Road To The Olympic Games

Cycling

Mike Woods resumes Olympic quest after harrowing cycling crash

Cyclist Mike Woods has his eyes set on the Rio Olympics, seven weeks after thinking he was going to die when a group of riders charged towards the fallen Canadian at high speed.

Canadian broke 3 bones in left hand in April road race in Belgium

Canadian cyclist Mike Woods, right, is still recovering from a bad crash in April, but is hoping to compete in the road race at the Rio Olympics in August. (Photo courtesy slipstreamsports.com)

By Doug Harrison, CBC Sports

"I thought I was going to die."

Mike Woods lay on the cold, wet pavement, having been thrown from his bike after meeting a pothole. He then looked up to see a group of high-speed cyclists making a beeline for him.

The Canadian was about 20 kilometres from finishing the 253 km Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the third of the Ardennes Classics one-day races in Belgium and the Netherlands.

"I had a rider in front of me, didn't see [the pothole] and it popped me completely off the bike," recalled Woods, six weeks after the late-April crash, over the phone from his hometown of Ottawa. "I hit the ground, spun and was facing all the riders … as I was sliding down because we were on a descent. There were so many guys heading straight at me.

"The road was wet [from snow and sub-zero temperatures] but they were able to fishtail around me at the last second and not one rider hit me. I took two riders down but that was more because my bike went airborne."

The end result was three broken bones in his left hand: the third, fourth and fifth metacarpal, often referred to as a boxer's fracture. The third metacarpal connects the middle finger to the wrist, while the fourth and fifth connect the ring finger or the little finger to the wrist.

I'm nervous about crashing. ... I decided to let the hand heal and get focused more on the [Rio] Olympics ...- Canadian road cyclist Mike Woods on not competing at the Tour de France in July

Woods said his hand feels fine. He can put weight on it and pull the brake hard but believes the hand is not quite ready to handle a crash.

"I'm nervous about crashing," he said. "I think it would cause real damage. I decided to let the hand heal and get focused more on the [Rio] Olympics [in August]."

Initially, Woods had planned to race in the nine-day Tour de Suisse that finished on Sunday and the 103rd Tour de France that runs July 2-24.

Instead, the middle distance runner-turned cyclist will compete in the Tour of Poland (July 12-18) and the July 30 San Sebastian Classic in Spain, where Woods is based.

In those races, Woods, who competes for the Cannondale Pro Cycling team, will wear a carbon fibre piece designed by Ryan Grant of SoleFit orthotics in Ottawa to cover the fifth metacarpal bone should he fall during competition.

Woods' recovery has included two visits to Montreal and the offices of B2ten, a private business group that helps Canadian athletes in their pursuit of excellence. Woods estimated his rehab work there six weeks ago probably cut a week off his recovery time.

Woods has also been riding his bike, using a theraband for resistant exercises and plans to use a bone stimulator, which sends an electromagnetic current through the bone to help the healing process.

He lost a lot of muscle in his forearm, bicep and entire left side in the crash, but Woods has made huge strides since first returning to riding two weeks and six days after the accident when he wasn't able to pull the brake.

"It messes with your head a bit," said Woods, who turned heads earlier this season with a fifth-place finish in his first road race as a World Tour pro at the Tour Down Under in Australia. "When you're really going well on the bike, there has to be oneness with the bike and you need to feel like it's an extension of the body, and you definitely don't feel that when you can't manipulate with one hand."

Unlucky 13

Woods, who has broken 13 bones between running and cycling, also suffered soft tissue damage to his back in the crash but said it's fully healed.

Looking ahead to the Aug. 6 men's road race in Rio, Woods caught a break recently when Ryder Hesjedal withdrew himself from team selection, set for June 29 in Aylmer, Que. The three-time Olympian probably would have filled one of three spots the Canadian men have secured.

"It definitely relieves the pressure of trying to make it," said Woods of Hesjedal's decision. "It's going to come down to a subjective decision and on paper, over the course of the season, I've proven I'm the guy for Rio. From a UCI [International Cycling Union] points perspective, no one can surpass me before the Olympics.

"The [Rio] course suits my skill set, which [features] climbs that are between 10 and 20 minutes in duration. Real steep climbs. I'm not the purist climber but I do have a good sprint amongst climbers and that's basically how the race is going to unfold in Rio, a sprint amongst five or 10 climbers."

Woods is just glad to be alive and have a chance to see it play out.

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