Michael Woods endured a year of contrasting emotions in 2018, achieving his best results as a rider but also mourning the loss of his son after his wife had a stillbirth 37 weeks into pregnancy. The Canadian understandably kept his personal suffering hidden until he won stage 17 of the Vuelta a Espana, only then revealing what he and his wife, Elly, had been through.
Woods used his love for cycling and his victory at the Vuelta to help overcome his loss. He spent precious time with family and friends before travelling to the World Championships in Innsbruck, where he again showed his true character and huge talent by taking third place after breaking away with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale).
Woods has developed rapidly since stepping up to the WorldTour level in 2016 with Jonathan Vaughters' programme at Cannondale and then EF Education First-Drapac. He was convinced he could win the world title after Valverde started the sprint early. Cramps stopped him from touching the rainbow, but his disappointment soon turned to joy as he realised what he had overcome and achieved in just a few months.
Michael Woods points to the heavens after winning stage 17 at the Vuelta a Espana
The disappointment and emotion of Worlds
Woods finished the Vuelta a Espana in Madrid but refused to end his season, despite everything he had been through. The tough World Championships in Innsbruck had been an objective for more than a year, planned with Canadian road programme manager Kevin Field, his coach Paulo Saldanha and his three teammates in the Canadian team, Hugo Houle, Rob Britton and Antoine Duchesne.
Michael Woods attacks on the final climb at Worlds
Rookie no more
Woods turned 32 a few days after the World Championships but is still a neophyte as a WorldTour racer. He first tried his hand in Europe with the Amore & Vita Continental team in early 2014 but returned to North America after just a few months. He joined the 5-Hour Energy team and then moved to Optum, where he emerged by winning a stage and finishing second overall at the 2015 Tour of Utah. He stepped up to the WorldTour level with Cannondale in 2016 and quickly showed his potential with two third places at the Tour Down Under.
Romain Bardet, Alejandro Valverde and Michael Woods on the Worlds podium
An opinion on Valverde
CN: You mention Valverde, who beat you in the World Championships at the age of 38. He described Cyclingnews as clueless for daring to ask him about his involvement in Operacion Puerto and if he should speak out about doping because as world champion he is a role model and flag-bearer for the sport. What’s your opinion on that and on Valverde?
I obviously know now that I wouldn’t dope. I was older and confident enough to be able to say no.
Of course, what they did was wrong. Regardless of the situation, it was wrong. And I think ignoring that and brushing it off sends the wrong message to kids growing up in the sport.
It’s like saying, "Winning is what matters most." To me it doesn’t. I think winning is awesome, but the message I want to send to kids getting into the sport and to people in general, is: Being a good person is what matters most. And I’m not going to do that at the expense of trying to win.
It’s not my responsibility to tell someone how to live their life, but I think it’d be nice if there’s more transparency in cycling, and whoever is world champion can help tackle that.