• By: Grace Tan

Mike Woods—from Ottawa to Spain and beyond

Photo: Woods at 2018 Vuelta a Espana via The Peloton Brief

“I fell into biking . . . it was definitely an unconventional start.”

Mike Woods, professional cyclist, has always known he would have a career in racing—except that his initial plan was to run races, not cycle them. Woods began running while he was in high school, and won many titles while he was at it. With multiple National Championship titles in both track & field and cross-country, Woods attended the University of Michigan on a full scholarship.

Woods attained the Olympic “B” standard in the 1500m race, and broke Canadian records in both the 3k Junior Mile and the Pan-American Junior Games.

“I was seen as one of the guys who would be the next big thing in Canadian running. I was going to set the world on fire,” Woods says.

However, an injury to Woods’ left foot put an abrupt end to his running career. His foot never healed properly, even after two surgeries. He ran his last race in 2007 and returned to Ottawa to figure out his next steps.

Woods’ foot injury was a continual discomfort, and he says running was a source of anxiety to him during the last several years of his career. Every run he went for was no longer enjoyable, so he looked elsewhere for a form of exercise that would fill that spot.

“I started riding my dad’s bike as a form of catharsis, and I took to cycling really fast,” Woods says. “Every time I got on the bike, it was a source of pleasure that gave me that endorphin high.”

He started cycling the trails around Ottawa, and says that his favourite part of cycling is the freedom to explore and check out the scenery in different places. “I first fell in love with cycling when I went up just north of Ottawa, heading into the Gatineau Park. I was able to discover this whole area that I was completely ignorant to before.”

Woods’ first “real” year of racing was 2012, when he raced for The Cyclery, a local bike shop owned by Vince Caceras. He says it was “a lot of luck and a lot of help” that helped him rise through the ranks very quickly, and he became the oldest neo-pro in cycling history.

Woods placed third in the World Championships in Austria last season and came second in the Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2018.

Now, Woods races for EF Education First and is based in Andorra, Spain. He and his wife, Elly, moved there in 2016, the year Woods turned pro with the team.

The road to the top hasn’t been an easy one, and he’s had to climb mountains to get to where he is today—both literally and figuratively. Woods has competed in a variety of classic races all over the world, battling crazy weather from harsh freezing rain to brutal 45-degree heat. He’s had his fair share of obstacles, including a broken femur from a particularly bad crash in the Tour of Poland. This affected his performance in the 2016 Olympics, as he didn’t get the result he wanted.

“When I first started in the World Tour I was so out of my helmet,” Woods says. “Every race I did, I was going out into the unknown, and I did get a lot of anxiety. You don’t know how your body is going to handle the duration. You aren’t as confident in your bike-handling skills, and you’re not as comfortable with the speed of the hill climbs. You’re constantly living in fear, you have crash dreams, and that certainly burdens you.”

When Woods returned to Ottawa for a trip, it served as a good break from cycling for him. He calls Spain a “cycling bubble,” where it’s hard for him to forget that he’s a cyclist—people even recognize him when he’s out and about. Woods has his family and friends in Ottawa, so when he’s back he’s able to relax and unwind for a while.

)Woods is grateful for all the people in his support network: his wife, his coach, and others in Ottawa like Vince Caceras, Chris Westwood, and many more. “They have played a big part in my success, and help me as much as they can. I’m able to manage my stress much better,” says Woods.

As a cyclist, Woods has a few people he has come to admire, one of them being pro cyclist Svein Tuft. Like Woods, Tuft came into the sport a little later as well. Woods describes Tuft as outgoing and happy, serious about cycling yet well-rounded in other areas of life as well.

“He’s all about being the best he can be, and he lives a life focused on being a great person and being happy. I think that’s what I admire most about him,” Woods says.

Woods sees himself as a happy person with a positive outlook on life as well. “I get paid to do something I enjoy, so it’s really hard to complain!”

Even a decade after he started cycling, Woods still gets a thrill from bike rides—even more so in Andorra. He takes to the roads, explores the area, and climbs some mountains for pleasure. A six-and-a-half hour ride in the sun provides an endorphin high that continues to make the sport enjoyable for Woods.

“Unfortunately, I can’t go for adventure rides every day,” Woods chuckles. “Some days I actually have to train with my coach. He gives me some pretty tough intervals to do, and I’ll admit I’m less excited about those.”

Woods is currently training for races such as the Tour de France and the Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but his biggest goal is to have success at the Olympics. Though his professional career takes a front seat for the season, as 2020 draws closer, Woods says he will be tailoring his training and race schedule to peak for Tokyo 2020.