The plan was to keep the tempo high. That what team Astana wanted to do in the final 7-km to-go in Stage 3 of the Arctic Race of Norway.
“But we couldn’t stay in front,” said Hugo Houle after the stage. “It was too crazy.”
Houle stayed in the group and moved up to his teammate Alexey Lutsenko. At 3-km to-go, Houle pulled at the front. He was going to stay there for as long has he could. The group contained Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon – Circus), Odd Christian Eiking (Wanty-Gobert Cycling Team) and Warren Barguil (Arkéa Samsic). Barguil broke away from the group. Lutsenko and Eiking followed. Houle saw that van der Poel was suffering, so the rider from Sainte-Perpétue, Que., decided to ride head to his teammate. Lutsenko was surprised to see Houle, who was ready to work again for the Kazak national champion who started the stage second in the general classification.
“I just sacrificed. I knew I could ride my own tempo,” Houle said.
At 500 m from the finish, Barguil went. The move was too strong for Houle to counter. Ultimately, Eiking would cross the line first, followed by Barguil and Lutsenko. Barguil moved into the overall race lead, while Lutsenko remained in second place.
“We can be proud of what we did,” Houle said. “That’s Astana style. We like to attack and take the race under control.”
The Quebecer has miles in his legs from the Tour de France and the training he had to do in preparation.
“I did almost three months of climbing with Lutsenko and [Jakob] Fuglsang. Of course, they kicked my ass, but I became stronger and I learned from them. I’m really happy I’ve increased my level this year,” he said.