Canada's Michael Woods has admitted to Cyclingnews on the eve of the World Championships road race that he doesn't think this year's 284.5km course in Yorkshire suits him as well as last year's race in Innsbruck, but that the brutal, attritional nature of the race could favour him.
Woods rode to an impressive third place at last year's road race in Austria – behind winner Alejandro Valverde (Spain) and France's Romain Bardet – which was only his third Worlds, with the 32-year-old having come relatively late to bike racing from an elite-running background.
While 39-year-old Valverde is back to try to defend his title, Bardet is sitting this year's Worlds out, with the course not deemed to suit his climbing abilities, and with the French squad instead built entirely around Julian Alaphilippe.
While the undulating, but far from mountainous, route between Leeds and Harrogate isn't exactly up climber Woods' alley, either, the man from Toronto hopes that he might have as good a chance as anyone.
"I'm not placing as big of an expectation on myself as I did last year," he tells Cyclingnews. "The course doesn't suit my skill-set nearly as much as last year. That was a course that only 10 guys could medal on. This year, it's a course on which potentially 30 guys could medal.
"The list is a lot longer for the guys who can win, but it's also an open race. The lack of climbing doesn't favour me at all. However, after seeing how the last two days of racing unfolded, I think it will be a race of attrition, a hard race, and that aspect will benefit me," says Woods.
Getting pointers from the U23 and women's road races
"They were great – very exciting," he said. "I think the under-23 men's race, in particular, was a good reference point, for how the men's race might play out. It was similar in the women's race in that it was about small groups, with lots of attacking, and very exciting and dynamic racing. The strongest riders came to the fore, but they had to be a technically good racers and mentally strong racers to have success."
As for his Canadian squad, Woods seems relieved not to feel any great pressure on his shoulders after last year's result, happy that he's just part of the team this time around.
"Last year, I was the only one on the team that was going to have a real shot at having success," he says. "This year, we have a dynamic team, and because it's a bit more of a dynamic race, it's a good one for us.
"We have Guillaume Bovin [Israel Cycling Academy] who has shown he can have success in these style of races. Hugo Houle [Astana] is going really well, showing that he can also race at the highest level. I think we'll have some options, and I'm excited to be showing off the Canadian flag with those guys."
Feeling like a 'real pro cyclist' after his first Tour de France
Since last year's Worlds and now, Woods has ridden the Tour de France for the first time, and has said that the experience – finishing 32nd overall at the world's biggest bike race – had made him "feel like a pro cyclist".
However, he continues to look ahead, planning for his next events and potential successes.
"This year, I've shown strength at WorldTour level, but I still haven't had a big win at the highest level," Woods said, despite having won a stage at the 2018 Vuelta a España. "Next year looks to be a year where there will be a lot more opportunities for me to get big results. I'm excited about the World Championships course [in Switzerland] next year, and am most focused on, and most excited about, the Olympic Games."
The Worlds in Switzerland in September – like the Tokyo Olympic road race in late July – is a hilly affair, and, should he not be pulling on the rainbow jersey in Yorkshire come Sunday evening, Woods knows that another chance could come his way in 12 months' time.
"I haven't won a world title, but I felt like last year I was capable of doing that," he said. "I just made some mistakes from a nutrition perspective: I missed a bottle and that caused cramp. I really thought I had a shot of winning up until 150 metres left of the race.
"But I've reflected on that. If I were to face more courses that were similar to that, I've got a shot at medalling again, if not winning. I think there is the opportunity to do that, and I'm excited to tackle the Worlds each year – and especially next year," he said.
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