By Brendan Shykora
The road to the Tokyo Olympic Games is a foggy one at best during the COVID-19 pandemic, but for Mike Woods the global pause in action has offered up some silver linings.
The Ottawa cyclist is back to training at full strength after suffering a broken femur on March 12 during the 5th stage of Paris-Nice. It’s an event Woods wouldn’t have taken part in if not for the cancellation of Tirreno-Adriatico in Italy, where the novel coronavirus was making its first calamitous impression on the world.
“This was certainly the worst injury I’ve had,” Woods told the Sportspage in mid-July, describing not only the physical pain of breaking the strongest bone in his body but also the prospect of missing out on his second Tour de France, the World Championships and the Olympic Games.
As it happens, the rest of the Paris-Nice field didn’t make it to the final finish line either, and the cancellation of the race the next day was a signal that cycling would be on a lengthy hiatus.
“It felt like the world of cycling was watching this race to see what would happen,” the 33-year-old cyclist with EF Education First said. “Everyone had the sense that if it didn’t make it to the end then cycling would be in trouble.”
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But with the Tour de France now rescheduled to August 29 and the Olympics pushed to 2021, Woods has a new lease on the cycling season, without having had to sit through recovery while watching competitions pass him by.
Better yet, Woods went from initial fears of a career-ending injury to a full rebound and says he’s now feeling stronger than ever. He helped prove that on July 18 with a Stage 5 victory of the virtual Tour de France—made possible by Zwift, a platform that’s suddenly become the sport’s digital saviour.
“I’m putting up great numbers on the bike, I’m riding really fast and I’m light. I’m feeling ready to race,” he said.
Team Canada’s Olympic cycling rosters will be named on July 29. Members of the selection committee will have their work cut out for them, since athletes typically solidify their spots based on the results they put in at races where the course is similar to what they’ll see at the Games.
“A lot of those races have been cancelled,” Woods explained.
“But based off of results from last season, I have a proven track record on those key races,” he added. “I think I’ve got a great shot at going and (am) really targeting a medal.”
The UCI World Tour schedule has been revised and racing is set to resume on August 1. The Tour de France is slated for August 29 and the season will close with La Vuelta a España from October 20 to November 8. Woods is eyeing a pair of mid-August dates for his post-injury return, including Il Lombardia, a race that suits his skillset as a strong climber.
For the later dates on the calendar, he isn’t holding his breath. Cycling doesn’t mix well with border closures and respiratory illness, and the season is at the mercy of how the global health crisis evolves over the coming months.
“Even now we’re starting to see a bit of an uptick in COVID cases,” Woods underlined. “I don’t like to be a fear-monger but I just find it difficult to believe that until there’s a vaccine we’re going to have a full race calendar.”
For now, Woods is spending the summer months in the mountains of Andorra, a small principality sandwiched between France and Spain, doing altitude training at 2,000 feet. It’s a pleasantly remote place to spend a pandemic, even if thoughts can wander to those caught in its midst.
“You do feel quite isolated from everything that’s happening, so in some ways it’s really nice. In other ways you sympathize and feel bad for everybody back home.”
Timing has been in Woods’ favour amid the chaos of the 2020 cycling season. On the same day his injury rehab team gave him the all-clear to ride outside again, government officials announced that professional cyclists could return to the roads. More important was the extra time Woods has to spend with the newest addition to his family during the break in action.
“The bright spot in that time was just being able to hang out with my daughter and watch her develop, and it actually forced myself to slow down a bit and be present with her.”