Canadian cyclist Michael Woods excited to be in Japan but yet to feel Olympic vibe

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Leaving the Tour de France for the Tokyo Olympics, Canadian cyclist Michael Woods has swapped one COVID-19 bubble for another. Different hotel, different time zone. Mostly the same riders. And lots of restrictions.

While excited to be at his second Games, the 34-year-old from Ottawa is not yet feeling the Olympic vibe. Part of the reason is the road racers are staying in Gotemba, 100 kilometres southwest of Tokyo, to be nearer the course.

"It doesn't feel like I'm in Japan," he told reporters in a virtual availability early Tuesday in Japan. "It's quite bizarre.

"I came from the Tour, straight to the hotel here in Gotemba which is the (Olympic) cycling village. And the hotel is filled exclusively with cyclists, basically everybody from the road race. So it feels like I've gone from the Tour de France, which was a cycling bubble, to the same cycling bubble. I'm seeing the exact same people in the hotel that I saw in France, that I see back in Andorra when I'm home or in Girona in Spain.

"We're not allowed to leave the hotel except for training runs. We're not allowed to stop on the training runs. So aside from the fact that you see Mount Fuji and the street signs are in Japanese, you really don't feel like you are in Japan … It is such a tight bubble."

Asked if that took away the joy of being at the Olympics, Woods replied: "100 per cent … This literally feels like just I've gone to another bike race."

That's not necessarily a bad thing, he explained. And combined with the fact that wife Elly is due to give birth right after the Games, "I feel like I'm in a good space. I'm not really stressed. I'm just excited to race.

"I feel really fortunate to be in the position that I'm in. (Monday) rolling in Japan around Lake Yamanaka was really special. I just tried to enjoy it and be really happy of where I was."

Woods has seen the other side of the Games. In a 2016 column for Cyclingnews.com, Woods enthused about life in Rio.

"Being in the Olympic Village, particularly in the final days leading up to the Games, is like being in Neverland," he wrote. "There is this undeniable hope that exists in the Olympic Village prior to the Games. Thousands of athletes, at the peak of their abilities, live with the knowledge that in just a few short days they can do something great. It is a beautiful thing to witness."

Woods had planned to fly to Tokyo immediately after Sunday's Tour de France finale, although he had also booked an earlier departure just in case. He opted to go the early route, pulling out of the race last Thursday after Stage 18 in the wake of a crash and the fact he was no longer in the hunt for King of the Mountains.

Plus, weather conditions at the Tour had been cool and he figured more time in Japan would help adapt to the heat and humidity.

He left for Tokyo on Friday, a journey that was more than 26 hours door-to-door.

It started with a "long and very expensive" taxi ride from Pau to Toulouse, then a flight to Paris. And, after a layover, he was Tokyo-bound.

On the plus side, Woods and a colleague made it through the red tape upon landing in Tokyo in just under two hours.

As for the crash, Woods said his Tour performance suffered after he suffered road rash and some deep cuts that required antibiotics.

"But that was over a week ago now and I'm feeling much better," he said. "I've been riding around here in Japan every day just feeling a bit lighter, feeling a little less heavy than the crash, feeling less lethargic. And that's a really good sign because even though I'm still jet-lagged right now, I'm feeling better."

Woods crashed on Stage 14, the day he claimed the storied polka-dot jersey as leader of the mountain classification at the Tour.

The 234-kilometre Olympic road race starts at 11 a.m. Saturday Tokyo time, which is 10 p.m. ET Friday.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 20, 2021.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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