If you wanted to sum up Michael Woods' 2022 season so far, 'straightforward' would not be the first word that leaps to mind, with wins and illnesses both forming part of a rollercoaster-like narrative.
Currently racing the Volta a Catalunya, the Israel-Premier Tech veteran has already taken a notable climbing stage win and second place overall in the very tough Galician stage race, O Gran Camiño, this year.
But as he told Cyclingnews before stage one of the Volta, his great rides at Gran Camiño in Galicia, Spain, were unfortunately sandwiched between multiple close encounters with a virulent stomach bug.
The first two bouts of stomach upsets culminated in a DNS on stage 2 of Ruta Del Sol, just a week before Galicia. That was far from the end of his stomach-related woes, though, because, as he said “the bug reared its ugly head again in Camiño. I got it on stage 2 and it really impacted on me.”
“I was on excellent form til then, but following the final time trial they had to sit me in the corridor afterwards. I was feeling so sick.”
Describing the illness as “pretty challenging” sounds like something of an understatement from Woods but he said that after discovering it was a bacterial infection, “I went on antibiotics and got to the bottom of it.”
Woods is far from alone within the peloton in falling prey to illness this spring, something he said could well be indirectly related to COVID-19 and the pandemic.
“The winter went really well for me. But I think like a lot of guys, everybody is suffering from stomach bugs, illnesses… It’s like after these two years without these sicknesses [being around] so much because of COVID, that is now taking its toll on these immunosuppressed cyclists.”
Rolling through the ups and downs
So far in the Volta a Catalunya, in purely racing terms, for Woods there’s been a similar pattern of promising performances and then unforeseen setbacks.
On day one, for example, Woods and the entire Israel-Premier Tech squad were present in a strong mid-race break which for nearly 40 kilometres threatened to upend the entire GC battle.
That move indicated a major willingness on his team’s part to take the race on, but then on stage two the Canadian was amongst several GC leaders, including Simon Yates (Bike Exchange-Jayco), who lost over 30 seconds in the late series of echelons.
Yet for Woods and the rest of the GC riders, the real tests in the Volta a Catalunya are yet to come. Stages three and four in the Pyrenees at La Molina and Boi Taull are expected to provide the key moments of the week-long race, rather than the minor time losses on flatter stages.
“Both summits are very tricky finishes, they’re not straightforward summits, tactics and positioning will play a huge role,” Woods, who knows the climbs well, said earlier this week.
“At La Molina, [Miguel Angel] Lopez was one of the few riders to win solo there in recent years, the rest of the time it’s been a bunch kick. So it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.”
“Then Boi Taul is a classic Catalan climb, very similar to Valter 2000” – a climb frequently used by the Volta as a summit finish – “but a bit easier. It’s steep at the beginning, then there’s almost a recovery point in the middle before it ramps up to 2000 metres.”
As for the Israel-Premier Tech mass attack on stage one, while it may have felt like a strategic masterstroke at the time, Woods said that it was “something that happened,” rather than being planned hours in advance.
“We realised the wind was up and figured if we didn’t take that opportunity, somebody else would so we jumped on it,” he told Cyclingnews before stage two.
“It was a bit unfortunate because we didn’t stay away in the end. We were riding really strong and cohesively but the odds were not in our favour.”
Yet despite his team’s collective performance being a stand-out moment of the racing, perhaps in keeping with his rollercoaster season start, Woods himself said he didn’t feel good at all during the day.
“[After] being up at altitude for a long period of time and then coming down, sometimes such a fast race is a bit of a shock to the system,” he pointed out. “But that was to be expected. Hopefully the legs will come round for the important stages [in Catalunya].”
In any case, all sporting matters on stage one were overshadowed by the drama that unfolded at the line when Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Victorious) collapsed, suffering what was later confirmed as an unstable cardiac arrhythmia, and needed urgent medical attention.
“It was an eye-opening experience, I saw him at the side of the road when I finished, it was an image I won’t forget, and very tough to see,” Woods said.
“It makes you really think how lucky we are and my thoughts are going out to him for sure.”
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.