New team but similar dream: Michael Woods still aims to claim the Doyenne of the Classics. The Canadian arrived late in the peloton but winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège has been a dream of his for years now. Second in 2018 and a top-10 finisher on four occasions out of five participations since 2015, Woods is set to ride to Liège with his new Israel Start-Up Nation team, and with strong ambitions.
This Sunday, the 107th edition of the season’s second Belgian Monument will bring together the most explosive riders of the UCI WorldTour while the champions of the UCI Women's WorldTour ride to Liège for the fifth time. Woods and his rivals will tackle 11 climbs along 259km as they try to succeed Primoz Roglič (Jumbo-Visma). In Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes, Elizabeth Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) holds the crown after she flew away from her opponents in the climb up côte de la Redoute last autumn.
At 34 years old, Woods has become an expert in one-day races. A Classics hunter raised in Ottawa, he first chased the dream of becoming a hockey player but turned professional as a cyclist in 2013 and now rarely misses the big occasions. His bursts of power and his consistency have made him a staple on the most demanding routes and he's already made history for Canadian cycling. But this versatile talent, who also shone as a runner, always aims to climb higher on his bike.
Looking forward to the Belgian challenge
A nasty crash on stage 3 of the Itzulia Basque Country forced him to retire, to prepare for the week extending from Maastricht to Liège. Last Sunday, he was 32nd at the Amstel Gold Race, before heading to Belgium where he's used to performing well (3rd in the Flèche Wallonne last autumn) and where he is widely expected to be seen at the front again this Sunday.
The leader of the Israeli squad is convinced that Liège-Bastogne-Liège "suits [him] better than the Flèche Wallonne". The Canadian likes to open races, put his rivals under pressure, and he could use the final climb up the côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons (1.3km with an average gradient of 11%) to take off to victory. Woods is among the punchiest riders on extreme slopes and he can also sustain his efforts on the downhill and flat sections leading to the finish in Liège.
Doing his bit for the planet
The Canadian star, now living in Girona (Spain), has committed to a 2021 carbon neutral season. The two-time stage winner at La Vuelta a España (in 2018 and 2020) aims to give a new emphasis to his cycling activities: "Riding has really opened my eyes to how beautiful the planet is and I want to do my part in protecting it."
After an audit of his annual carbon footprint, Woods has taken actions for the environment "from simple things such as taking a permanent knife, fork, cup and bowl with me on the road so that I am no longer using plastic utensils and plates during our post-race meals, to rethinking how I eat, and travel, and paying to offset all of the carbon that I emit."
With Liège-Bastogne-Liège as a main goal for the first part of the season and the climate as a longstanding stake, Woods also has his mind set on the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer, with a back-to-basics approach. To prepare during the winter for the best ride possible, the Canadian put his running shoes back on a decade and a half after setting the Canadian national junior record for the mile.
“I always like one-day races, it’s a lot of climbing miles, and it’s the Olympics,” he told CyclingTips at the beginning of April. "As a Canadian, as a guy coming from a track background, the Olympics are the kind of be-all, end-all, and I hold them in higher esteem than most cyclists, particularly because I’m a proud Canadian.
He is undaunted by reaching his mid-thirties: "I feel the strongest I’ve ever felt on the bike and I feel like I’m improving,” he says.
He'll be keen to show it on the roads of the Tour de France (26 June – 18 July) and in Tokyo. But right now, he's awaited in Liège.
Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes will see the UCI Women’s WorldTour peloton begin their journey from Bastogne to Liège (140.9km) at 08.50 CET, while the men will set off from Liège at 10.00 CET.