by Aaron S. Lee
Canadian WorldTour riders are an increasingly scarce commodity in the sport of professional cycling in 2018. Only four riders currently occupy space inside the sport’s highest echelon.
Hugo Houle (Astana) is one such rarity, along with Antoine Duchesne (Groupama-FDJ), Svein Tuft (Mitchelton-Scott) and Michael Woods (EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale). For Houle, who is in the first season of a two-year contract with Kazakh-based Astana after five years with French-registered AG2R La Mondiale, a change is just as good as a vacation.
“New team, I change a bit here and there how I train and have a new motivation,” Houle told Canadian Cycling Magazine regarding the possible reasons behind recent results at RideLondon (13th) and Tour of Denmark (8th). “I really like the group here and really feel a part of it. Astana push me to another level, which is good. I also keep learning a lot with the team.
“Here in Norway we have the leading jersey and need to learn how to control the race and work harder and that’s how I progress,” continued Houle referring to Russian teammate Sergei Chernetski, who went on to win the Arctic Race of Norway (2.HC) on Sunday after ending three of the four stages in yellow.
“It’s nice to be in Astana this year and I really enjoy it. When everything is going good, the form is coming also.”
With Houle bound for Tour du Poitou Charentes in the build-up to the Grand Prix Cyclistes de Québec et de Montréal, the 2015 national time trial champion already has his sights set to race the TTT at the UCI world championships in Innsbruck, Austria, and hopefully supporting countryman Woods in the elite men’s road race.
“I will do the team time trial for Astana,” stated Houle. “I should be there to try to help Michael Woods. [Cycling Canada] has four places, so I guess I should be in the selection. I will be ready if they need me because I would like to race there for Mike. I think he has good shot to do a great result for Cycling Canada.”
As for what Cycling Canada needs to do to produce more WorldTour talent, Houle claims success starts at the root.
“We need development teams coming over to Europe,” explained Houle, who spent two seasons with Canadian-registered Professional Continental team Spidertech-C10 starting in 2011. “It’s not easy to have a consistent team in Canada. [Silber Pro Cycling] was a good team to help development at the Continental level, but that seems to be the end of the project for this year, so it’s really bad.
“Of course, Rally Cycling has a lot of Canadians,” he continued. “I think the best way is to come do races in Europe, that’s how you learn. You need a transition period to learn how it works. It’s quite different from what we have in America, and it’s not because the guys are not good.
“You need an adaptation period and you need a team that believes in you and wants to give you time to progress and learn like Spidertech did with me,” Houle concluded. “If we don’t have team Spidertech with Steve Bauer, then Hugo Houle is not racing in the WorldTour right now.”
Aaron S. Lee is a journalist for Eurosport and contributor to Canadian Cycling Magazine