Sports Canadian cyclist Michael Woods misses podium by milliseconds in men's road race
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OYAMA, Japan — The expectation was for Tadej Pogacar or even Wout van Aert to cross the finish line first. Instead it was Ecuador's Richard Carapaz making his mark on the Tokyo Olympics, stealing the spotlight from Canadian Michael Woods in the process.
Woods, the cyclist from Ottawa, finished fifth in the road race Saturday after Carapaz made his move at just the right time to break away from the other riders. The Ecuadorian was never caught by the pack.
Carapaz led American Brandon McNulty, a surprise guest at the end of the race. The pair widened their considerable gap to 40 seconds, but McNulty was unable to keep up the pace and dropped back with 4.5 kilometres remaining in the 234-kilometre race that ended at the Fuji International Speedway.
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Michael Woods has come a long way since the Rio Olympics. His body battered and broken from several nasty crashes ahead of the 2016 Games, Woods finished 55th in the Rio road race. Woods, who threw up during the race, called the hilly 241.5-kilometre Olympic circuit "the hardest race of my life." The 34-year-old from Ottawa crashed twice in the lead-up to the Rio Games, breaking his hand in three places at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and suffering a partially displaced fracture of his left femur at the Tour of Poland. He still competed in an Olympic race that saw 79 competitors fail to finish with another two completing it over the time limit.
The Ecuadorian crossed the finish line, alone, after six hours, five minutes and 26 seconds under the oppressive heat and humidity of Japan.
Meanwhile the real action was happening behind Carapaz.
Woods, Pogacar of Slovenia and Belgium's van Aert were part of a group of eight cyclists who fought to the very end for the two remaining podium spots.
About 500 metres from the finish line, Britain's Adam Yates made a move to the outside and began his final sprint. Van Aert instantly picked up the pace with Pogacar right with him. Woods and Bauke Mollema of the Netherlands were close behind.
The strategy for Woods, who finished 55th at the 2016 Rio Games, put him within striking distance of victory, but ultimately he finished mere milliseconds off a podium spot.
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“I'm proud of the way I attacked during the race,” said Woods. "I did all I could, but today wasn't my day.
“I wasn't able to win a sprint against Wout van Aert, so I tried several times in the last climbs, but I wasn't able to outrun everyone.
"I think that’s the problem with me now, being recognized as a strong climber. I’m being marked a lot more and it’s more difficult to step away."
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Van Aert won the silver medal in the photo finish, officially coming in 1:07 behind Carapaz. Pogacar, the back-to-back Tour de France winner, finished third.
With about 40 kilometres to go in the race, Woods took the lead alongside Pogacar and McNulty.
The trio was overtaken by two groups of four cyclists, then finally by the German Maximilian Schachmann and Yates.
McNulty and Carapaz, third in this year’s Tour de France, began to break away with 24 kilometres left in the race. Woods was unable to follow and was caught by the chase group.
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“I have no regrets,” said the Ottawa cyclist. "I did all I could. Fifth, it's not terrible when your goal is to win a medal. But I had told my friends that if I had the race of my life I could finish in the top five, and if I got some luck I could get on the podium. I didn't really get the luck I needed, but I had a good race."
If Woods was able to stay in medal contention, it's partly thanks to the hard work of his teammates Guillaume Boivin of Montreal and Hugo Houle of Ste-Perpetue, Que.
“They raced well and helped me a lot," said Woods of Boivin and Houle. "I did not fall, but at the start of the race I was involved in a collision and I broke my shoe, which I had to replace while riding. Thanks to them, I was able to get back into the mix without a problem.
“Guillaume positioned me well after Mount Fuji. I'm really proud of him.”
Added Boivin: “Mike is a special guy. He is a good friend and a great leader. It motivates me a lot to race for a leader and a friend like him. I gave my best and did what he asked me to do. Anything I can do for this guy, I will."
In his first Olympic Games, Boivin crossed the finish line in 65th place, 16:20 behind the winner Carapaz.
“I was in a group and told the guys I absolutely wanted to finish because I don't know if I'm going to come back to the Olympics," said Boivin.
Houle, who did not finish the event five years ago in Rio, was the last to cross the finish line in 85th place, almost 20 minutes behind the winner.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 24, 2021.
Frederic Daigle, The Canadian Press
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