(Copenhagen) The sun sets late in summer in Denmark. It was after 8.30pm when Hugo Houle took a seat on the front terrace of his hotel in Copenhagen on Tuesday. He had to change places to hide from the rays that blinded him.
Posted at 5:00 am
Two tables down, Steve Bauer shared a beer with a Canadian massage therapist and two PR pros from the Israel Premier Tech team. The mechanics spoiled the bikes in the parking lot.
A few hours earlier, Houle did what all Copenhageners do: he took one of the countless cycle paths to stretch his legs. But no cargo bike for him. More like a brand new time trial racer, which he will be testing on Friday’s first stage of the Tour de France.
Directly from the hotel we went along the coast of the island of Amager, where the airport is located. About thirty kilometers round trip, entirely on a bike path.
I have two new bikes. I test the material. I want to make sure everything is in its place.
For the 24the The big start of the Tour de France will therefore take place abroad – a very profitable adventure for the organizer ASO. Denmark, which reportedly paid about 90 million kronor (CAN$16.384 million) for hosting, is the most northerly tourist destination on record.
The event kicks off on Friday with a 13.2km time trial where Houle will have absolutely no claims. Two stages on the road follow, Saturday and Sunday, promised to the big riders and where the wind will likely be the deciding factor.
“The goal for the first week will be to stay on the bike,” summarized the 31-year-old Quebecer. The roads are exposed, there is wind, there is sea, there are canals. It can lead to curbs. But no matter: you would draw a straight line at the Tour de France and half the peloton would manage to pull itself down! The stakes are so big. The runners are more nervous, they take risks. »
In great shape
As so often, his mission will be to protect Jakob Fuglsang, one of the local heroes. In theory, the 2016 Olympic runner-up isn’t aiming for the overall ranking… but a little bit. Will revisit after week one when the peloton has returned to Northern France.
From there, Houle will find rougher ground to express himself and a little more freedom. At least he hopes so. On his fourth straight tour, he feels like he’s holding one of his all-time best forms. He recovered well from the Tour de Suisse (15e), where he went flat for Fuglsang (3e).
Tour is the season to shine. We are all familiar with the problem. For me it’s more of an encouragement. I’m ready, my homework is done, I can’t wait to go.
According to Houle, he shows his desire to sign a first win in Europe. He therefore wants to slip into breakaways in the stages with a clear gradient.
“That remains my goal for this year or my career in general. It’s my biggest dream: to finish a stage in the Tour de France. »
It would have an even more special flavor with Israel-Premier Tech, a team with strong Quebec and Canada flavors.
Owner Sylvan Adams is a Montrealer who now lives in Israel and made his fortune in real estate. Premier Tech is a multinational company based in Rivière-du-Loup. Jean Bélanger, his majority shareholder, has become a friend. Canadian cycling legend Steve Bauer, former Tour yellow jersey, is one of the three athletic directors.
There are also friends like Michael Woods, who a little later ended up in a hotel with the rest of the contingent in Andorra or Girona near Barcelona. The mountaineer from Ontario is also aiming for a stage win.
Not to mention Chris Froome, one of those rare quadruple winners who, three years after his dreadful crash at the Dauphiné, is still trying to get closer to his then level.
“When I rode for SpiderTech, I never imagined I would ride the Tour de France,” said Houle. I’m doing it there with a team that’s practically from home and with people we know. It’s still exceptional. It motivates me personally to get even better and to give the maximum for a team that I am even more connected to. »
With an uncovered face
Romain Bardet was surprised on Twitter to have to rub shoulders on the crowded plane with “90%” of passengers not wearing masks. “First stress test,” wrote the Frenchman from DSM training. On our flight between Amsterdam and Copenhagen, Frenchman Bryan Coquard from Cofidis and Italian Fabio Felline from Astana had it on their noses. Hugo Houle, he noticed a certain relaxation between Nice and the Danish capital. “Half the runners didn’t have one on the plane. I’ve seen very well known runners there for the general who wasn’t wearing one. “Faced with renewed cases in Europe and during the Tour de Suisse, the Quebecer is not taking any risks: he kept his N95 mask for the interview, which took place outside. The starters of the Tour de France must all undergo a PCR test on Wednesday before the official presentation in the evening in Tivoli Park.
The Montreal-Amsterdam-Copenhagen journey was not easy: 26 hours door-to-door, the same time to get to Tokyo or Beijing for the Olympic Games. Like Montreal-Trudeau, Amsterdam’s Schiphol International Airport has been particularly hard hit by staff shortages since the post-pandemic recovery. The queues at European customs were impressive on Tuesday. With a computer problem at KLM, it was the perfect storm. Luckily, Hugo Houle is a patient guy.