At nearly 37, Canada's Michael Woods still hungry after Tour de France stage win

MONTREAL — Canada's Michael Woods is already looking ahead after winning a stage at the Tour de France earlier this summer — hungry to accomplish more despite his age.

The 36-year-old from Ottawa, who turns 37 in October, became the third Canadian and 11th oldest stage winner at the Tour de France with his ninth-stage victory on July 9.

"It was one of the biggest goals of my career,” he said over a video conference from his residence in Andorra on Thursday. "There's a sensation that I'm proud of myself, but at the same time, I'm an athlete who always thinks about the future.

"Even when you've won something, after a few moments you wonder 'OK, what's the next goal?'"

Woods, a world-class climber, has identified a Giro d'Italia stage win as the next accomplishment on his list.

Having won a stage at the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana (twice), he says it would be "really cool" to get an individual win at all three Grand Tours — something no Canadian has done.

Winning on home soil is another goal of his. The Cycling Grand Prix's in Quebec City and Montreal, part of the UCI World Tour, are set for Sept. 8 and 10.

Woods, who rides for Israel-Premier Tech, will compete at the one-day races for the first time since 2019, when he finished eighth in Montreal and 17th in Quebec City.

He gives himself a better chance of winning in Montreal because the course in and around Mount Royal better suits his style as a climber.

"The next thing is winning a stage at the Giro," said Woods, who also resides in Chelsea, Que., a small town near Ottawa. "But it's always important to me to do well in Montreal and Quebec City. I started my career there, it's because of these races that I was able to rise to this level. So why not something like Montreal too?

"It's one of the biggest races of the year for me."

Woods says his win at the Tour de France only gives him more confidence to be aggressive in Montreal and aim for a big result.

That only makes sense considering the way he won.

Woods put forth a stunning solo effort up the famous Puy de Dome volcano to erase a gap of nearly two minutes and pass 24-year-old leader Matteo Jorgenson less than 500 metres from the finish line.

"I was shocked by what I did because with 20 kilometres left, 10 kilometres left, even five kilometres left, I didn't think I could win the stage," he said.

"When I watched the footage after, I couldn't believe it. It's incredible I was able to win."

Sebastien Arsenault, the CEO of Grand Prix Cyclistes Quebec and Montreal, says having a Canadian like Woods who's not only racing on the UCI Tour but also performing is massive for these races — the only ones of their kind in the Americas.

"He's (almost) 37 and just told us he's done the best numbers of his career," said Arsenault. "I mean, we see the correlation with his stage win at the Tour de France, he didn't win that because of a massive crash — he pedalled to victory."

The races in Quebec City and Montreal hold a special place for Woods, a top Canadian middle-distance runner turned pro cyclist at 25 years old after sustaining a series of stress fractures in his left foot.

Woods began his professional cycling career at these events, and Montreal could also be where he ends it if everything falls into place.

The 2026 world championships are set for Montreal that September. Woods, however, is well aware that Father Time could get in the way of things since by then he'll be 39 going on 40.

He's under contract with his team until 2025. From there it'll depend on his health, desire and the level he's performing at.

Woods says he has no interest in racing at a level lower than the standards he's reached.

"I don't want to be the guy that doesn't perform at the highest level, I don't want to be racing if I'm not improving, if I'm not doing big things," he said.

"If that's the case in 2025 then you won't see me at the worlds in 2026. However, if I'm still going well, if I'm still excited, still racing at the highest level, then yeah, that's certainly a dream goal to retire at that race in Montreal."

For now, Woods still feels like he's at the top of his game despite how much riders in their mid-to-low 20s dominate the sport.

"This year, I did some of my best numbers ever in training. I'm feeling strong, and the hunger and the drive is still there," he said.

"I'm still feeling like I am progressing, so that's why I'm still racing, that's why I'm not retiring at the end of this season, this is why I want to keep on going until at least 2025."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 24, 2023.

Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press