FOIX, France — Hugo Houle pointed at the sky as he crossed the finish line well ahead of the competition in Stage 16 of the Tour de France.
After finishing the hilly 178.5-kilometre stage through the Pyrenees from Carcassonne to Foix in four hours 23 minutes 47 seconds _ 1:10 ahead of France’s Valentin Madouas and Israel-Premier Tech teammate Michael Woods of Ottawa — Houle dedicated his historic win to his younger brother.
Pierrik Houle died in December 2012 when he was hit by a drunk driver while jogging. He was 19.
“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.”
Houle, from Sainte-Perpetue, Que., realized that dream when he raced to his first Grand Tour stage win on Tuesday, and the first stage win by a Canadian at the Tour de France in 34 years.
Steve Bauer, now sporting director at Israel-Premier Tech, captured the opening stage of the Tour in 1988.
It’s the second podium finish for Houle at this year’s Tour. He finished third in Stage 13 on Friday.
Houle’s teammate Michael Woods of Ottawa was third, making for an unprecedented day of success for Canada at the elite Grand Tour cycling race.
Madouas was second on Tuesday and Woods finished third for his second career Tour de France podium. He was third in Stage 8 of last year’s race.
Houle moved up seven spots to 26th in the overall classification. Woods moved up 11 spots to 36th.
Denmark’s Jonas Vingegaard retained the yellow jersey as the race’s overall leader.
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 over the leg that featured four classified climbs — including two top-category ascents.
The 31-year-old 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.
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.
Antoine Duchesne of Saguenay, Que., riding for Groupama FDJ, was 62nd in the stage and 71st overall. Montreal’s Guillaume Boivin, also of Israel-Premier Tech, was 95th Tuesday and 131st overall.
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-kilometre route from Saint-Gaudens with a summit finish at the ski resort of Peyragudes.
The Tour ends on Sunday in Paris.
— With files from The Associated Press