HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
Ottawa’s Michael Woods is accustomed to racing. In his previous athletic life, he was a successful track runner. Today, he’s a world-class professional cyclist, racing the absolute best.
But as he enters his final three days of preparation before Saturday’s scheduled men’s road race at the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, he feels he’s in another kind of race and has no control over it.
Oddly enough, he knows the end result, but he’s uncertain when this all-important race will come to a happy conclusion. Will it happen before, after or during his grueling Olympic race? Woods is a father in waiting.
“My family is great,” Woods said Tuesday morning from Japan, answering the first question during his media availability. “My wife (Elly Woods) is trying to hold the baby in and hopefully not give birth for the next few days.
“Hopefully, she can last until next week,” he added, knowing the main thrust of his cycling season would be over and he can return to his home in Andorra to support Elly and their daughter Maxine, who was born Jan. 29, 2020.
As Woods spoke, he could view the glorious Mount Fuji from the room in his hotel, which has become a bubble and is dedicated to the road race cyclists because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the country’s state of emergency.
Woods, an elite climber on the World Tour, experienced the 2016 Rio Olympics, where he met people from different nations and other Canadian athletes. But he feels it’s totally different this time in Japan.
“Not to devalue the Olympics, but this makes the Olympics feel like another race day,” added Woods, who is facing lockdown restrictions to follow health and safety protocols.
“Plus, I could have a son any minute. I feel I’m in a good space. I’m excited and enjoy where I am and I’m fortunate to be in this position.”
Woods called his Olympic environment “quite bizarre” because it feels like any other pro race day. The faces are the same and there’s no Olympic charge to it all.
“I feel like I’ve come from the Tour de France bubble to the same cycling bubble,” he said. “We’re not allowed to leave the hotel (except for training). The street signs are in Japanese, but it doesn’t feel like Japan.
“It’s sad that we’re in a tight bubble. I have no sense of what the Japanese people think of the race or what Japan feels about it. I don’t feel like I’m in Japan, but in a race bubble.”
Woods abandoned the Tour de France last Friday and arrived in Tokyo on Saturday, after a 26-hour trip. Those were his original plans and he followed through to give him more time to prepare for the Olympics.
When Woods entered Stage 19 of the Tour Friday, he was 42nd overall in the General Classification (more than 85 minutes behind eventual winner Tadej Pogacar) and he couldn’t win the Polka Dot jersey as King of the Mountain.
Woods and his Israel Start-Up Nation teammates had a bad start to the Tour because of crashes on the Tour’s opening day. He lost too much time to contend for the GC title and suffered road rash and elbow cuts, requiring antibiotics.
But his second Tour did provide some excitement as he was third in Stage 8, which was the first podium result for him and his team, and fifth in Stage 14. For more than half the Tour, he was one of the top four climbers.
In Stage 14, he scored enough climber’s points to earn the Polka Dot jersey and he wore it for the entire Stage 15. He slipped to second in the standings for the next two days before withdrawing in fourth place.
Woods is familiar with the 234-kilometre Olympic men’s road race course as he rode part of it while placing second in the 2019 Japan Cup. He also cycled up the important steep finishing hill twice on Monday.
“With the amount of climbing, it suits my abilities,” he said. “If I’m fully recovered from my crash, which I feel I am, I’ll certainly be in contention for a medal possibility. But I’ll need some good luck to come my way.”
Woods learned a valuable lesson, after winning the bronze medal at the 2018 world championships. By passing on his final water station with 20 kilometres left, he started to cramp up. He felt it cost him the gold medal.
“It will be essential to be hydrated, a lot of electrolytes,” said Woods, who had a three-hour training session in the heat Monday. “A lot of liquids will make a big difference.”
Mike Woods Olympic cycling schedule:
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.