ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — What a difference a year makes for Michael Woods. The runner-turned-cyclist returns this week to the scene of his impressive WorldTour debut in 2016.
Woods is back at the Santos Tour Down Under, but he is no longer a stranger inside the rough-and-tumble peloton.
“I said this to our press officer yesterday, that a year ago, I felt a little bit like an imposter, that I didn’t really belong in the peloton,” Woods said at the stage 2 rider sign-in. “Now, guys are talking to me in the peloton and I am feeling a lot more confident. It’s nice to see how far I have come along.”
Last year, Woods’ late-blossoming road racing career took off with a splash when the Canadian posted two third places and finished fifth overall in his WorldTour debut. The 30-year-old learned a lot in 2016, lessons that he wants to apply to the Tour Down Under and beyond.
“I wouldn’t say I am a seasoned pro yet, but I definitely have a lot more experience now,” he said. “Last year, the team gave me a big chance, and this year, we are even more motivated. We’re all excited to race.”
Woods crashed in last year’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège, breaking his hand — an injury that kept him out of his planned grand tour debut at the Giro d’Italia. He bounced back to race in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, and just missed his first European win with a second place to Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) at Milano-Torino to close out the season.
“I am feeling confident here and to have all the team around even gives me more confidence,” he said. “After this, I do the Cadel Evans race and then return to Europe. I want to attack at Flèche, and Liège is a big ‘X’ on the calendar.”
To prepare for the oppressive heat of Australia’s summer, Woods left nothing to chance and followed a similar pattern as riders did ahead of last year’s world championship in Qatar. Along with some of his Cannondale – Drapac teammates, Woods trained inside a heat chamber in order to be prepared for the sauna-like racing conditions.
“We had a bike in a tent, and I was under a Kenny Rogers heat lamp. I suffered like a dog for an hour and a half. It made a big-time difference,” he said. “We had a heat room going on, and it really made a difference yesterday. We felt pretty good in that heat.”
The preparation paid off. In Wednesday’s explosive second stage up the decisive Paracomb climbs, Woods crossed the line ninth, just 19 seconds behind stage winner Richie Porte of BMC Racing. Newbie no more.