Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In


Vuelta a Espana

Michael Woods loves the Vuelta a España, but can he turn that into GC success?

The Canadian has a lot of promise as a grand tour rider, but he's only once made it into the top 10.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Michael Woods (Israel-Premier Tech) brings the skillset that should lend itself to being a good grand tour GC rider, but the Canadian has not turned that into consistent overall results.

Indeed, he has only once featured inside the top 10 in a grand tour in the past when he finished seventh at the 2017 Vuelta a España.

That has been partly down to bad luck — he was caught up in a huge crash on the opening stage of last year’s Tour de France — and time spent working for team leaders like Rigoberto Urán, but he’s also struggled sometimes to string together a full three-week performance.

This year, Woods is going all in to try and relocate the path that took him to seventh in 2017. His buildup to the Vuelta a España started months ago and saw him decide against going for the GC at the Tour de France.

“I came in with the ambition of chasing stages for the Tour for several reasons, one being that I wanted to win a stage, but also looking to the long-term having the Vuelta in mind. I told the team I wanted to do a GC approach to the Vuelta,” Woods said. “By virtue of just chasing stages, I felt like I came out of the Tour mentally fresher and ready for a GC approach for the Vuelta a España. Also, the Vuelta has always suited me better from a GC perspective. I’m excited to take that on.”

Also read:

Woods describes the Vuelta as his favorite grand tour and it’s easy to see why that is. It is a race that does not rely heavily on time trials, one of his weaknesses, and loves to send the peloton up brutally steep climbs.

Excruciatingly steep climbs have been where Woods has gained some of his best results over the years.

Who can forget his win on the Balcón de Bizkaia in 2018? The seven-kilometer climb saw gradients of 23.8 percent on the way up. Where many were in difficulty, Woods was in his comfort zone.

A few weeks later, Woods would ride to third in the road race at the world championships, which included the disgustingly steep Höttinger Höll ascent that featured gradients of up to 28 percent.

Woods’ best power comes when riding out of the saddle so climbs that force riders to stand up puts him in his element. It’s something that perhaps taps into his history as a competitive runner.

Steep climbs can provide major gaps in a short distance and Woods is hoping to utilize that at the Vuelta in order to limit the losses from the two time trials in the race.

“Reflecting on how the Tour went and how big the gaps were by the end of the race and also how big the gaps have been the last several grand tours, I think a really hard race suits me,” he said. “I’m pretty excited to take on the GC here because even if I lose time in the TTT or the individual time trial there will still be more opportunities to get time back on these steep climbs in Spain.”

This year’s Vuelta is not as brutal as some previous editions, but there are still some leg-sapping ascents to deal with. The opening week closes with two tough summit finishes in the Basque Country.

The stage 8 finale on the Colláu Fancuaya sends the riders over ramps of up to 19 percent on its 10.1km rise, while the riders will have to tackle 24 percent gradients on Les Praeres.

Given his history, there’s no surprise that Woods is looking particularly at that Les Praeres finale, which could see him take a stage win and make some time on his rivals ahead of the individual time trial.

If Woods is going to pull another top 10 GC performance, he’s going to need to avoid as much bad luck as possible, something that he’s found difficult in 2022 with illness and injury hampering him throughout.

Having picked up COVID-19 ahead of the final stage of the Tour de France, he should hopefully be able to avoid falling foul of it at the Vuelta, but there’s no guarantee.

“I think the races where I’ve been healthy, I’ve been really strong. I’ve just had some back luck with health this year, getting COVID twice and getting a bad bout of bronchitis impacted some of my goals for this season, the Ardennes in particular and at the Tour with the crash,” he said. “Despite that, I’ve had some successes. Even though I didn’t win a stage at the Tour, being part of Hugo Houle’s victory was really special for me and certainly a highlight for me.”

Outside of some misfortune, Woods stands a very good chance of getting back into the top 10. The biggest challenge for him will not be the individual climbs or even the time trials.

It will be stringing together a full three-week performance, something he hasn’t done since that 2017 Vuelta.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.