SALT LAKE CITY (VN) — A decade after reaching the top level of running as a junior athlete, Canadian Michael Woods is rapidly advancing to the top level of cycling as a professional.
A former middle-distance runner who left a promising running career in 2007 after a debilitating stress fracture, Woods claimed his third win of the season and moved into the Tour of Utah race lead with a solo triumph in stage 5.
Riding in his first season with Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies — his fourth team since turning pro in 2013 — Woods, 28, completed the hilly 55.3-mile Salt Lake City Circuit Race on Friday night in two hours, three minutes, and 50 seconds.
Heavy rains and strong winds arrived just after the stage and the post-race press conference was cancelled after a lengthy delay. The inclement weather also resulted in the collapse of the start-finish truss. One spectator was injured and transferred to a local hospital with undisclosed injuries.
Woods provided comments via the race staff.
“It’s the biggest win of my career,” said the stage winner who became the third race leader in three days at the weeklong race. “It was a surreal moment for sure. I couldn’t believe it.”
Woods bolted to the front on the final hill of the seven-lap route that encompassed the state’s capital with about 200 meters left. The race was animated and fast with an average finishing speed of 26.82 mph on the technical course.
“It was definitely a test of endurance because it was so twisty and turny,” said Woods. “And that resulted in making a number of punches during the race which really fatigues you over time.”
The fifth stage of the seven-stage race began with 33 riders within 14 seconds of the lead, including Woods who is competing in the Tour of Utah for the first time.
With his 10-second bonus, Woods moved from 19th to a four-second race lead cushion over Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing), who placed seventh in the stage. Jure Kocjan, the Slovenian from SmartStop who assumed the race lead after stage 4, finished 13th. He’s now third, trailing by five seconds with the weekend’s mountainous stages 6 and 7 remaining.
“I’m really confident in my ability to climb,” said Woods. “But I didn’t expect to be in yellow going into the stage tomorrow. I thought I would be trying to get into yellow on Saturday, but you can never plan these things, and you always want to seize a win when you get the opportunity.”
Woods claimed the Clássica Internacional Loulé in Portugal in March and the concluding stage 5 of the Tour of the Gila in May. He finished fourth overall, trailing compatriot Rob Britton (SmartStop) by 1:05.
Woods’ running skills were impressive. He ran a 3:57:48 mile, and 3,000 meters in 7:58.48, at age 18. It launched him into the top-50 in the world. He won the 1,500 meters of the junior division of the Pan-American Games in 2005 and envisioned a path to the Summer Olympics. It never happened.
After graduating from the University of Michigan in 2008 on a full track scholarship, Woods’ first athletic career fizzled. Surgeries in 2008 and 2010 and improper healing prompted his departure from running.
Like many other athletes rehabilitating and disillusioned in other sports, Woods began cycling as an alternative sport. He was encouraged to enter cycling competitions by friends.
“I don’t know what to say,” said Woods. “I didn’t expect it at this point. I have to process it.”