Pro cyclist shares ups and downs of racing

The SAC triathlon team met one of their cycling idols this week when Michael Woods dropped by for an informal chat.
 
The lunchtime meet-and-greet was held in the Archives and moderated by Keith Ramon: English teacher, Housemaster of Sifton House, triathlete, and a huge fan of the only Canadian on the American World Tour Team EF Education First.
 
Michael introduced himself to the boys as a former skater and runner who grew up in Ottawa, Ont. As a child, he dreamed of becoming a pro hockey player. However, he turned to track when his frame proved too slight. Running became his passion, and he still holds the title of the Canadian to have run the fastest mile on Canadian soil with a time of 3:57:48.
 
He earned a full scholarship to the University of Michigan, graduating in 2008 with a degree in English. A fracture in his left foot, coupled with poor diet and overtraining, forced him out of the sport in 2011. Not one to sit idly, Michael turned to cycling and was soon entering—and winning—races.
 
“With running, I was within a 10-kilometre radius,” Michael shared. “But my bike took me to places all over the world.”
 
Now considered one of the top climbers in North America, Michael enthralled his SAC followers with tales from his tours and answered their questions with plenty of enthusiasm and enough detail to satisfy his ardent fans. Here is an overview of the Q and A:
 
Q. What is your typical caloric intake when preparing for a race and on race day?
A. “I’m a climber so I have to stay lean. (He weighs in at around 138 pounds.) I can’t stuff my face every day because I have to stay light.”  Michael says he eats carbs before and after a race and scales back on his food intake at dinner. Also, there’s plenty of yogurt in his diet.
 
Q. How do you prepare for a typical tour day?
A. “First you look at the weather and the temperature. Then you discuss race tactics.” Michael then told the boys something I’m sure the senior leadership at SAC would appreciate: “I get rid of my phone an hour or two before bed.” He says the phone and other tech devices are a distraction and keep him from getting the necessary sleep for a productive next day. “Sleep is the most important part of a race, recovery-wise.”
 
Q. What are your ambitions?
A. “The Tour de France!” Another of his primary goals is to return to the Olympics. He competed in the 2016 Games in Rio but was not in peak form due to recovering from a broken femur.
 
Q. What do you focus on to become as aerodynamic as possible?
A. “You can have the best equipment in the world but if you don’t have your body in the right position you’re going to go slow. Get low, diminish the wind in the pocket between your head and the handlebars.”
 
Q. What inspires you through the extreme pain?
A. Michael explained his process of writing things down. Prior to a race, he watches videos of previous races on the same course, noting the ups, the downs, and the corners so he can visualize himself racing through it. Then he writes down a few mantras to repeat once he’s racing to keep focused. One such mantra is “Be Gretzky” in reference to hockey great, Wayne Gretzky, who would figuratively watch himself play from the sidelines in order to see the big picture. Other mantras Michael uses are “Be relaxed” and “Break things down.” His parting advice? “Keep it simple and just be in the moment.”

Story by Julie Caspersen
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