The two milestones — his first bike race and first major European one-day victory — are separated by more than a decade, and marked by a lot of suffering in between.
Michael Woods, EF Pro Cycling‘s budding superstar, has had one of cycling’s most unique roads into the elite peloton. In fact, his pathway to the WorldTour wasn’t on the road at all, but rather via the running track. Once a world-class middle-distance runner, Woods became last summer what many believe is the first athlete to post a sub-four-minute mile and complete the Tour de France.
Those two athletic endeavors are so wildly different that it naturally took Woods a few years to find his groove once he committed full-time to racing bikes in 2012. After a series of injuries forced him to give up on his promising running career, where he had hoped to end up in the Olympic Games, Woods found a new outlet for his highly competitive nature on two wheels.
For Woods, his first bike race and his first major one-day victory on European roads each hold personal satisfaction.
Here’s Woods in his own words describing his first real bike race and how he made the transition from running to cycling:
“It was in Ottawa in 2009. I was mostly just goofing around. I was still trying to come back as a runner, but I was starting to ride my bike a lot and I did a local crit. I was racing as a Cat. 3, and it was a decent field. I didn’t think I was going to be a cyclist at that time, and I was just trying to tickle the competitive itch. It was only in 2011 when I broke my foot for the last time that I finally gave up on running. I still had the ability to be an endurance athlete, and I still wanted to compete. I was really liking riding the bike, so I decided in 2012 that I am going to try to make a go of this. I called the local bike shop, and started to race in the area.
“I was a world-class runner when I started cycling, and I had this massive engine. I was winning some local bike races, but it wasn’t with finesse or tactics. I didn’t have the race skills, but I knew how to push myself and suffer, and knew how to make other guys suffer. It wasn’t until the Tour de Beauce that year that I felt like I could make it as a pro. [ed — Woods finished 20th on GC]. I got super lucky with the national team. A spot opened up, and I had just won a few local races, and it was a controversial decision at the time that I was allowed to start. I just had gotten my Cat. 1 license right before the race, so I went from Cat. 2 to riding on the same team as Svein Tuft and Christian Meier. I was out to lunch on that race, but I was hanging in there despite making all these rookie mistakes. Svein pulled up me beside me and said I had a lot of potential. Gord Fraser, who is from my hometown, and who is a hero of mine, he also told me I could have a future in racing.”
Flash forward to 2019. After a breakout 2018 campaign, which included a bronze medal in the world road cycling championships, a stage at the Vuelta a España, and second at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Woods hit an even higher level in 2019. He opened up his campaign in Australia, winning a stage and finishing third at the Herald Sun Tour, and hit top-10s at the Volta a Catalunya, Liège, and Tour de Romandie before his solid Tour debut.
Woods came into the final part of last season determined to perform well. One-day racing suits him well, and he popped for promising results with top-10s at the Clásica San Sebastián and the GP Montréal. He carried that momentum into the “fall classics” in northern Italy and stormed away with a dramatic victory at Milano-Torino. The race, celebrating its 100th edition last October, finishes with a climbing finale up the iconic Superga Hill.
“That was a special win,” Woods said. “I sat on the bus that morning and I said I can win today, and we raced for me to win as a team. We put guys on the front, and I executed just the way I was wanted to. It was a big step forward in my career. Realizing it was on the back of this great work from my teammates, and having the legs and ability to finish it off with the win, it was just a special moment.”
For Woods, that victory was confirmation in just about every sense of the word that he had made the right choice when he swapped out racing the mile in running shoes for pacing hundreds of miles on two wheels.
From racing parking-lot crits to winning one of Europe’s oldest one-day races, victory last fall at Milano-Torino is all part of Woods’ incredible and ongoing journey to the top of the WorldTour peloton. And it doesn’t stop there. After recovering from a broken femur — that’s another story — Woods still hopes to fulfill his Olympic dreams next summer in Tokyo.