- The Canadian pro cyclist Michael Woods is racing in his first Tour de France with the US-based team EF Education First. At 32, he is one of the oldest neo-pros to ever take part in the world’s greatest race.
- Fourteen years ago he ran a sub-four-minute mile, but his running career was short-lived, partly because of injury. He eventually turned to cycling, a sport in which he’s risen to the highest level.
- Woods spoke with Business Insider at the Tour, telling us about what makes the race unique, runner’s high versus cyclist’s high, and why he still runs, even though he pedals 30 hours a week.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
NANCY, France – In a way, Michael Woods’ story is unremarkable. Runner injures self, takes up cycling. But the Canadian’s story is something else.
At 18, he ran a mile in 3 minutes, 57.48 seconds (still a record for a Canadian on Canadian soil, as far as we can tell), but he soon had to quit the sport because of injury. He later found himself working in a shoe store, where he said he was miserable.
Years later he started racing his bike. And 14 years after running that sub-four-minute mile, he’s now competing in the Tour de France. At 32, he’s doing it as one of the oldest neo-pros the sport has ever seen.
Woods is in 10th place overall at the Tour after four stages. He was a protagonist on stage three, riding aggressively at the front. His hope is to win a stage when the race hits the mountains, but his main objective is to support his team leader, Rigoberto Urán, the runner-up in the 2017 Tour, who’s in 13th place.
We caught up with Woods at the start of the Tour.
Daniel McMahon: How is runner’s high different from cyclist’s high?
Michael Woods: A runner’s high is certainly different. It’s this full-body high. You finish a run and it’s more invigorating. You finish your morning run and you feel like, “I’m ready to take on the day.” Often you’re in a better mood, more euphoric, whereas in cycling it’s much longer and much more taxing mentally.
I found going for a run was cathartic because you’re just releasing, and unless you’re doing a full-gas race it’s not mentally super difficult, whereas cycling is so mentally challenging. Even if you’re doing a long training ride, it’s challenging.
Then, once you finish, there’s a high and there’s this sensation. There’s this endorphin rush. You feel really good, but it’s more calm. It’s like, this calmness. Once I finish a ride, I have no problem just sitting down and doing nothing. I just want to lie on the couch. It’s the opposite of running, where I want to do things, I want to go and check out a new movie or hang out with friends. Instead, after a ride, if someone wants me to do something, it’s like pulling teeth. I want to stay home and I complain. If my wife wants to go meet with some friends, I pull up every excuse in the book to try to not go.
If you go for a five-hour ride, you finish and you’re happy, you’ve accomplished something, and you’re getting at that high, but you don’t want to do anything else.
McMahon: Like a serene afterglow. You just want to have a good beer or a nice meal.
Woods: Exactly. It also has to do with the higher impact of running. You’re getting more of an endorphin rush, maybe because you’re trying to heal the rest of your body, whereas on the bike you’re not getting that impact.
McMahon: Do you still run?
Woods: Yeah, I run with my wife. And now I’ve started picking it up a bit more, trying to do it once or twice a week in season. When you finish a three-week race, you’re a better bike racer but a worse human being. Over this Tour I’m probably going to walk 5 kilometers over the course of the month – that’s it. And that’s not healthy. That’s not healthy from an impact-adaptation perspective. Humans are meant to walk – they’re meant to move around.
The bike is really bad if you’re a pro cyclist. There are quite a few incidents of low bone density, arthritis, all that kind of stuff, and just incorporating a bit of running into my regime makes me a healthier person. I also find it’s made me more robust on the bike.
When I’m done cycling, I want to get back into running because it’s so much easier to stay fit – a way better and bigger bang for your buck. I’m not going to be a professional athlete for the rest of my life. I want to have kids. I want to have a family. There are going to be so many things pulling at me for time. The bike’s terrible for that. Going for a 30-minute-to-an-hour run, you get great bang for your buck, whereas a 30-minute-to-an-hour ride you’re doing nothing.
McMahon: What’s a run look like now with the season in full swing?
Woods: Just 10 to 15 minutes, an easy jog before doing some core work. Nothing crazy, because I’m doing 30-hour training weeks on the bike.
McMahon: At 32, you’re one of the oldest neo-pros in pro cycling, and you’re doing your first Tour de France.
Woods: I’m really happy that I’m doing my first Tour at this age, too. If I were 21, it’d be lost on me – I’d be overwhelmed by all the interviews. I might be more excited, but I’m really excited right now, and as you get older I feel like there are fewer things you get really excited about.
So to have this at 32, and at this level, I feel like I’m going to my first sleepover when I was 5, just that level of childish excitement. And because I’m older, I’m really enjoying the moment that I’m in. Because at 32, this could conceivably be my last tour. Anything can happen. I’m not young.
McMahon: What makes the Tour unique?
Woods: It’s the only bike race I knew of as a noncyclist. It’s the only bike race I followed as a noncyclist. And I’m feeling that significance now. It’s the only thing that transcends cycling. It’s the only part of the sport that reaches outside the sphere of people inside the sport. So that extra layer of attention, that extra layer of messages from friends and family, it’s overwhelming, and I’m really appreciating that and feel really lucky to be doing it.
McMahon: What is top of mind for you in this opening week of the Tour?
Woods: First thing is to just to try and stay safe. I really want to finish this thing. I want to do well; I want to have success.
But I have to take a good step back and realize the first week is so dangerous, that for me to have success, for me to contribute to the team’s success, I have to stay safe. And because of all of this excitement, because of all of this energy, it’s going to be a difficult thing to do.
Everybody wants to do so well at the Tour because of that extra layer of attention, that even the most seasoned veterans do stuff that is outside what they normally do, and that can result in chaos. And because of that, it makes it a really uncontrollable thing. I have to keep my wits about me and keep my head.