After 15 stages of the 2017 Vuelta a España, Michael Woods (Cannondale-Drapac) sits eighth overall 3:26 back on race leader Chris Froome (Team Sky). In only his second season at the WorldTour level and racing his second career Grand Tour, Woods is going shoulder to shoulder in the high mountains of Spain with the likes of Froome and Alberto Contador.
“I feel that I am on the form of my life. My teammates have been a really big part of that,” Woods said about the Vuelta so far. “We have really executed well not just individually on my part but as team with Davide Villella in the KOM jersey and all the riders contributing to our success.”
Staff and riders at Cannondale-Drapac got word last week that the future of the team is uncertain. While Woods stock is rising thanks to his performance, the team needs to fill a sizable budget deficit or the lights may be forced to shut off. “I don’t think it has positively impact my performance because it’s been such a huge distraction,” Woods said about the impact of the news. “It did influence how well the team has ridden this week. We have really rallied around each other.”
Woods entered the Vuelta targeting stages as the team didn’t want to weigh him down with the pressure to achieve a high GC placing but his goals have shifted. “Riding for the GC is a big burden to carry so we have been just trying not to loose time and have a goal of winning a stage,” Woods said.
“The first week went great, my team support was amazing and then I started finding myself in a place where I was standing well in the GC. Then I passed some big tests this week with the longer mountains and now I am firmly in the GC hunt,” he added. “I am obviously going to have to have the time trial of my life tomorrow and try not too loose too much time but beyond that I have a good shot of really protecting a good position in the GC.”
The Ottawa-native credits a large part of his progression to the support he has received the past two years from B2ten which provides athletes in various disciplines with the resources they need to progress in their sport. Woods now feels he can be more ambitious than vying just for stage wins. “B2Ten has pushed me to a place where I feel I can compete against the best guys in the world at a Grand Tour.”
With his strong ride, his perspective has also shifted. Instead of feeling satisfied lining up at the biggest races, Woods expects more out of himself so that he can keep being in contention when the cameras are on the lead riders. “The key for me to continue doing well racing against these guys is just enjoying being in that moment, racing against the best in the world.”
At 30-years-old, Woods development into a rider capable of being in contention in the GC has been accelerated. “I have far less room for error and I have to learn fast,” Woods, who only has a 2017 Giro d’Italia under his belt as Grand Tour experience, explained. “I am really content to be in the GC position I am in and with the level of fitness I have but I want to continue progressing. I think I still have room to improve as a cyclist not just from a power perspective but also from a knowledge perspective.”
While the race is far from over, the experiences Woods is taking in are proving extremely valuable. “This has opened my eyes to what I think I can do. I use to really rule the GC out and based off of where I am at after 15 days, I think it’s a good idea to pursue that discipline and focus on it a bit more,” he said about possible future ambitions. “That being said, I think I have a lot of potential in the Ardennes Classics, particularly at races like Liège[–Bastogne–Liège] and Flèche [Wallonne] where I really want to excel.”
First up however is a big third week of the Vuelta which is no easier than the first two with a 40 km time trial on Tuesday and three uphill finishes remaining before the race wraps up in Madrid. Woods isn’t daunted by the challenges ahead, “Yeah, it’s going to be fun.”