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Houle claimed Canada its first Tour stage win since 1988 before his teammate Michael Woods came through third to ensure the Maple Leaf was firmly on the Tour de France map.
“I never won a race, so I guess it’s the right place to win my first race,” Houle said shortly after the finish.
Israel Premier Tech branched from its Israeli roots when Canadian backer Premier Tech joined the team as co-sponsor for 2022. A clutch new Canadian racers and staffers – including Canada’s last stage winner Steve Bauer – saw the squad take a dual identity.
“It’s quite crazy. We have more and more Canadians on the WorldTour thanks to our team and Premier Tech and Premier Tech development team. We’re working to have the next generation,” Houle said.
“I think what I achieved today can be an inspiration of what is possible.”
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Woods was long the leading light of Candian cycling. The climber ace won classics and grand tour stages to give his country a toehold in WorldTour cycling.
After suffering through the first half of the race with early injuries, Woods rode high in his favored Pyrénéan hunting ground Tuesday.
“They’re the last three opportunities for me and I’m going to try to take advantage of them as much as I can, starting today,” Woods had vowed at the start of the stage.
Woods and Houle made it a mission to make the break at the start of an attack riddled stage from the Massif Central toward the Pyrénées.
“The plan was to have me and Woods in the breakaway if we could,” Houle said. “In theory, Michael should be the guy who is the strongest in that climb.
“At the end, we played the strategy I had in going ahead just to take off some pressure on Mike so he can sit on and follow. In the end it turned out I stayed away, so Mike was just surfing behind.”
‘This is for my brother’
It was perhaps fitting Houle had the winning legs over teammate Woods.
A stunning solo victory in Foix delivered the stalwart domestique his first WorldTour win and saw him come good on his vow to win a Tour stage for his brother.
“This is for my brother, who died when I turned professional. I worked 10 to 12 years to get the win for him. I do not know what to say. I am just so happy,” Houle said with emotion in his voice shortly after the finish.
Houle crossed the line with his finger pointed direct to the sky in a striking visual scene.
“Of course when things like this happen in life, it takes a few months to move on, move forward,” he said. “That was my motivation, to win for my little brother. Today I did it. I never won anything in my life as a professional and today I won in the Tour in a crazy way.”
Houle’s solo victory and Woods’ rise to the podium continue a marquee Tour for Israel Premier Tech.
Stage victory for Houle and Simon Clarke, and third place finishes for Houle, Woods, and Chris Froome gives the team a WorldTour points prize pot that will prove crucial as it fights for survival in the 2022 relegation season.
“It’s not every day you can have the chance to win. When it comes you have to go all in. That’s what I did,” Houle said Tuesday afternoon.
Houle’s victory was one that will resonsate for the rest of the riders’s life after the loss of his brother. It could prove just as important for Israel Premier Tech in seasons to come.