Hugo Houle soloes to Stage 16 win as Jonas Vingegaard shuts down Tadej Pogacar attacks at Tour de France
Hugo Houle surged clear of a strong breakaway to take a first ever pro win in Stage 16 at Foix and end Canada’s long drought on the Tour de France. The Israel-Premier Tech rider became the first Canadian stage winner since Steve Bauer in 1988 on a day race leader Jonas Vingegaard weathered the storm after a series of attacks from his yellow jersey rival Tadej Pogacar in the Pyrenean foothills.
Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) promised to attack in the final week of the Tour – and the Slovenian two-time champion was true to his work with no fewer than four pulsating accelerations on the penultimate climb of Stage 16 as the Tour de France entered the sweltering foothills of the Pyrenees on Tuesday.
Race leader Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) was able to close each of his rival’s attacks while Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) kept his cool and rode back in contention on the final descent as the top three riders of this Tour came home together in Foix almost six minutes after Canada’s Hugo Houle (Israel-Premier Tech) took an emotional win.
Houle’s victory – his first as a professional – came after the 31-year-old surged clear of the remnants of the day’s 29-man breakaway just ahead of the final climb, the Mur de Peguere, with around 38km remaining. As the gradient ramped up to double digits for the three kilometres preceding the summit, Houle held on for a 25-second lead ahead of the descent into Foix.
With the chase of the American Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar) being thwarted by Houle’s compatriot and team-mate Michael Woods, the lone leader extended his advantage on the fast descent – forcing Jorgenson to take the risks that saw him skid to the ground on a corner inside the final 10km.
As he crossed the line to secure Canada’s first stage win on the Tour in 34 years, Houle pointed to the sky in memory of his late brother Pierrick, who was tragically killed by a drunk driver in a hit-and-run incident a decade ago.
Frenchman Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ) fought back to pip Woods and deny Israel-Premier Tech an historic Canadian one-two, while a bloodied Jorgenson took fourth place ahead of Madouas’ Australian teammate Michael Storer.
Survivors from the day’s break – including the Russian Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe) – arrived in drips and drabs before Wout van Aert, the green jersey who had been amongst the escapees, led home a select chase group that included his Jumbo-Visma teammate Vingegaard and his rival for yellow, the two-time defending champion Pogacar.
There was no change in the top three in the general classification with Denmark’s Vingegaard retaining his 2’22” lead over Pogacar and Welshman Thomas staying third, a further 21 seconds behind. But Colombia’s Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) rose to fourth place at the expense of Frenchman Romain Bardet (Team DSM), who was distanced during Pogacar’s salvo on the Port de Lers with 50km remaining, never to return to the fold.
Bardet fell five places to 10th place after crossing the line over three-and-a-half minutes down on the yellow jersey group. Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) dropped to sixth place and team-mate Tom Pidcock to 10th place after both British riders struggled on the final climb, while Vlasov rose three places to eighth after a successful stint in the breakaway on what was a warm-up ahead of two mountaintop finishes in the Pyrenees.
‘It turns out Ineos were hanging on by their fingernails’ – McEwen
Top three all with team-mates in the 29-man break
When the day’s breakaway formed shortly after the start of the 178.5km Stage 16 from Carcassonne, the top three riders of the race all had team-mates in the move, with Van Aert and Nathan van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma), Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) and Dani Martinez (Ineos Grenadiers) among the 29 riders out ahead.
Two early lower-category climbs proved a launchpad for a trio to go clear of the break, as Frenchmen Mathieu Burgaudeau (TotalEnergies) and Alexis Gougeard (B&B Hotels-KTM) joined Jorgenson on an ambitious raid from distance.
Entering the stage in 11th place, Vlasov was the GC dangerman in a move that also included his Bora-Hansgrohe team-mate Felix Grossschartner, Mikkel Honore (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl), Gorka Izagirre (Movistar), Simon Geschke (Cofidis), Damiano Caruso and Dylan Teuns (both Bahrain Victorious), Olivier Le Gac, Madouas and Storer (all Groupama-FDJ), Nils Eekhoff (Team DSM), Simone Velasco (Astana-Qazaqstan), Stefan Bisseger and Neilson Powless (both EF Education-EasyPost), Maxime Bouet and Lukasz Owsian (both Arkea-Samsic), Philippe Gilbert and Tim Wellens (both Lotto Soudal), Tony Gallopin (Trek-Segafredo), Cyril Barthe (B&B Hotels-KTM) and the Canadian duo of Houle and Woods.
