Winning a stage of the Tour de France would be a special moment for any rider, but for Hugo Houle it’s about something else.
By Sadhbh O’Shea
For the Canadian, winning a stage is an opportunity to honor his brother Pierrick who was killed by a drunk driver in 2012. He had been studying to be a police officer at the time.
Every summer when they were children, Houle and his younger brother used to sit down each morning and watch the Tour de France. Pierrik never got a chance to see the race up close and Houle really wants to get a stage win for him.
“That’s my dream, that’s my goal. I would really like to do that because we spent the summer together looking at the Tour de France,” Houle said in a video call before the Tour de France. “When we were younger, we lived in a small village and there was not much to do but we were happy when the Tour came.
“So, in July we watched the Tour de France and we had that entire morning looking at the race and he never had the chance to come to Europe. And to me, that is quite bad that he could not see this and everything. That’s why I would really like to achieve that before I stop.”
🗣️ I am really happy & proud again be part of the #AstanaPremierTech team for the @LeTour. My goal would be to win a stage, in honor of my brother. My form is going in the right direction towards the Tour & I am looking forward lining up in Brest. pic.twitter.com/DxTxzCiDOJ
— Astana – Premier Tech (@AstanaPremTech) June 22, 2021
Pierrik was out jogging in the days before Christmas in 2012 when he was hit and killed by a drunk driver. Houle went looking for him when he didn’t come home and found him lying in the road alone after the driver fled the scene.
Coping with the loss of his brother was an extremely difficult moment for the young Houle, but Pierrik’s memory is often with him now as he works hard to achieve his ambition.
“I would say at first it destroyed me more than it helped but today that’s how I see it drives me to keep pushing in train hard to achieve that,” he said.
Childhood memories and making the Tour de France
Houle and his brother would do a lot together as children, and they took up triathlon at the same time. As they grew up, their tastes in sports differed but they still had a healthy sibling rivalry going.
“He pushed me a little bit. And then after yeah, I get it stronger so we could not play. As a little brother, I was always beating in training so that he had a tough time with me,” Houle laughed.
“He was a bit like me, we have been to sport together. We’re really close. We started triathlon together. I think when he was nine, I was 12. We raced together, he was faster than me at the beginning.
“We always loved doing sport together. The parents bring us to triathlon first, and then I switched to cycling. He also came cycling, but when I got to school he started to play football and he left the bike on the side a little bit more. He was a bit more shy, but he was a really smart guy and hard worker who was doing what he had to do.”
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Sitting in his childhood home in Quebec, Houle never had intentions of turning professional. The racing in Europe always seemed so far away, and he initially began studying to be a police officer.
“It seemed so far away as it was in Europe but it was definitely nice to watch. I remember those long breakaways, and we start to find ourselves some good favorite riders in the ones who were attacking from the breakaway that we could see day after day. It was not looking this, and I didn’t say I want to be friends, it seemed like it was not possible,” he said of watching the Tour de France as a child.
Houle continued to race and in 2010 he eventually put his studies on hold to see what he could do as a cyclist. He turned professional the next year with the Canadian Spidertech team and stepped up into the WorldTour with AG2R–La Mondiale in 2013.
After watching the Tour de France on television for so many years, he made his debut at the race in 2019.
“It was pretty special. I was really happy to be there, especially the start Brussels, there was a crazy amount of people there,” Houle said. “It is really nice and unique and I had the chance to live that with one of our sponsors, who’s also from Quebec, my close friend from Premier Tech, who owns the team now.
“It was nice to live with someone from home. There are not many riders from Quebec who have achieved that. So that was a great, great moment. And also I was really proud that I could have made it. And now it’s the next step, I want to do a result on the Tour, and not just do the Tour.”
Houle is making his third consecutive appearance after returning for a second ride last year, where he thoroughly enjoyed sticking it to the other GC teams during the chaotic crosswinds of stage 5 to Privas. Houle managed to get his team leader safely through the stage without losing any time.
“I have good memories of when we had a good crosswind last year and we could really make a difference,” he said. “I had to ride really hard in front and make the selection, and have a big impact on the race. Also, the day that I got the breakaway for the first time and almost a stage victory on stage 12, where I finished seventh in the end.
“Those two moments last year I had some really good emotions on the bike, and I was happy to have an impact on the race. It has given me some motivation for this year.”