Canadian Mike Woods' bronze medal in the elite men's road race at the UCI Road World Championships on Sunday confirmed the 31-year-old former runner as one of professional cycling's most exciting riders.
But what was initial disappointment at having missed out on the rainbow jersey to Spain's Alejandro Valverde after 258.5km in the saddle turned to joy at having finished third in arguably the world's most prestigious one-day race, and Woods admits that he's had difficulty sleeping now that the magnitude of what he achieved has sunk in.
"I was disappointed in the immediate aftermath," Woods said on his EF Education First-Drapac team website. "I can't believe that I'm saying that now, but that's how I truly felt when I crossed the line. At 200 metres to go, I thought I was going to beat Valverde, but once I started to cramp, my chances faded away.
"No matter how good you are, you won't find yourself in a race-winning position with 300 metres to go that often at a World Championships. To be that close and have it go out the window because of cramping, in that moment, it was disappointing.
"Now, after having 24 hours to think about it, I'm over the moon. I didn't sleep last night. That's how excited I was," he said.
Woods has only been racing at WorldTour level since joining what was then Cannondale – and is now EF-Drapac – in 2016. The Canadian's rise has been a meteoric one, from setting national junior records in middle-distance running a decade ago, to working as a bank teller, to turning professional and taking on the best riders in the world.
"To be a bronze medalist at the World Championships is not something that I could have dreamt of when I was working behind a teller stand at a bank a few years ago," Wood said.
"I think I started to show glimpses of these types of performances last year. This year, I've really stepped up my consistency and shown that now, as long as I am healthy, I can contend against the best riders in the world.
"This confidence and inner-belief has made racing at the WorldTour a lot less scary and a lot more fun. When I first started racing at this level, I spent half of my races in fear of crashing or getting dropped. I'm seeing bike racing far differently, and when it goes well, it is damn fun," he said.
It was a confident-looking Woods who attacked on the final climb of Höll as the Worlds road race headed towards a conclusion on Sunday – a move that dropped Italy's Gianni Moscon, and which saw only Valverde and France's Romain Bardet go with Woods.
He said he was still feeling confident, too, after the descent into central Innsbruck, when with two kilometres to go the trio was joined by Tom Dumoulin of the Netherlands, and the four riders readied themselves to sprint it out to become champion of the world.
"When Tom caught us, all cohesion went out the window," Woods said. "At that point, there was such little distance left, and with the work he did alone to bridge across while the rest of us worked together, I knew he'd pretty gassed from the effort.
"I had a lot of confidence in my sprint, so my plan was to simply wait until 150 metres to go. When Valverde opened at 300 metres, I couldn't believe it. I thought I was going to beat him," said Woods, who took a stage win at the Vuelta a España earlier this month.
"I had missed my final bottle," he revealed, "and I began to cramp super hard in both my calves and my hamstrings. I started pedalling squares and went from thinking, 'I could win this,' to, 'I hope I can carry myself across the line in front of Dumoulin.'"
Having held off Dumoulin, Woods had to settle for bronze behind Valverde and Bardet, but he may yet be able to carry his good form through to his last races of the season.
Woods will first race at Italian one-day race the Giro dell'Emilia on October 6, and then line up at Il Lombardia the following weekend.
"As I get ready for my final few races this year, and start shifting my focus to next year, I just hope I can continue to learn from these past results," said Woods.
"I'll aim to use this perspective to continue my progression in this sport, and inspire more kids to get on bikes, and more fans to cheer for a Canadian kicking it in the WorldTour."
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