Monuments are the name of the game for Michael Woods in 2022.
With fewer big events to come on next year’s calendar, at least those that suit his climbing skills, the Canadian wants to take aim at some of cycling’s biggest one-day races.
Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia will, of course, be the focus for Woods. He has a good record at the events on opposing ends of the calendar with a series of top-10s and a podium at Liège, and two top-10 finishes in Lombardy.
“I think next year, relative to this year is a bit of a down year in the sense that the world championships in Australia I don’t think quite suit me, and there’s no Olympics on tap. So, I think the big focus is going to be on the monuments, and maybe even do something in the grand tours. But, the big thing is going be the monuments for me,” Woods told VeloNews.
As Woods indicates, the grand tours will form part of the meat and potatoes of his 2022 season. This year saw him take on the Tour de France, but an early crash ended any GC hopes that he might have harbored and he abandoned in the final week to rest ahead of the Olympic Games.
The Canadian was speaking to VeloNews before the routes of the 2022 Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España, both of which are extremely climber-friendly, had been announced. However, he indicated that it would be the Italian and Spanish races that he’d have on his calendar.
“I would have done the Vuelta of this year had it not been for the birth of my son. I love the Vuelta and I think it’s one of the grand tours that really suits me. So, I’d like to see the route there and see what the Giro is because I could even see myself maybe even skipping the tour doing both, and doing both the Vuelta and the Giro, but I’m not sure yet,” he said.
Next year will see Woods racing with several new teammates at Israel Start-Up nation after the team snapped up a handful of riders in the transfer window. There will be a bigger Canadian edge to the squad, which is owned by Canadian billionaire Sylvain Adams, with Hugo Houle joining its roster and former racer Steve Bauer coming onboard as a DS.
Houle is the fifth Canadian rider on the squad with Woods, Guillaume Boivin, Alex Cataford, and James Piccoli already signed up. Woods is looking forward to getting to work more closely with his compatriots.
“I’m really excited about that. I’ve raced the world champs, and two Olympics with Hugo and he’s just a great teammate, a great guy,” Woods told VeloNews. “It’s really nice to see our team being ‘the Canadian team’ in the WorldTour. That’s one of Sylvan Adams’ goals, to have an Israeli-Canadian team.
“That’s why I think my transition to this team has gone so smoothly and so well is because really has felt like a Canadian team and a lot of ways staff from a staffing perspective, a lot of perspectives. Adding Hugo and even Steve Bauer to the mix is really exciting.”
Woods, Houle, and FDJ rider Antoine Duchesne — and the now-retired Svein Tuft — have ensured Canadian representation at the top tier of the men’s side of the sport for the best part of a decade. While Canada has been ever-present at the top, the number of riders from the North American country in WorldTour teams is increasing.
Woods believes that Canadian racing on an international level is at its best for some time, but he does have concerns about domestic competition.
“I think in many ways, it’s great. This is certainly probably the best it’s ever been,” he said. “I think that has a lot to do with the fact the WorldTour races are happening in Montreal, Quebec, though they haven’t happened in a couple years. They’ve provided a really nice breeding ground for a lot of strong cyclists and then Sylvan putting together a team that supports Canadian cycling, I think we’re in a good spot.
“In other ways, we’re not. COVID has really impacted the local scene and the local race calendar. Hopefully, we can see that rebound next several years. But the fact that cycling in America has really wound down that is impacting us, certainly, because there are just not as many races close by anymore for kids to really make it. Now, you have to come over to Europe.”
The need to get to Europe for higher-level racing is a big barrier for many, not only in COVID times. The financial means needed to set up a base in Europe without major support is limiting who can make the journey.
“That’s the problem with a lot of cyclists in Canada,” Woods said. “Often the ones that rise to the top now, on the junior and U23 ranks, are there because they have wealthy parents, and then they come over to Europe. It’s still a bit of a blue-collar sport in Europe and guys know what it’s like to have s**t between their teeth in Europe.
“Guys like Sep Vanmarcke, for example, who had to pick up all these odd jobs just to pay for his first bike. He knows how to put in the hard work. These guys. They’re just so hungry. It’s easy to get chewed up and spit out.”