Canada's Michael Woods will make his Tour de France debut when the race kicks off in Brussels on Saturday, having been selected as part of EF Education First's eight-man squad alongside Colombia's Rigoberto Uran and US rider Tejay van Garderen.
While Woods has ridden both the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a Espana twice, with best finishes of seventh overall at the 2017 Vuelta and 19th at last year's Giro, Woods said that he's both excited and nervous about taking the start of the world's biggest bike race in Belgium this weekend.
"It's really special for me, especially having got into cycling at such a late age," said 32-year-old Woods at the team's pre-Tour press conference on Wednesday, having only started riding at WorldTour level with his team in its previous guise as Cannondale-Drapac in 2016.
"I followed the sport as a runner, and, watching the Tour every summer, I was a fan of the Tour. I wasn't a fan of cycling but I was a fan of the Tour and knew the Tour. I know a lot of people back home in Canada who are similar. They don't know much about cycling, but they follow the Tour every summer.
"You can feel that significance and that extra layer of attention even in the last few days approaching the race. This is the biggest stage, and I want to race on the biggest stage and I want to represent Canada on the biggest stage. I'm really excited for that," said Woods.
While Uran is likely to be the team's main protected rider, having secure second place overall behind Chris Froome at the 2017 Tour, Woods is looking forward to learning from him and van Garderen, but also hopes that he may get an opportunity to be in the mix for a stage victory at some point.
"It's really nice having Tejay and Rigo here because they're a foil for the pressure," Woods admitted. "Tejay was saying it's his eighth Tour and for Rigo it's his sixth, so that helps me, too.
"I do want to have some individual success," he continued. "I'm looking to do well. I want to try to win a stage. How that unfolds depends on how I fare in the opening few days. If I can stay safe and healthy, I'd like to get in some breaks later in the race."
That will only come, however, once Woods finds his feet in what he knows will be very different to anything he's experienced before in his cycling career.
"From all the guys I've talked to and everyone I've raced with and against, I don't think the speed is going to change much," he said. "I don't think the difficulty from a physiological prospective is going to change much; there are all the same riders and we race all year against these guys.
"Where I am confident that things will change is with the level of stress. There's a bigger focus on the Tour de France and that increases the tension: guys want it more, guys are willing to take more risks and that element of danger, of stress, is going to elevate ten-fold," said Woods.
"I've seen glimpses of it at other races and it's terrifying," he continued. "When you have 180 guys that want to truly be at the front of the race, it can be pretty frisky, and that's why you seen so many crashes at the start of the Tour compared to other races. I'm stressed about that, for sure."
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