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Canadian cyclist Michael Woods recovered from nasty crash, ready to race

A broken femur and global pandemic seem like a nasty double whammy.

A broken femur and global pandemic seem like a nasty double whammy.

But after going down in a high-speed crash March 12 in the Paris-Nice race, Canadian Michael Woods has used cycling's COVID-19 hiatus to get healthy and now looks to resume competition.

"It's been very weird how fortunate I've been," Woods said. "I don't wish I had broke my femur but the timing of it was incredible. I broke it on a Thursday and the lockdown in Spain began on the Monday.

"And then the first day that professional cyclists with a licence were allowed to ride outside in Spain was the first day I was cleared by the doctors to ride outside."

Woods and wife Elly were also able to enjoy time with five-month-old daughter Max (Maxine).

"She's great. She's a little nugget. She's awesome," said the 33-year-old from Ottawa.

"I've been able to be home with Max during a period of time where I normally wouldn't be home," he added. "So I've been able to watch her develop."

The EF Pro Cycling team rider rehabbed in Girona, Spain, to be near team staff before returning to the family home in the mountains of Andorra after the COVID-19 lockdown ended.

"I got in great shape at altitude and now I feel like I really haven't missed anything. I'm back to about 100 per cent," Woods said happily.

While no stranger to emergency rooms, Woods said the latest crash was the most painful injury he's ever had.

"Both the actual action of breaking it but also in the weeks afterwards. It's just such a big bone," he explained. "It was a bad fracture, a spiral fracture, but it was in an uncomplicated area — so not near any of the joints, not near my knee or my hip.

"Although it was a really bad one, that meant the surgery and the healing process was actually quite simple."

Woods was going at 60 km/h when he crashed. It was his first race of the season after a late start due to the Jan. 28 birth of his daughter. He blames himself for the accident, citing a "lack of focus" with COVID-19 likely playing its part.

"I was racing the last race that happened," he said. "All of the others races were put on hold and this was kind of ASO's last stand (Amaury Sport Organization, which puts on the Tour de France, Paris-Nice and other races)."

"Every day things just escalated ... There weren't any fans so it was really bizarre," he added.

After being transported to hospital, he found himself on the frontline of the pandemic.

"It felt ridiculous and it was a little embarrassing actually being in this hospital. Because everyone was wearing masks and it felt like the calm before the storm. Everyone was just preparing for what was about to happen. And I was there just because I fell off a bike."

Woods is back training on the bike. A former elite track athlete, he is not yet able to run, however.

"But on the bike I'm 100 per cent," he said. "I'm putting out the best numbers of my life right now in training. I'm flying right now."

He credits work with physio Richard Spink and B2ten for that. B2ten, a private Canadian group that assists elite athletes, helped make the connection with Spink who worked with him extensively.

Racing has returned with the Slovenian national championship having already taken place.

"Europe feels like it's just a bit ahead of North America and I'm pretty confident that at least a portion of the (race) calendar is going to happen."

Woods in slated to compete Aug. 12 in the Criterium du Dauphine, which is the precursor to the Aug. 29 start of the Tour de France.

The Canadian had an action-packed Tour debut last year.

"An incredible experience," said Woods. "Certainly one that I'll never forget but also left me feeling like I had a lot more left to achieve in the sport."

He finished 32nd overall and recorded a seventh-place finish in Stage 18. All that despite several crashes including a Stage 11 setback that forced him to complete the race with a broken rib.

"It held me back for the rest of the race," he said. "I really felt like I had a shot at winning a stage and I just was missing those last percentage points in ability because of the rib, because of my inability to breathe.

"So if I do the Tour this year, I know what I'm capable of and I feel a lot of excitement towards it."

Woods' cycling resume include a victory in the 2019 Milano-Torino one-day race, a stage win at the 2018 Spanish Vuelta, a bronze medal in the road race at the 2018 World Championships and a second place at the historic Liege-Bastogne-Liege one-day race in Belgium in 2018. His team says, to its knowledge, he is also the first athlete to run a sub-four mile and complete the Tour de France.

In Andorra, Woods has managed to escape the worst of the pandemic. But he says he feels for what is happening elsewhere, from the Black Lives Matter movement to the ravages of COVID-19.

"You just feel for everyone back home," he said. "It's odd being this removed from it."

"This has put a lot of things in perspective for me," he added. "It's made me realize how lucky I am, how lucky I am to race my bike, how lucky I am to still be getting a paycheque. I'm very privileged."


This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 7, 2020.


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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press