Michael Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation) has been ruled out of Tirreno-Adriatico due to a bout of bronchitis but the Canadian is still determined to feature heavily in the Ardennes Classics, which form the main goal of the first part of his season.
"It’s a big disappointment to be missing Tirreno-Adriatico but I am making this decision with the bigger picture in mind," Woods said on Tuesday.
"Feeling the way I do now, I know that starting a demanding race such as this would be a risk, and therefore I want to make sure that I can recover and still have plenty of time to prepare for my first goals of the season: the Ardennes."
Speaking directly to Cyclingnews from his base in Girona, Spain, the Canadian reconfirmed that the Ardennes were the main objective to the first half of the year before he turned his attention to the Tour de France and the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
"The way I’m training, it’s really orientated around those one-day Classics. Then after that, I’m going to take a break and then my biggest focus for the year is on the Olympics. Any other result after that is really just gravy," he said.
Woods has finished on the podium in both La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège and, while those races are well suited to his pedigree and punchy finish, he readily admits that Amstel Gold - a race he has yet to shine in - is up there with his favourite events.
"I love Amstel and it might be my favourite race. It might not be the one that’s best suited to me and it’s a bit like playing Mario Kart.
"You look at your bike computer twice during the race and you’re always dodging road furniture. You're turning constantly and always engaged. It’s not as suited to me in terms of my skill set as the other two races, but I really like it."
At the Tour de France, the 34-year-old will serve as a domestique deluxe for Dan Martin and Chris Froome in the mountains, while also juggling those responsibilities with stage hunting. Woods has raced the Tour just once in his career but he will use the three-week race to also gain experience and build his form for Tokyo.
"The Tour is the best prep for the Olympics and I’m really banking a lot on me being able to do the Tour and then going to the Olympics. I’m just trying to operate as if they’re happening," he said.
"I’m obviously aware of what’s going on but one thing that I learned from last year is that it can really take the wind out of your sails in training if you start thinking about the things that you can’t control. In my mind, I’m just assuming that they’re happening and I’m going to make the best plan possible and train for them. I hope that it lines up."
Woods is one of the few athletes who have had the chance to test their legs on the Olympic course, having ridden recon over the parcours back in 2019 after the Japan Cup. That experience prompted the former runner to focus his attention on fighting for a medal in the road race.
"I really like it. Ideally, it would be finishing on a Mur de Huy climb and it’s not that, but there are some really challenging climbs," he said. "There’s a significant climb and there are two or three other features that could serve as launch pads for winning moves. It’s one of those races that suit an opportunist and a rider who can be aggressive and win from a small group."
Settling in at Israel Start-Up Nation
Despite the setback ahead of Tirreno this week, Woods has enjoyed a successful start to his career at Israel Start-Up Nation. He won a stage in Haut Var and, if it hadn’t have been for bad luck and an incredible ride from Trek Segafredo’s Gianluca Brambilla, the Canadian would have finished first and not second overall in the French stage race.
"I spent five years at EF and when you do that change, it can be a bit scary but it’s been shockingly easy, in terms of the transition," he told Cyclingnews.
"Coming into camp it didn’t feel like a new team and that has a lot to do with knowing so many riders before as teammates. There are also three other Canadians on the team and that’s never happened in the WorldTour before. So right off the bat, it felt like I was with my buddies. That translated right away into results. Other teams were impressed with how we rode."
And while Woods has put aside his GC targets in three-week races for this year, he hasn’t ruled out on trying to improve on his seventh-place from the 2017 Vuelta a España.
"I still think I can have success in a Grand Tour but those plans have to wait. Based on my time trial, I don’t think that I can win one," he said.
"Maybe I can get on the podium but once you start falling off third place I’m more interested in getting wins at races than finishing fifth."
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