Michael Woods considers himself a rookie pro at the Tour Down Under despite his general classification ambitions at the race and his 29 years of age.
The Canadian made his WorldTour team debut with Cannondale today after three years of racing predominately on the US domestic circuit with Continental teams.
His start at the first WorldTour race of the season, in which he is aiming for a top five overall finish, is unique, particularly when you consider most ‘rookie pros’ in cycling’s top-tier are 20-21 years old.
“It’s weird, especially being on this team as it’s so young,” Woods said. “From a life experience perspective I’ve got quite a bit more experience than these guys but from a race experience I’m a newbie, I’m a rookie.
“I think I’m in a fortunate position from an age perspective because when I was 21 I was really cocky and it was harder for me to take direction,” he continued. “Whereas now, at 29, I realise, yeah, I’ve got a lot of life experience but I’m also able to step back and realise the seniority these guys have on the bike.
“Most of the guys in the team have been riding pro for several years now and there’s a lot I can learn from them.”
Cannondale general manager Jonathan Vaughters backed Woods for a Tour Down Under performance in December last year.
The pair first crossed paths in 2013 when Woods eclipsed compatriot Ryder Hesjedal’s record on Hawaii’s Haleakala – a 56km climb from sea level to 3,000m. Vaughters and Woods remained in contact and strong performances at the Volta ao Algarve and a stage win and stint in the leader’s jersey at the Tour of Utah last year helped sealed the deal.
Woods has previously competed at a WorldTour level with the Canadian national team at the GP de Quebec and Montreal but not with a top-tier squad.
“When you’re wearing the Canadian national team jersey you just don’t get nearly as much respect and that’s justified,” he observed. “You’re not on a WorldTour team so you haven’t proven that you’re able to ride with the top level guys and you have to fight extra hard for the wheel. When you wear a WorldTour jersey it almost legitimises you and you end up getting a bit more freedom and space.”
Woods as a climber will focus on hillier terrain in his title bid at the Tour Down Under and look to make an impression on the Corkscrew climb on stage three and Willunga on stage five.
“This race is very similar to ones in the States and that’s why I’m really targeting this race as a GC guy,” he observed in reference to wide roads in Adelaide, South Australia. “But moving forward I’m going to be more working in a support role and learning.”
Win, lose or draw here, Woods’s story is a good one when you consider the runner turned cyclist was working in a bike shop not so long ago.
“I come from a running background and I had a really strong aerobic base and that enabled me to find myself at the front of races, despite my lack of technical and tactical abilities,” he recalled of his journey to the top-tier. “The last four years has been more just learning how to ride in the peloton and allowing my athletic ability to match up with my tactical ability.
“The progression has been pretty incredible,” he added. “It’s hard to believe, when I look back to where I was four years ago, working at a bike shop and riding for a local team, to where I am now. I’m getting paid to ride against the best riders in the world. It’s special.”