Mike Woods was hurtling down a hill on Stage 2 of the Tour of Utah when he turned a corner and hit some sand.
His front wheel lost traction and the Canadian rider, who was going in excess of 50 km/h at the time, hit the tarmac.
“It didn’t hurt, because there was no impact. I just slid,” Woods explained. “But in the process of sliding, I lost a lot of skin.”
That was on Aug. 7. Woods, riding for the EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale team, got back up and went on to finish ninth over all in the seven-day, 880-kilometre race despite the leg wound getting infected.
The 31-year-old from Ottawa is now poised to tackle the Spanish Vuelta – a 3,271-kilometre, three-week marathon that starts Saturday in Malaga with an eight-kilometre individual time trial.
Antoine Duchesne, a 26-year-old from Saguenay, Que., is also in the race. As Canadian national champion, he will wear the Maple Leaf while riding for Groupama-FDJ.
Woods turned heads last year by finishing seventh over all – after placing third on Stage 9 – in his first crack at the Vuelta last year. The Utah accident briefly dampened his enthusiasm for this year’s race, but he says he’s starting to feel better.
Woods’s team is looking to back Colombian Rigoberto Uran in the general classification standings of the final Grand Tour of the season. Runner-up at last year’s Tour de France, Uran is “supermotivated” after crashing out of this year’s Tour, according to Woods.
“We’re all in for him for the general classification,” he said.
Woods, meanwhile, is using the race to prepare for the world championship road race that follows 10 days after the Vuelta.
“However, I’m not ruling anything out at this point,” he said. “I don’t expect to do as well as I did last year, but I won’t be shocked if I have a good [stage] result either.”
The 73rd edition of the Vuelta features 176 riders from 22 teams. Past winners in the field include Alejandro Valverde (2009), Vincenzo Nibali (2010), Fabio Aru (2015) and Nairo Quintana (2016).
Defending champion Chris Froome and Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas, both members of Team Sky, are skipping the race to compete in the Tour of Britain.
Italy’s Nibali, a runner-up last year, will wear bib No. 1.
This year, Woods finished second in the prestigious Liège-Bastogne-Liège one-day race in April – the first Canadian to reach the podium at the event – and was the runner-up on Stage 4 of the Giro D’Italia in May. Slowed by illness in the second week, Woods went on to finish 19th over all in the Giro.
Seasonal allergies turned into bronchitis during the race. He later found out he was allergic to olive-tree pollen.
Like most elite riders, Woods is no stranger to setbacks.
In 2016, he crashed at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, breaking his hand in three places and injuring his back. He broke his femur in advance of the Rio Olympics but still competed in the road race, finishing 55th despite throwing up in mid-competition.
An early-season bout of rotavirus – he thinks it was contracted at a buffet in Dubai at the Tour of Abu Dhabi in February – sent Woods to hospital earlier this year.
Woods, who makes his home in Spain these days, says he is actually most comfortable on the bike following the most recent crash.
“Just lying around was the least comfortable. Sleeping was awful,” he said.
The last week of the race offer some gruelling stages, some in Andorra where Woods and his wife also have a place. On the plus side, that will serve as a home for his family which is flying into for the race. It will be Woods’s first chance to see his newborn nephew.
Woods team is rich in experience. Also including Spain’s Dani Moreno, France’s Pierre Rolland, Belgium’s Tom Van Asbroeck, the Netherlands’ Sebastian Langeveld and Australia’s Simon Clarke and Mitch Docker, it has some 40 Grand Tours under its belt.
A former elite distance runner at the University of Michigan, Woods switched to cycling due to a recurrent stress fracture in his foot. His last attempt at a track comeback ended with another break in 2011.
He spent three years as a pro on the North American circuit before earning a WorldTour contract following a breakthrough second-place finish at the 2015 Tour of Utah.