Canadian Hugo Houle raced to the best performance of his career, so far, when he finished fourth at the under-23 road race at the UCI Road World Championships last Saturday.
“Generally, I had a super season. That fourth place is my biggest result this season, even though I’m very proud of my second overall at the Tour de Beauce. The World U23 races are always very aggressive. I was able to avoid crashes which helped me be in the final group. Beyond that, I had super form so I was able to position myself well to save my legs for the finale where the final climb would be critical. At that spot, I gave it all. Everything has to go your way on a one-day race.” Houle told sportcom.ca who named him athlete of the week.
Positioning on the final climb, the iconic Cauberg was key for the 22-year old rider in the 177-km race. “During the last four laps, I always found among the first ten in the last corner before the big hill before the line. Climbing the hill, I was not too fast and I easily rode down, keeping energy.” he commented after the race on Saturday.
“The peloton regrouped with two kilometers to go, and in the last two kilometers I was sitting in fifth, behind the Belgians. With 250 meters, I told myself that I had to go. I was leading the pack at the 100m mark, but I broke down. However, I would not say I left too early. At first, I thought I could have won by going quicker, but I would certainly have been caught by the guys in the back. Everything happens so fast… I did the best I could and it was a great race.”
Five years ago, Houle finished almost dead last in the Worlds junior road race in South Africa. “The first year I did the World Championships as a junior, I finished second to last. I hit a wall then, and I thought I really was not that I was not in the “game”. Five years later, finishing fourth, it proves that with hard work we can get there, and I’m really happy. This is a great achievement. This is my best result of my short career. I’ve had a great season. I did not always have big results in Europe, and today it proves that I am capable of being there with the best.”
The three-time under-23 Canadian time trial champion also finished 13th in the World time trial championships.
Growth. The progression since that day in 2008 when he hit the wall at Worlds has been constant. As a kid growing up in a very small town in Quebec – Ste Perpetue, south of the St. Lawrence, north-east of Quebec City and not far from the northern border of the US state of Maine – Houle played soccer and raced triathlons. The focus on cycling started when he was 14 and training for triathlons have helped him excel in time trialing.
In 2009, he joined the Garneau Crocs team where he stayed for two years. During this period, he won a gold medal in the criterium at the Canada Games (2009), won the Killington Stage Race, the Kermesse Rummen-Geetbets in Belgium and became the under-23 Canadian time trial champion in 2010.
Steve Bauer was watching and he joined the Spidertech p/b C10 squad in 2011. That year, he won both the time trial and road race under-23 titles at the Canadian road championships and finished fifth in the prologue at Le Tour de l’Avenir.
2012 was a breakthrough season for Houle. In addition to his second overall at Beauce, he also won the King of the Mountain title at the Coupe des nations in Saguenay. At the Canadian Road Championships, he won the U23 Time Trial race and finished third in the Elite category.
Houle suffered in the Colorado altitude at the USA Pro Challenge but persevered to get a fifth place on stage 5 in August. His form was on its way up. At the Grand Prix cycliste de Québec, he took part in the long break. Then, 48 hours later, he protected and worked for his team leader François Parisien at the Grand Prix cycliste de Montréal.
He sees himself as more of a ‘puncher’ rather than a pure sprinter. “I am very comfortable on technical courses with less than two-km climbs, like those in Montréal and Québec. If I can be in the selection at the top, which is not always the case with sprinters, I can have a better chance at the end of the race.”
Growth and success builds confidence. “Last year was a transition year. This season, the team put their trust in me when I raced in important races such as the Tour of California, Turkey, Colorado and Utah. Those events allowed me to better my form and to gain experience. And by participating in the two WorldTour races in Quebec, it was the ideal preparation for the worlds, especially as the circuits were very similar.”
The next skill to work on will be climbing for Houle who would like to become a stage racer in the mid to long term. “I have the skills to become a good rider in those races. I’m a good time-trialist and if I can become a better climber, I could eventually get good results in the overall general classifications. My challenge this winter will be to lose a bit of weight which should allow me to be faster on the climbs.”
Houle will stay with the Spidertech squad until, at least, 2014. His final road race of the season will be the Japan Cup in October, 2012.