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Canadian Houle races to third in Stage 13 of Tour de France

Hugo Houle Hugo Houle - The Canadian Press

SAINT-ETIENNE, France — Canadian rider Hugo Houle finished third in Stage 13 of the Tour de France, narrowly missing Canada's first stage victory in 34 years.

The Israel-Premier Tech cyclist from Sainte-Perpetue, Que., was in the lead group of three riders that broke away from the pack with 20 kilometres to go in the stage.

Danish rider and former world champion Mads Pedersen launched a sprint with 300 metres to go and held on for his first Tour de France stage victory in four hours 13 minutes and three seconds, finishing just ahead of Britain's Frank Wright and Houle.

“I’m really happy with the way I raced today. This is a good step forward and it gives me even more motivation for the next stages," Houle said after his first career Grand Tour podium finish.

It was the third stage win in four days for Danish cyclists.

“I finally take the win I was looking for," Pedersen said. “Coming to the Tour, I knew my shape was good but I missed the opportunities in the first week. I took my chance today. It’s really nice to get the reward."

Houle's result moved him up eight places in the overall classification to 35th, 1:06.09 behind race leader Jonas Vingegaard.

“The guys are solid sprinters and I’m a bit limited with my weight here but I am really happy that I could stay with Mads Pedersen in the final and get the third place," Houle said. "With the breakaway that we had, I think I can be proud of this result.

"That’s my best race ever in the Tour and I’m moving one step forward in the good direction to get that win but I showed today that I am in shape and was there when I needed to be.”

Houle's previous best Tour de France stage result was a seventh-place finish in Stage 12 of the 2020 race.

The only Canadian to win a Tour de France stage is Steve Bauer, who took the opening stage in 1988.

Bauer is the sporting director at Israel-Premier Tech.

Houle's teammate, Montreal rider Guillaume Boivin, also had a strong performance in Stage 13, finishing 17th. He rose eight spots in the general classification to 134th overall.

Antoine Duchesne of Saguenay, Que., riding for Groupama FDJ, was 63rd in the stage (No. 91 overall), and Ottawa's Michael Woods, also of Israel-Premier Tech was 97th in the stage (No. 62 overall).

Pedersen was crowned world champion in 2019. He also won Gent-Wevelgem two years ago but had never tasted victory in a Grand Tour.

Following two brutal days of racing in the Alps, Vingegaard enjoyed a quiet day in the pack, well protected by his Jumbo-Visma teammates.

Two-time defending champion Tadej Pogacar, who gave away the yellow jersey during the first big mountain stage at the Col du Granon, did not try anything to unsettle Vingegaard during the 193-kilometre Stage 13 which started in Le Bourg-d'Oisans.

Their battle is expected to resume next week in the thin air of the Pyrenees mountains before the race ends in Paris in nine days.

Pedersen was the first attacker of the day amid a flurry of unsuccessful moves on large sections of road. A group of three riders finally went clear in the short côte de Brié climb.

Two-time time trial world champion Filippo Ganna was first at the top ahead of Stefan Kung and Matteo Jorgenson. The trio was joined by Pedersen, Houle, Quinn Simmons and Wright.

They opened a gap of about two minutes as the peloton of main contenders looked happy to let them go after a frenetic opening hour of racing.

Sprinters' teams, however, remained vigilant and made sure the breakaway’s lead did not grow too much.

Alpecin-Deceuninck and Lotto Soudal joined forces to set a strong pace until Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan missed a turn and crashed. The incident changed the dynamics of the stage, since Lotto-Soudal riders waited for their teammate, leaving the responsibility of the chase to others.

Back on his bike, Ewan found shelter behind a team’s car and gradually made his way back but the Cote de Saint-Romain-en-Gal climb proved too difficult and the diminutive rider was eventually dropped.

The breakaway group extended its lead to 3:30 until Team BikeExchange-Jayco riders decided to pull the peloton for ace sprinter Dylan Groenewegen. But it was too little too late and they gave up the chase once they realized they would never close the gap.

— With files from The Associated Press.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 15, 2022.