Canadian cyclist Michael Woods just misses podium after gruelling 234-km ride
Ottawa rider briefly held lead after late burst but comes up achingly short
In a race that lasted about six hours and traversed more than 200 kilometres, in the end it came down to a matter of inches for Canadian cyclist Michael Woods.
With Ecuador's Richard Carapaz capturing gold, Woods was among a group of five riders who were in a flat sprint over the final 100 metres, jockeying for silver and bronze. With a few metres to go, Woods appeared to get boxed out by two other riders, ultimately finishing fifth and missing out on a medal by less than a second.
"I am really happy with how I rode but just off the podium which was my big goal," Woods told CBC Sports after the race. "I tried to get some separation as much as I could but it just wasn't in the cards."
Woods final time was six hours, six minutes and 33 seconds, 1.07 behind Carapaz.
Belgium's Wout van Aert captured silver. Slovenia's Tadej Pogacar took the bronze.
Woods overcame gruelling conditions, on what riders called the toughest Olympic course ever, to be in contention at the finish.
The 34-year-old was barely mentioned during this race before, like a coiled spring, thrusting himself into the top group with about 30 kilometres left of the 234-kilometre race.
WATCH | Woods misses podium after dramatic end to men's road race:
Coming into this race, the Toronto native and Ottawa resident said the brutal course, full of deadly climbs, "really suited him." He was right.
"I thought I was the strongest climber today, but I had to roll the dice [and] it didn't play out as I'd hoped," Woods said.
"I really didn't want it to come down to a sprint. I tried to attack several times and I wanted to get away like Carapaz did, but I just wasn't as lucky as him and able make the move that he did."
This race had an Olympic feel that's been lacking here in Tokyo as for the first time athletes had a crowd cheering them on. Thousands of fans welcomed the riders as they entered the Fuji Motor Speedway two hours from Tokyo, where the race finished. Riders also received strong encouragement from locals who lined parts of the course as the race snaked through the mountains, where COVID-19 protocols aren't as restrictive as in Tokyo.
While countries like Italy and Belgium and France had five riders who were able to control the pace throughout the race before launching waves of co-ordinated attacks, Woods did much of the work on his own.
About 80 kilometres into the race, it appeared that Woods might have been involved in a crash that sidelined a pair of British riders, but he escaped contact. He did have to drop back from the pack momentarily as he appeared to have issues with one of his shoes before getting a fresh pair from his team car.
With the iconic Mount Fuji looming over many parts of the course, the 130-rider field had to navigate a series of five gruelling climbs adding up to nearly 5,000 metres, a more arduous challenge than even the most difficult mountain stages at the Tour de France.
As one commentator put it: add in the humidity and it will feel like they are climbing Mount Everest.
The toughest challenge of this race came near the end, after nearly 200 kilometres of racing, called the Mikuni Pass, the steepest climb in cycling.
Woods said before the race that the steep ascents made it a "good course for him."
"It is a really challenging climb, really steep, but it really suits my skill set. I think with the heat, particularly with the amount of climbing in this race, it really does suit my abilities," Woods told CBC Sports.
WATCH | The Olympians: Mike Woods
Beyond the brutal climbs, riders also had to endure the searing heat. Early this month, Woods actually decided to leave the Tour de France early so he could come to the Olympics early to help acclimate himself to the heat.
"I did three hours in the peak heat of the day, sweating profusely, and I was really happy that I got that in. I think I need a couple more days of that heat exposure and I think I'll be good in terms of actual race day preparation," Woods said.
The Olympic road race is usually held on a circuit, but at these Games, riders began at Tokyo's Musashinonomori Park then passed through Kanagawa and Yamanashi Prefectures before finishing at the Fuji International Speedway. As riders wound their way through the Japanese countryside, they were treated to small slices of Japanese culture, including ancient temples and ornate fountains.
Just two weeks ago, Woods was involved in a crash at the Tour de France, where he suffered a severe road rash. But coming into these Games, Wood said he felt healthy and in great spirits.
Back home, his wife Elly is just about to have a baby boy. Despite changes coming at home and a career that has now included two Olympics, in the moments after this narrow defeat, Woods said that you may see him in Paris, the site of 2024 Olympics.
"We will have to see what the course in Paris is like," he said. "I will be 38 at the next Olympics, So it's difficult to say. But this has me all the more motivated and if the course in Paris is challenging, I will be there I think."