Harrison Wood had been progressing steadily in the U23 scene across Europe for the past four seasons when in May last year the French WorldTour team offered him the opportunity to become a stagiaire from August.
A few weeks later, however, the Torquay-born rider crashed at the Course de la Paix while racing with Great Britain and he had to be flown to the nearest hospital in a helicopter. He was unconscious for six hours, suffered a small bleed on the brain, broke a collarbone and struggled to walk.
“I’ve only really told my mum and dad this before, but I think I am lucky to have my life when I hear what happened,” the chatty climber told Cycling Weekly magazine last August. “I am completely blind to what happened and I don’t remember anything, but I think that’s a blessing in disguise because it could have been a lot worse, there’s no doubt about that. I’ve still got my life and cycling.”
Fortunately, Wood recovered well, and after five weeks off the bike he was able to return at the Tour du Limousin in mid-August where he made his debut with Cofidis. The French team had kept in near-constant contact with him during his rehab and he had sent results of MRI scans and x-rays to the team’s medical department.
“I wasn’t sure if my season was finished or not,” he reflected, “and it was touch and go if I was going to be a stagiaire or not.” As it transpired, Cofidis provided him with 15 racing days in the final three months of the season despite his comparatively poor condition. They then offered him a two-year contract.
“It’s nice to officially be in the team as a full-time pro, and I’m really thankful to them,” he told CW at the Tour of Oman, his second stage race of the season after making his bow at the Tour Down Under.
“Coming into a stagiaire role without any training and without having done much racing was a big shock, so for me this year is about racing as much as possible, gaining as much experience and seeing what’s possible.”
Any lingering doubts from the crash reside with his parents rather than him. “It’s my parents who are the ones worried!” he laughed. “I still don’t remember anything from it but that’s a good thing as when it gets hectic in a finale or on a climb, I don’t think about it.”
Wood has taken the more traditional route to the top tier of men’s cycling. Supported by the Rayner Foundation, he raced for Dutch team SEG for two years either side of a season each for French U23 team AVC Aix-en-Provence.
He won twice in his first year as an U23, but it was only in his fourth year that he began to put together a string of results, first winning a stage of the Circuit de Saône-et-Loire before a stage win and a jersey in back-to-back Spanish races.
“I hadn’t won since 2019, and it was a big one for me and my granddad who died last year. He was a big part of my journey, and so to get that win was for him,” he said.
His experiences of four years living abroad has developed him into a friendly, open and mature 22 year old. He speaks almost fluent French and laughs at the quirks of his adopted country.
“When I was with SEG, if there was a meeting at 7pm, it was 7pm. Punctuality was drilled into me,” he said. “In France, they’re organised but there’s more of a laissez faire approach to it. It’s not a problem if you’re five minutes late, and if it’s 15 minutes it’s still not the end of the world.
“The amateur scene is quite old school. I ended up being quite self-sufficient in France, buying my own gels and bars because the French teams supply the standard gels from Decathlon which basically aren’t food. I’d be making my own recovery drink because if not I wouldn’t get one.
“Cofidis are completely different of course, but at amateur level it’s turn up, do it yourself, organise your own stuff.”
Arranging his own schedule and life won’t come hard to Wood though. He confesses that he lives a “mid-ish monk life”, and though chocolate is his guilty pleasure and he won’t turn down a sugary cake , he counts his calories and makes healthy alternatives of more fattening meals.
As for a wander down the coffee shop, he’s up for it, but only if there’s no bike racing to watch. “If the option of watching cycling on my bed is there, I’ll take that over the coffee,” he said. “My mum would tell you that I should be a cycling commentator because I can always spot the rider. When the commentator says it’s someone, I can always correct them if they’re wrong.
"I watch the sport a bit differently to a normal a fan who is taking it all in because I’m watching how teams are approaching things. You can tell how strict Jumbo-Visma and Ineos are, and you try to implement that in your own racing.”
His first season as a professional has begun under the Australian and Middle Eastern sun, and he was a key player in helping teammate Jesús Herrada win stage two of the Tour of Oman. “I thought I did OK,” he analysed. “I wasn’t the best, but it was the first explosive finish and I was up there.”
He has the freedom of being on a two-year contract so this year is about finding his feet, seeing what races suit him the most, and where best he can fit in. “When you come out of U23s, it’s hard to say who exactly you are as a bike rider, and especially because the level of climbing is so high,” he said.
“I don’t want to lie to myself and say I can do a good result when I can only come 30th, so it’s seeing what I can do in the next few months and then coming up with a realistic plan from there.
“I’ll mostly be a domestique, helping out however the team want me, and if the team says I have my own opportunity to go in a break or to go for a result, I’ll give it everything I’ve got.”
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