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by Caley Fretz
July 28, 2019
VAL THORENS, France (CT) – When Michael Woods rolls across the finish line on the Champs-Élysées tomorrow he will be the first human in history to have run a sub-4 minute mile and finished the Tour de France.
He’s pretty sure of that stat, anyway.
“It’s one of the reasons I wanted to come to the Tour this year,” he said in Val Thorens, just after the finish line of the final mountain of this Tour. “I told Charly [Wegelius, head sports director] at the start of the year that I have to do the Tour de France.”
It’s an odd record to chase, but one that EF-Education First’s foremost Canadian can be genuinely proud of. He stands alone at the nexus of a Venn diagram of sub-4 runners (about 1,400 people total) and Tour finishers (around twice that).
Fourteen years ago, when Woods was 18, he ran a 3 minute, 57.48 second mile, which remains the fastest time for a Canadian on home soil. This weekend, he’ll finish his first Tour de France, and he’ll do so with two broken ribs and skin still healing from a spate of crashes that very nearly had him stopped on the side of the road. It’s tough to say which achievement is more notable, but the Tour certainly hurt more.
“It hurts to breathe,” he said, with a sigh that probably hurt.
“It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions, between riding top-10 on the GC at one point, crashing, cracking two ribs, feeling like I was going to have to stop at one point, to not getting the stage win I wanted but at least being active in this race again,” he said.
Woods came to this Tour with big goals. Support for Rigoberto Uran was one of them, but not in a traditional domestique role. He was part of a three-pronged manoeuvre that also included Tejay van Garderen. “We’ve pointed all three at the race and we’ll see what happens,” Jonathan Vaughters said in the early days of the race, before van Garderen dropped out with a broken hand.
Woods took his own tumble on stage eight, sliding out and taking down Geraint Thomas in the process. That crash lost him over 14 minutes. The EF-Education First trident was down to just Rigo.
Woods crashed again four days later, this time breaking two ribs. He very nearly called it quits. Would he have finished if this was any other race?
“Probably not,” he said. “I don’t like abandoning races, I have a pretty good track record in that. But it would have taken a lot more to stop me at this race. This has been special.”