Mike Woods' road to Rio took a painful detour thanks to a Belgian pothole.
The 29-year-old cyclist from Ottawa broke his hand in three places and injured his back in a crash during Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the third of the Ardennes Classics one-day races in April. In the immediate aftermath, Woods said he felt like a four-year-old. His wife had to help him dress and getting into bed was a "five-minute ordeal."
But he was back on a training bike, anchored to the ground, in less than a week.
"As soon as I could lift my leg over the top tube, I started riding," he said. "The first ride was brutal."
It got better as the soft tissue damage to his back improved and he was able to start riding for real outside after three weeks.
He decided against hand surgery, which he now says was the right decision. But there were long hours of rehab as muscle in his left arm atrophied and he missed out on the Giro d'Italia, which he watched from the training bike, and other milestone races.
His Olympic dream never wavered, however. Woods knows his own body, learning the hard way. A former track star and Pan American junior champion over 1,500 metres, the five-foot-nine 140-pounder's promising running career was eventually derailed by recurrent stress fracture in his foot.
"I was pretty confident," he said of getting healthy in time for Rio. "Just by virtue of having gone through longer injury periods in running. I knew this wasn't going to be a career-ending injury by any stretch of the imagination. I knew as long as I could stay in relatively good shape, I was pretty confident that I'd still be selected and have a good race for Rio."
Woods will be racing alongside Hugo Houle of Ste-Perpetue, Que., and Antoine Duchesne of Chicoutimi, Que., in the Olympic road race. Victoria's Ryder Hesjedal, who elected not to compete in a fourth Olympics and is retiring at the end of the season, had to go solo four years ago in London in a field that featured some countries with five riders.
"Having Hugo and Antoine to help position me on the decisive climbs is going to be a difference-maker," said Woods, who believes the hilly 256.4-kilometre Olympic course suits him.
"I have a good sprint amongst climbers and the way this course looks like it's going to play out, it's not going to be a mountaintop finish but those four last climbs are going to whittle the group down to a small group of climbers."
While the racers won't likely notice, the course will take them through some iconic parts of Rio. It starts and finishes at Flamengo Park and passes Copacabana and Ipanema, among other beaches.
Woods has a carbon-fibre protector to shield his injured hand. Ryan Grant, a friend from Ottawa who specializes in orthotics, made a cast of his hand to protect the fifth metacarpal that was damaged the worst in the crash.
He believes the protective cover can help him survive a crash without re-fracturing the hand, although he hopes to avoid testing that theory. "Occupational hazard though unfortunately," he said cheerfully.
Woods' impressive rookie season with the Cannondale-Drapac team was put on hold thanks to that pothole, which caused a mechanical failure to his bike and "took me down." Woods had started the season with a different kind of bang, finishing fifth overall in his UCI World Tour debut at the Santos Tour Down Under.
B2ten, a private group that helps fund Olympians, and Powerwatts, an indoor training system founded by Woods' coach Paulo Saldanha, have also played a key role in getting Woods ready for Rio.
He will not forget their help. While some cyclists see the Tour de France or the other Grand Tours as the pinnacle of the sport, the Olympics got hold of Woods early.
"It inspired me to get in sports. The images of Donovan Bailey and Glenroy Gilbert and that 4x100 (relay) team in Atlanta winning gold are just implanted in my head and really inspired me as a nine-year-old. I think having a chance to be a part of that is pretty special."