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Tour de France stage 16: Hugo Houle soloes to Canada’s first stage win since 1988

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Hugo Houle (Israel Premier Tech) won a daring solo attack Tuesday to take Canada’s first stage at the Tour de France since Steve Bauer triumphed in 1988.

The Canadian jumped out of an all-day breakaway to win the exciting, attack-riddled 16th stage across the French Pyrénées in the first of three climbing days that could decide the 2022 Tour.

Teammate and compatriot Michael Woods crossed the line third, with Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ) in second. American rider Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar) slid out while chasing on the descent, and crossed the line fourth in his third top-5 of his debut Tour.

Two first-category climbs stacked up in the final half of the 178.5km stage from Carcassonne to Foix spiced up the day’s racing, with a lead group of stage-hunters racing for the win, and the GC group swapping punches for the yellow jersey.

The stage win was the first by a Canadian since Bauer won a stage in 1988, who also wore the yellow jersey for five days and finished fourth overall.

“I never won a race, so I guess it’s the right place to win my first race,” Houle said. “When I attacked, it was set to the table for Michael Woods. When I went, I went full-gas, and in the end, I was hanging on. I know if I go to the top with 30-40 seconds, maybe I could do it. It was tight.

“It was a long time at 30 seconds, I never gave up. On the technical section I gained some more time, when they said 1 minute, I knew I was going to do it. I was cramping because I could not get to the car for the last 60km.

“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.”

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Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) fended off attacks from Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) to retain the yellow jersey.

There were some shakeups in the top-10, with Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) moving into fourth and David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) into fifth.

Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers slipped from fifth to sixth, with Romain Bardet (Team DSM) falling from fourth to ninth.

Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe) rode into the breakaway, and nudged from 11th to eighth.

Two races within one on the Mur de Péguère

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Tadej Pogačar delivered on his promise to attack. (Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images)

It was two races within in, with the remnants of an early breakaway challenging for the stage win, and the GC rivals trading punches for the yellow jersey.

There were riders all over the road going into the day’s final major climb at the Mur de Péguère (9.4km at 7.8 percent).

A group of 14 hit the base to challenge for the stage, with Matteo Jorgenson, Brandon McNulty, Michael Woods, and Hugo Houle in the lead stage-hunting pack that also included Wout van Aert, Damiano Caruso, and Aleksandr Vlasov.

A GC bunch of about 30 riders regrouped to chase behind at about seven minutes coming to the base of the final climb, with Pogačar living up to promises to attack on the previous climb to put Vingegaard under pressure. Movistar set the early pace.

Up the road, Houle peeled away early out of the break to open nearly a minute gap to the chasers raised hopes for the first Canadian stage win since Steve Bauer in 1988. Jorgenson and Woods chased over the summit at 25 seconds back.

In the GC group with about 29km to go, Rafal Majka surged to the front and quickly blew up the leaders on the steeper ramps. Pogačar, Vingegaard, Sepp Kuss, and Nairo Quintana held the wheel, while Thomas and Yates paced a few bike lengths behind, with others trailing off the pace.

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Majka suffered a mechanical with 2km to go on the climb and Kuss pushed the pace on the front, with Thomas, Yates, and Gaudu going out the back. Bardet was also losing time and sliding backward on the GC.

The long, twisting downhill saw the top GC leaders regroup, with Van Aert, McNulty, and Dani Martínez joining the front after riding into the early break to help pace their respective leaders.

With 17km to go, Houle was up the road about 35 seconds clear of the chasing Jorgenson, with Woods marking the wheel. Jorgenson slid out on a left-hander with about 12km to go to lose his chances for victory, but he was able to continue in the chase.

Big break goes up the road

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Fans watch the peloton in stage 16 at the Tour de France on Tuesday. (Photo: ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images)

Two early climbs set the stage for a big breakaway, and the peloton delivered on expectations.

Nearly 30 riders pulled clear, including Simon Geschke (Cofidis) racing to protect his lead in the King of the Mountains jersey. Also present was a strong North American contingent, with Michael Woods and Hugo Houle (Israel Premier Tech), Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost), Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar), and Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates).

Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo) and Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco) tried in vain to bridge across, but didn’t make it.

One rider drawing attention was the presence of Alexsandr Vlasov (Bora Hansgrohe), who started the stage at 11th at 10:32 back.

The gap grew to north of seven minutes at the halfway point, pushing Vlasov near the top-5 on the virtual GC. The Russian was showing signs of recovering from crashes that derailed his podium ambitions early in the Tour.

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Key helper Marc Soler of UAE Team Emirates was suffering near the back at the halfway mark after vomiting during the stage.

Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious) surged out of the breakaway near the approach of the first of two first-category climbs at Port de Lers as the big break inevitably broke into pieces. Woods gave chase with under 70km to go and about six riders gelled together at the front.

In the GC group behind, Pogačar delivered on his promise and attacked with about 3km to go. Vingegaard marked two fierce accelerations, and Pogačar jumped again just coming over the summit.

It was game on coming onto the day’s final climb. The main victim at this point of the race was Romain Bardet (Team DSM), who lost touch near the summit.

More riders out of the Tour de France

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Only three riders remain on the team for the closing stages at the Tour de France. (Photo: Sergei Gapon/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The 16th stage started with several riders not taking the start. Jakob Fuglsang (Israel Premier Tech) didn’t start due to a broken rib from stage 15. Lennard Kämna (Bora Hansgrohe) cited a cold, while Ag2r Citroën lost Mikaël Cherel and Aurélien Paret-Peintre and Max Walscheid (Cofidis) to COVID-19.

Only six teams started the stage with all eight starters still in the race, including Ineos Grenadiers.

What’s next: Peyragudes summit finish

The 2022 Tour continues Wednesday with the second of three straight climbing stages across the Pyrénées. The 129.7km stage starts in Saint-Gaudens and ends at the Cat. 1 Peyragudes summit.

The short and explosive stage features the Col d’Aspin at 65km and a second-category climb quickly after that. A long descent brings the peloton to the Cat. 1 Col de Val Louron at 109.5km.

The summit finale at Peyragudes returns to the Tour for the fourth time. The steep final climb should produce some fireworks, with Romain Bardet the last winner in 2017.

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