ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (VN) — Canadian Michael Woods started his season in a low-key way at the Abu Dhabi Tour last week before the “extra weight” of being EF Education First-Drapac’s Giro d’Italia leader lands on his shoulders.
Woods will be the squad’s sole leader in the Italian grand tour starting May 4 in Jerusalem. After his 2017 Giro ride and seventh overall in the Vuelta a España, he proved his worth as a grand tour captain.
“I didn’t have the baggage of thinking about being a GC rider [in 2017], but I was able to run a good GC,” Woods told VeloNews in Abu Dhabi.
“Now it’s going to be a big test at the Giro, as I’m going to be coming into it with that baggage, with that weight, and it is an extra weight because you see guys crumble under it. It’ll be interesting to see how I handle that.”
Last year, Woods helped Pierre Rolland in the Giro and did not even consider the overall classification in the Vuelta until after stage 9. At that point, he began to battle with Chris Froome (Sky) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) for the overall.
This winter, sport director Charly Wegelius and manager Jonathan Vaughters spoke with the 31-year-old and gave him the leadership role for the Giro.
“I’m honored and I have a lot of responsibility. There are so many tangibles in this sport and things can change in the meantime, but I do want to be the leader and I am excited to be in that position,” Woods said during an interview at Abu Dhabi last week. Among his competitors at the event were Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) and Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates), whom he will face in the Giro.
Dumoulin won the Giro in 2017, becoming the first Dutchman to do so. Woods is not as well-known, but after last year, he is on everyone’s radar.
“I am still not a Fabio Aru, Valverde, a Tom Dumoulin, a guy everyone is looking to light the race up, but there is a greater level of respect that I am getting, a greater level of comfort that I feel in the peloton. It’s easier for me to hold the wheel,” Woods continued.
“I have a bit more experience and I understand a bit more. I haven’t figured bike racing out — I don’t think I ever will because you are constantly learning this sport, but I do feel a bit more confident when I’m racing.”
He tweaked his schedule slightly for 2018. Instead of beginning his season at Australia’s Santos Tour Down Under in January, he opted for a more relaxed start in the Middle East.
“I’m starting the season off in Abu Dhabi, the first time for me to be here,” Woods added. “The last two seasons, starting in the Tour Down Under, I came in really hot with the goal of the GC, where here there’s less pressure.”
The race included a time trial and ended with a summit finish on Sunday that suited Woods’ strengths. He finished 18th on the day and placed 19th overall.
Woods will continue his season with the Volta a Catalunya, País Vasco, and the Ardennes classics before the Giro d’Italia.