What was a fairly sedate affair livened up just ahead of the first of two first-category climbs when Caruso went clear to open up a gap on the Port de Lers. The Italian was joined by team-mate Teuns, McNulty, Van Aert, Jorgenson, Geschke, Storer and Woods, who established a small gap over a quartet of Vlasov, Houle, Izagirre and Gallopin in pursuit.
Germany’s Geschke secured the maximum 10 king of the mountain points over the summit to extend his lead in the polka dot jersey competition before a fast and technical descent that saw both Houle and Gallopin come from behind to pass the leaders ahead of the final climb, the Mur de Peguere.
Trailing the break by around seven minutes going onto the Port de Lers, the main field was animated by an early move from Spain’s Enric Mas, who went clear with two Movistar team-mates in a bid to protect his GC position from Vlasov up the road.
But soon the climb would be livened by something far more exciting than an opportune move by Mas. With 50km remaining, Pogacar came from deep to put in a massive attack that caught many of his GC rivals sleeping. Although Jumbo-Visma were not riding tempo on the front, Vingegaard was quick to react, riding onto the man in white’s wheel as others struggled behind.
Two more attacks on the climb from Pogacar whittled things down further, with Frenchmen Bardet and Gaudu going backwards and British duo Thomas and Yates beginning to drop behind. Quintana was a match for Pogacar, while Vingegaard could rely on the support of his American team-mate Sepp Kuss.
Pogacar put in another attack on the descent immediately after the summit – although Vingegaard had it covered and there was a general regrouping ahead of the Mur de Peguere. Here, Pogacar’s team-mate Rafal Majka took over the pacing duties to blow the pack apart once more. An untimely mechanical for Majka took the Pole out of the equation, although reinforcements soon arrived in the form of McNulty, Van Aert and Martinez – the latter there to help Thomas back into contention on the final descent to Foix.
‘Could have ended in tears’ – Majka’s bike breaks, swerves out the way
Houle heroics after Jorgenson wobble
Back with the leaders, Houle made light work of the steep gradient near the summit of the Peguere, maintaining a good gap while the likes of Caruso, Geschke and Teuns struggled behind. The unlikely lone leader was then able to extend his lead on the descent after Jorgenson lost his front wheel on a corner and hit the deck.
The American fought back to catch Woods in the run into Foix, but with a team-mate up the road, Woods was able to sit on Jorgenson’s wheel to all but secure the win for an emotional Houle.
“I guess it’s the right place to win my first race,” Houle said after delivering Israel-Premier Tech a second win following Simon Clarke’s triumph on the cobbles in week one.
“When I attacked it was basically to set the tempo for Michael Woods, and when I saw that they let me go and Mike had left a gap, I just went all in – full gas. I hung on and was suffering so badly on the steep climb. But I knew that if I had a gap of 30 or 40 seconds over the top, I could do it. It was tight but I never gave up and gained some time in the technical section. I was afraid of getting cramp and I was missing some food.
“I had one dream and that was to get the win for my brother, who died when I turned professional. Today it’s for him. I worked so hard for 10 years and today I got my win for him – it’s incredible, I don’t know what to say, I’m so happy.”
The Tour now heads to the Pyrenees for back-to-back summit finishes with no change in the top three as both Vingegaard and Thomas – in their own different ways – were able to weather the storm following the Slovenian’s attempts at cracking his rivals.
Pogacar needs a big swing in the final two days in the mountains to land a three-peat at the Tour – or at least get close enough that he has a shot going into the decisive time trial on Saturday. His task was made even harder with the withdrawal of a third team-mate after Spanish climber Marc Soler finished the day over the time limit after struggling with illness off the back of the peloton.
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