The Canadian star’s incoming move for 2021 to the newly supercharged Israeli squad had been in the making for the best part of six years, forged in the moments that tycoon Sylvan Adams and leading coach Paulo Saldanha kick-started Woods’ cycling career with a handshake that opened doors that had otherwise been shut.
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“I have such a strong history with Sylvan and Paulo that it felt like it was just a matter of time before I started riding for them,” Woods told VeloNews. “For years, it felt like it was inevitable somehow.”
The 34-year-old’s departure from EF Pro Cycling will see him come full-circle to return to where his career began – under the eye of his Canadian mentors. Without the support of leading physiologist and coach Saldanha and Israeli-Canadian billionaire Adams, Woods might never have even started his transition from elite runner to full-time cyclist.
“Sylvan and Paulo are the reason why I’m a pro cyclist today,” Woods said on a telephone call. “When I first started racing. I was working full-time and Paulo had offered up coaching services to the team that I was racing for. So I took him up on the offer and showed up at his studio. We did the testing, and I broke some of the records.
“He said to me right there, ‘Mike, quit your job, because you could be a pro cyclist.’”
By then, he was in his late-20, and working in a bank after his hopes of a career in elite running sputtered out. Woods wasn’t in the position to just to pack it in, and become a professional bike rider. That is, until Adams stepped in.
It turned out Adams and Saldanha had already been discussing setting up a fund for promising athletes who fell outside of the typical funding windows available in Canada. Woods proved exactly the rider they were looking for.
“Paulo brought me into Sylvan’s office and we had a chat and a handshake, and the next thing I knew, I was getting this amazing fund from Sylvan that changed my life,” Woods said. “I was able to quit my job. It provided enough support that I was able to get an apartment in Italy and race for [Italian continental team] Amore & Vita for a half-season and get European experience.
“It really opened a lot of doors for me, because of that I was able to get on to bigger teams like Rally [then named Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies].”
Adams has enjoyed a similarly rapid ascent up the ranks of pro cycling, a path paralleling that of Woods. The 62-year-old became co-owner of Israel Cycling Academy in 2016, the same year his beneficiary jumped up to the WorldTour with Cannondale-Drapac.
“As ICA grew, Sylvan kept on saying, ‘Woodsy, we’ve got to have you on the team, we’ve got to have in the team,’ but he also respected the fact that I wanted to race in the WorldTour,” Woods said. “We kind of agreed that I wouldn’t be coming over until the team was at that level.”
Fast forward to 2020, and Israel Start-Up Nation was at “that level” and more. Adams plowed cash into his project to bring the Tour de France’s yellow jersey to an Israeli team through the second half of this year, a spending spree that marked the arrival of Froome, Daryl Impey, Sep Vanmarcke, Alessandro di Marchi and many more.
The stage was set. Enter Michael Woods.
“I obviously was really keen to race for him [Adams] and I think he was keen to have me on the team,” Woods said. “He’s a proud Israeli but also a proud Canadian. He wants to have the best Canadians on his team and that’s why we started this conversation years ago.”
After years of to-and-fro, it all fell into place. Woods explained that there was barely the need for either of them to initiate contract talks; they had been developing from the moment Woods stepped into Adams’ office to land the funding to move to Italy over six years ago.
“This was kind of an ever-evolving conversation but when the opportunity presented itself, I had to jump at it,” Woods said. “I owe too much of my success to him and I believe in him and his project so much that I just really want to be a part of it.”
And so the years-long bromance will come to a happy close in 2021 as both Woods and Adams prepare to enter the next phase of their journey in cycling.