Michael Woods: The five races that changed my life
Canadian talks us through the story of his career so far
At the age of 35, Michael Woods has just come to the end of his sixth season as a WorldTour pro rider, having made the switch from middle-distance running to cycling in 2013 before spending three seasons on the North American Continental circuit.
Despite coming to the sport relatively late, Woods has ascended to the top of the tree, winning stages at Grand Tours and WorldTour stage races as well as competing for victories at Monuments and the prestigious World Championships and Olympic Games.
In 2021, his first year with Israel Start-Up Nation, he has enjoyed one of his best seasons yet, winning stages at the Tour du Var and Tour de Romandie as well as finishing in the top five of the overall at both races. He also managed to find his way into the top five at La Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Tour de Suisse, the Tour of Britain, and the Tokyo Olympics road race.
Woods, who spent the previous five years with EF Education-Nippo, sat down with Cyclingnews at his team's post-season training camp to talk through his career so far, looking at it through the prism of the five races that have changed his life.
Tour of Utah 2015 – stage 5
The first one had to be the 2015 Tour of Utah, my third season. Winning a stage of the Tour of Utah changed my life because I beat a really strong field. Kiel Reijnen was third, Sonny Colbrelli was second and it was an uphill finish in Salt Lake City.
That made me realise that all the hard work, all the crap I went through, all the crashes, the BS I took, the huge risk I took of becoming a cyclist at a late age was worth it because it enabled me to get onto Cannondale at the time and get a call from JV [Jonathan Vaughters] to come to that team.
Yeah, it certainly changed my cycling career and my life. This was 2015 and I had started cycling in 2013, so it was two years after starting I managed to win a stage and then finish second overall.
Tour Down Under 2016
I think we follow that up with the Tour Down Under in my neo-pro year. I came in super hot and I got in incredible shape. I finished fifth overall.
I came third on two stages and managed to drop Richie [Porte] and stick it with Sergio Henao on the Corkscrew. Afterwards there's a quote from Simon Gerrans saying that on the Corkscrew it was the best climbers in the world, and that's my first WorldTour race with Cannondale.
All of a sudden you have a guy like Gerrans, one of the best guys in the world, saying that. It just made me realise that 'Okay, it shouldn't just be my goal to make it to the WorldTour but to see if I can make it to being one of the best'. It was a big perspective changer for me, and it made me realise maybe I'm capable of not just being a helper but a leader.
After that I'd say my 2018 season in general. I'd say there are three performances that really stuck out to me.
First of all, it's coming second at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. That showed me that I could win a Monument.
Bob Jungels escaped solo but I won from the group [for second]. I was able to outsprint [Romain] Bardet there and finish ahead of some of the best Monument riders in the world. It showed me that I could win.
Vuelta a España 2018 – stage 17
Finally actually winning a stage at the Vuelta a España in 2018. That one was probably my most important win. That win was my first win in the WorldTour and it was two months after we lost our son.
I cried for probably about a week every day after that win, just because it was such a release of emotions. I bottled all of those emotions up with the aim of just trying to honour my son and just trying to honour and do something to make my wife and I feel better.
To have won afterwards was this massive release and a special moment for me. It was certainly the most profound.
UCI World Championships 2018
I'd probably say that my second-most important race was third at the World Championships that season as well.
Coming third in the Worlds in Innsbruck ... made me feel like it gave me a bigger presence in Canada. It got me more respect because at that time you could go back to Canada and, most Canadians don't really understand cycling, so you tell them 'yeah I've done the Tour de France' or 'I've done the Giro' or something like that and they're like 'Oh ok, cool'.
But when you say that you came third in the World Championships they're like 'Woah, you're the third-best cyclist in the world'. Ok, maybe that's not true but I was the third-best cyclist on that day at the World Championships.
And to have done it the way I did it, to attack on the climb and drop everybody except for Valverde and Bardet, it showed that when I'm on my best I can be one of the best.
That climb is right in my wheelhouse – super steep and I could stand the whole way. I was on a good day, one of those days that when you look back it was really nice.
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Daniel Ostanek is production editor at Cyclingnews, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later being hired as staff writer. Prior to joining the team, he had written for most major publications in the cycling world, including CyclingWeekly, Rouleur, and CyclingTips.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France and the spring Classics, and has interviewed many of the sport's biggest stars, including Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Demi Vollering, and Anna van der Breggen.
As well as original reporting, news and feature writing, and production work, Daniel also runs The Leadout newsletter and oversees How to Watch guides throughout the season. His favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Volta a Portugal, and he rides a Colnago C40.