By Martin Cleary
If you were to describe Ottawa road cyclist Michael Woods in three words, here are a trio of strong candidates – determined, dedicated and courageous.
So, let’s add another redeeming quality, shall we – loyal.
As his pro team is fighting for its life to remain on the International Cycling Union’s WorldTour for the next three seasons, Woods solidly stands behind his Israel-Premier Tech team, uncertain what his fast-approaching 2023 season will look like.
Israel-Premier Tech is facing relegation from the premier WorldTour circuit, which features the world’s best cyclists, based on its results over the past three years. If that happens, Israel-Premier Tech will drop to the ProTour loop, which is for teams one level below, but they occasionally are invited to pedal with the best.
“I plan on finishing my career with IPT,” wrote Woods in an email interview. This week, he’s involved in a 10-day team training camp, which ends Saturday.
Woods, who turned 36 on Oct. 12, is entering the 2023 road racing season on the third and final year of his Israel-Premier Tech contract.
“I have a strong personal connection with this team. The management group has believed in me since I first started cycling and they have supported me throughout my career,” added Woods, who has been especially assisted by team performance director Paulo Saldanha.
“They also play a massive role in developing cycling in Canada and internationally and this is something that I want to continue to be a part of.”
Woods switched to cycling after being one of Canada’s top middle- to long-distance track runners because of injuries in the early 2010s. He turned professional in 2013 with Team Garneau-Quebecor, joined Amore & Vita-Selle SMP and 5-hour Energy in 2014, and raced for Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies in 2015. They were Continental licensed teams.
He moved onto the WorldTour circuit with the Cannondale and then Education First brand teams between 2016 and 2020.
Woods joined his current WorldTour team in 2021, when it was Israel Start-Up Nation. Whether Israel-Premier Tech races on the WorldTour in 2023 is expected to be determined by the UCI, the world governing body, in mid-December.
Needing to finish in the top 18 in the points standing at the end of the 2022 season to be eligible for automatic invitations to the World Tour and the three Grand Tour (i.e. Tour de France) events for 2023-25, Israel-Premier Tech placed 20th.
Israel-Premier Tech owner Sylvan Adams of Montreal is upset his team could be relegated to the ProTour, which can only apply to enter the WorldTour and Grand Tour events. One month from the start of the 2023 WorldTour season with the Down Under Tour in Australia, Israel-Premier Tech is one of six teams wondering what level and what races they will be competing at next season.
Adams has proposed a solution to grow the sport and save his team. If his team doesn’t return to the WorldTour for a second consecutive three-year term, there’s no guarantee it will receive invites to the Grand Tour events – Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana – or other scheduled races.
Cyclingnews reported in September the UCI is considering increasing the number of WorldTour teams to 20 from 18 and the number of riders in each race to about 200. The current limit is 176. Each of the 22 teams (18 plus wildcards and invitees) in the Grand Tour events has eight riders, while each of the 25 teams in other WorldTour races carry seven riders.
Adams, who has invested millions of dollars into cycling with his WorldTour team, a development squad, a velodrome in Israel and evacuating Afghan cyclists, told Cyclingnews and VeloNews in a September interview he has two options if relegation becomes a reality for his team.
He can either walk away from the sport and never return again or fight by taking his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
“It’s the UCI’s duty to build the sport up and this is destructive,” Adams said. “I call on the UCI to be consistent and, if something like relegation comes up, don’t simply say: ‘we have to stick to the rules’ because that’s a lie, it’s phoney and I won’t stand for it. If I lose the team to relegation, I’m going to take them to court, to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.”
Meanwhile, Woods spent the past two months away from his bike and with his wife Elly, two-year-old daughter Max and one-year-old son Willy at their home in Andorra.
He also spent “a lot of time getting my health sorted,” and “I am starting to get excited for the season to come.”
Woods had 17 multi-stage or one-day races in 2022, but eight of them ended early with a DNS or DNF result. He didn’t finish his third Tour de France and fourth Vuelta a Espana.
“It was a tough season for me due to numerous health issues,” Woods continued. “I was forced to abandon the Tour (de France) due to COVID, and also suffered from several GI infections in the spring and the fall.”
But there were many good times, which more than made up for the disappointments.
“However, when I was healthy, I did perform well,” he added. “I won my first stage race and helped Hugo Houle to a victory at the Tour,” he wrote.
Woods was third in Stage 16 of the Tour de France, but more importantly he took his role as team leader to new heights by creating an on-course opportunity for teammate Hugo Houle to win his first Tour stage. Houle, who also was third in Stage 13, later dedicated that win to his late brother.
At La Route d’Occitanie-La Depeche du Midi in France in mid-July, Woods won his first General Classification or overall race title. He also captured the third stage of the four-stage race. In the four-stage Gran Camino in February, he was second overall with a first- and second-place result in the middle stages.
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Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 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 firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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