FOIX, France (AP) — Canadian cyclist Hugo Houle claimed an emotional first-ever grand tour stage victory on Tuesday, while Jonas Vingegaard stayed in the overall lead of the Tour de France after a tough 16th stage as the race hit the Pyrenees.
Houle attacked on the approach to the final climb, the top category Mur de Péguère, and held off the group of chasers from the remnants of the breakaway to finish one minute, 10 seconds ahead of Valentin Madouas and Israel-Premier Tech teammate Michael Woods.
Houle had plenty of time to reach his arms out in celebration on the approach to the line and point to the sky in memory of his brother, Pierrick, who was killed 10 years ago in a hit-and-run car accident while out jogging.
“This one is for my brother,” he could be heard saying as he was embraced by his team after the 178.5-kilometer (111-mile) leg from Carcassone to Foix that featured four classified climbs — including two top-category ascents.
“This means a lot to me,” Houle told reporters shortly afterward, with his voice breaking as he struggled to hold back the tears.
“I had one dream: win the stage for my brother who died when I turned professional. Today that one is for him. I worked for 10, 12 years and today I got my win for him, so it’s incredible. I don’t know what to say, just so happy.”
The 31-year-old Houle had crested the final climb with a 25-second advantage and his task was made easier when American cyclist Matteo Jorgenson — who was second at the time and in hot pursuit — slipped out on a corner, leaving only Woods with a realistic chance of catching his compatriot and teammate.
It was only the second time a Canadian has won a stage in the Tour, and the first in 34 years.
Two-time defending champion Tadej Pogačar tried to attack several times on the penultimate climb of the Port de Lers — twice on the ascent and again on the descent — but Vingegaard stayed on his wheel.
They crossed the line together and Vingegaard maintained his lead of 2:22 over Pogačar and 2:43 over Geraint Thomas, the 2018 champion.
Wednesday’s 17th stage is an even tougher day in the Pyrenees with three top classified climbs, as well as a second-category ascent, on the 129.7-kilometer (81-mile) route from Saint-Gaudens with a summit finish at the ski resort of Peyragudes.
“Tomorrow and the day after, I’m looking forward, it’s going to be more chances than today I hope, and we will see how the legs are,” Pogačar said.
“I will continue to fight and I hope that I gain some time. I will always try … it’s going to be interesting tomorrow and the day after.”
The Tour ends on Sunday in Paris.