.

Up next Canadian Road Championships.

Canada's Michael Woods is a former middle-distance runner turned road cyclist and he races for the US Continental outfit Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies. You can follow his blogs on Cyclingnews during the 2015 season, on his website: https://rustywoods.wordpress.com, and catch him on Twitter @rusty_woods.

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