When Tirreno–Adriatico was cancelled, Canadian pro Mike Woods was unexpectedly thrust into the Paris–Nice stage race. He felt a bit uneasy about it. “Paris-Nice is probably the last race on the calendar that I would choose to do,” says EF Education First cyclist. “It scares me. It’s a really aggressive and stressful race.”
Like Tirreno–Adriatico, races were being cancelled daily due to health concerns. The uncertainty of the rest of the season was weighing heavily on Woods. “I went down a bit of a hole just seeing if races are going to be cancelled—if we’re going if we’re not—it did nothing for my mental health,” he says.
In addition to cancellations, COVID-19 was spreading rapidly through Europe and—as many others around the world are currently experiencing—Woods found it hard to stay present. “I think the fear of the coronavirus around us just infiltrated my head and affected me a bit mentally,” he says. “I was probably operating at 99.8 per cent as opposed to 100 per cent. I wasn’t my normal self in a bike race, I was a lot more stressed.”
On top of numerous teams pulling out of racing altogether for the next few months, some riders left the race halfway through, in fear of being barred from entering their home countries. During the fifth stage, on Mar. 12, Woods’ teammate Lawson Craddock pulled out because of a headache and was whisked away in an ambulance, due to COVID-19 precaution protocols.
Later in the fifth stage, Woods was passing other riders on a descent. “I was going too fast on the outside,” he says, “I took the corner fast, and I would’ve been able to save it, but a bunch of guys were coming in super hot in front of me and I made the decision to not go into them.”
Instead, Woods tried to save himself by going into the grass to his right. He managed to stay upright, but there was a big culvert directly in front of him. He hit the culvert, flipped over his bike and hit his leg, fracturing his right femur.
A shortened hospital stay
“Breaking my femur was probably the most painful thing I’ve ever had happen to me,” says Woods. “It was excruciating.”
The 33-year-old was brought to a hospital in Lyon after his crash, and was quickly scheduled for surgery. “I think I beat the rush of coronavirus patients,” says Woods. “It was quiet in the hospital, but during that period all the nurses were wearing masks.”
Rumours of the Spanish-French borders closing to non-nationals meant that Woods had to rush to exit the hospital early. His family was all in Girona, Spain, where he spends his winters. “It was a lot of stress,” says Woods. “I just made it across the border before everything closed down.” The Spanish border was closed on Mar. 17.
A rapidly changing situation
When Woods was admitted to the hospital on Mar. 12, there were only 2,876 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in France. By the time he left the hospital on Mar. 16, the number of French confirmed cases had more than doubled, the last stage of Paris-Nice (slated for Mar. 15) had been cancelled and the rest of the season’s race calendar was on hold.
“I spent a lot of time training this year and was pretty devastated when I realized my femur was broken,” says Woods. “Now that all this is happening it kind of set things back in perspective. It made me realize it’s just bike racing—a very small thing in this world relative to everything else and I’m just lucky to be able to be doing it.”
Woods is taking it easy with his recovery. He can’t walk yet, but that’s not a huge issue as Spain is currently on lockdown anyways. He won’t be competing for the next few months, or at the 2020 Olympics, but neither will anyone else.
“This is a nice opportunity to hit the reset button,” he says. “It gives me an opportunity to refocus a bit.”
The EF cyclist is grateful he has a chance to take his recovery at his own pace. He’ll be able to ride the trainer soon, but he isn’t under any pressure to be back in form by a certain race. “I’ve already ruined one athletic career because I tried to put a set time on recovery,” says Woods, referencing his running career, which was cut short due to a series of stress fractures. “I don’t want to be racing until I’m 100 per cent so I’m not going to set a hard date on that.”
“I’m not thankful that I broke my femur, that’s for sure,” says Woods. “I’m not thankful I had to go through the pain of that injury and I’m not thankful that I’m not walking at the moment. However, I am thankful that I’m actually able to be home and spending a lot more time with Max, my daughter.”
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