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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Canadian Michael Woods, third in the world championships road race Sunday in Innsbruck, sees many possibilities ahead in cycling.
Woods made the winning move on the steep Gramartboden climb with Spaniard Alejandro Valverde and Frenchman Romain Bardet. It turned into a four-man move when Dutchman Tom Dumoulin joined.
However, no one could stop 38-year-old Valverde charging down the final kilometer to his first world title. Woods, relatively new to cycling after switching from running, celebrated his bronze medal in Austria.
“Coming from another sport, it’s been hard for me to believe that I could win when such good riders are in the field, but my stage victory at the Vuelta a España helped me boost my confidence,” Woods said.
“Now I’m starting to believe in myself.”
Woods, 31, excelled as a runner until an injury forced him to stop at age 20. He returned to finish his university degree in English and worked at a running shoes store. Only by chance, picking up his father’s bike, did he start racing.
His impressive resume, which includes a second-place finish in the 2015 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, earned him a contract with the American Slipstream franchise for 2016. In 2017, he made waves at the top level by helping Pierre Rolland win a Giro d’Italia stage and riding against Chris Froome in the Vuelta a España.
The boost came this year in the darkest moments. Woods once again shined brightly in the Vuelta a España last month, this time riding clear from his escape companions through the mist of Balcón de Bizkaia.
“My wife and I lost our son two months ago, she was 37 weeks pregnant,” he said at the time. “I really wanted to win for him and win for my wife.
“It’s been a really tough year. My wife also lost her father a month before and it’s been a very hard year for us.”
Woods showed in Spain, and again in Austria, that he can climb with some of the best cyclists out there. The final climb at the Innsbruck worlds featured gradients of 28 percent.
“It’s certainly a slight surprise for me to make the podium but I was hoping for this. It was my goal coming into this race,” Woods said.
“When we did the course recon, I realized this last climb was for me. When drafting isn’t important, I’m pretty good.
“Up the Höll, my ears were ringing because the people were so loud and I could hear their cow bells. Even before the race, I told myself I’d try to get inspiration and energy from what the fans bring to the race. There were so many fans today!”
Woods season has yet to end. He is expected to line up in Il Lombardia, another race with steep climbs, before 2018 comes to a close. In 2019, Woods’ EF Education First-Drapac squad should take him and his new confidence back to the grand tours to continue his upward trend.