By Mat LaBranche
A late season change of heart led to Ottawa cyclist Mike Woods securing the best professional finish of his career to date.
The 31-year-old finished 7th in the general classification of the Vuelta a España, a three-week long (Aug. 19 – Sept. 10) Grand Tour race that started in Nîmes, France and wrapped up in Madrid, Spain. Woods’ finish was the best ever by a Canadian at the Vuelta a España and the fifth best by a Canadian in a Grand Tour race ever.
He had considered not even taking part in the event, as there were a couple of other races he had circled on his calendar, specifically the Montreal Grand Prix, which not only was close to home, but also serves as the home base of his coach. But his team’s director, Juanma Garate, persuaded him after discovering how suited his style was to the course.
“(Garate) didn’t want the pressure of racing under general classification to get to me for the entirety of the race,” said the Cannondale-Drapac team member. “(Garate) wanted me to be more relaxed and not feel the stress going in, so we just said we’d focus on trying to win a stage and then start shifting focus as the race progressed if I hadn’t lost time.”
This wasn’t the first time one of Woods’ coaches had a major influence on him. After receiving a scholarship for long distance running at the University of Michigan, Woods succumbed to several injuries, forcing him to return home to Ottawa, which is where he eventually crossed over to cycling. But it was in running where he had the pleasure of training under Gary Monsour and Ian Clark.
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Monsour was instrumental in kick-starting a cross country program in his sophomore year at Hillcrest High School, while Clark served as an important mentor in running days with the Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club. Woods also states that the pair devoted countless hours and late nights to help improve his running game.
“I still apply the things I learned from their coaching and guidance today in bike racing,” revealed Woods. “You don’t appreciate it that much when you’re 15 or 16 years old – when you think you deserve everything – but looking back now, you begin to realize how much time people like that put in and I just feel so fortunate. Especially the mentorship and leadership I learned from them.”
Because of this and the warm reception he felt from the Ottawa cycling community when he switched sports, he decided to pay it forward and start Mile2Marathon with 2012 Olympian Dylan Wykes. M2M offered online training that aimed to help maximize athletes’ performances.
“I was so quickly embraced by the cycling community in Ottawa and so many people believed in me early on, even when I had no business being in a bike race,” said Woods, who placed 38th overall earlier this season in his Grand Tour debut at the Giro d’Italia.
“There are just so many people who lent me their time or a pair of pedals; or gave me some equipment I didn’t have.”
Woods also credits his parents for his success, as they entered him in a “laundry list” of sports when he was younger. He believes the skills he learned in the various sports – which include hockey, skiing and tennis, among others – all came together over time to transform him into a more superior athlete.
“Doing all these sports really helped me as a runner because I was far more robust and had more athletic ability,” said the former competitive hockey player. “One thing I see that’s a real problem is parents pushing kids into one sport year-round and I don’t think the goal of any kid getting into sports should be to become a pro. I think it should be doing something they enjoy, because such a small percentage of people actually become pro. I think the whole point of sport is just to have fun and make friends.”
Local cyclists were also front and centre at the Elite Canadian Track Championships from Sept. 28-30 at the Mattamy National Cycling Centre in Milton, Ontario. Derek Gee walked away with the most hardware, capturing four gold medals in the men’s team pursuit, men’s omnium, men’s individual pursuit and men’s madison. Meanwhile, Katherine Maine received the gold in the women’s team pursuit; The Cyclery 4iiii rider Emily Flynn took home bronze in the women’s team pursuit; and teammate Ariane Bonhomme got the silver in the women’s team pursuit.