Woods (EF Education First) in 2016 was a runner turned older cyclist who had raced on the US domestic circuit but considered himself a “rookie” amongst the surrounding company, despite an ongoing show of faith from team general manager Jonathan Vaughters.
“I have a lot more perspective, a lot more experience. I still feel like I have a lot to learn but certainly an improved rider versus the one I was in 2016,” the Canadian told Cycling Central.
Woods started the 2019 WorldTour season yesterday a proven winner.
The 32-year-old is aware of the minuscule percentages that make the difference between winner and first loser. He bridged that gap last season in what professionally was a breakthrough year, which included Grand Tour success and a bronze medal at the UCI Road World Championships, but personally one of real loss.
“Every year I’ve raced in the WorldTour I’ve managed to make a step-up but this last step I took, which was actually winning a race, I think was the hardest to take,” he said.
Woods finished second to Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) on stage four of the Giro d’Italia and improved on it, claiming his maiden Grand Tour stage victory later at the Vuelta a España.
“The results I had in the past, prior to this past season, were great but they weren’t wins,” he said.
“It’s easier to stay in the wheel and get complacent and settle for a podium. It’s much harder to really put yourself out there and try and win. So, for me to finally win a stage at the Vuelta last year was not just a big step but also a bit of a relief.”
Relief is something a lot of professional cyclists refer to in the aftermath of a victory. Often it pertains to pressures or ‘marginal gains’ they’ve worked hard to attain.
The mechanics behind Woods’s Vuelta stage victory, however, were more heart-wrenchingly human than scientific.
“It was a product of a lot of things: good management by my director, and the passing of my son,” he said of the defining triumph in Spain.
“My wife and I had a stillbirth in June and he motivated me to train my butt off. I wanted to do something to honour him and to honour my wife. I couldn’t change anything, I couldn’t bring him back, but I wanted to turn his passing into something positive. I managed to do that.”
Woods cuts a collected, composed and mature figure as he looks ahead to the 2019 season in which the Ardennes Classics and Italian one-day races are major objectives.
He finished second at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, behind Bob Jungels (Deceuninck-QuickStep), last year and 13th at Lombardia. A debut at the Tour de France is also at the back of his mind.
“I’ve done both other Grand Tours four times now and I think I’m ready to make a step-up to the Tour. However, we do have two other really strong GC contenders.
"I’m only going to race the Tour if I feel like I can help them, and also have individual success,” he said.