It’s not often that Hugo Houle gets to come home to Quebec. As a professional cyclist, he’s on the road over half the year, far from family. You could say his second home is on the bike, training, travelling, racing. But once a year the World Tour comes to Quebec, and his two homes converge. The Grand Prix Cycliste takes place in Quebec on September 13 and in Montreal two days later, bringing the world’s top teams to two challenging courses that call for strategy, strength – and a surprising amount of climbing. We spoke with Hugo about his first Tour de France, racing at home, and what comes next.
Argon 18: Looking back on your first Tour de France, what do you feel now? What are your strongest memories?
Hugo Houle: Just being on the start line at the Tour felt like a major accomplishment for me. I’ve been professional for nine years now, but the Tour is something special. To be there with one of the best teams in the world, finally ready to race against the best, to support and work for my team, that was really a special moment.
I had prefect preparation and training leading up to the Tour, and because of that I actually really surprised myself, and I think my teammates also. I think I progressed during the Tour and I’ve now kept that momentum. I had a really great race in [the Arctic Race of] Norway just after the Tour, coming fifth with Alexey Lutsenko winning, and I’ve had a really strong few weeks of training here in Quebec. I feel really good right now.
Argon 18: How is it racing here at home, at the Grand Prix Cycliste?
Hugo: I have a lot of attention on me now because of the Tour. People know me in the street now. But I will focus on the race, because I really want to be in top form here. It’s the only chance I get to show people here what I do when I’m over in Europe. The fans here are amazing for me, I get a lot of cheers, and I’m not used to this during a race! There are always a lot of spectators at the Grand Prix which makes the course special. But I know I’m prepared for this race – this is a great opportunity for me because I’m at the point where I feel the benefit of all the work, the payoff. I’ve been putting in a lot of training, a lot of climbing, and I’ve been working with a nutritionist to lose some weight without losing any power. At the end of the day I need to get out there and race and have fun. I know I’m ready. I’ve done my homework.
Argon 18: This is home turf for you - what are some of the things you’ll be looking out for?
Hugo: It’s the seventh time I’ve raced here, so I know how things happen. They are both circuit races which makes things a bit unusual. It’s important to be constantly attentive, and always be well-placed. In Quebec, well, it’s about positioning and saving energy to be there in the final two laps. I want to be smart about my energy management – there are some very strong sprinters who will be there, so I have to be sure I stay in a good position throughout the race.
In Montreal, they’ve added two laps this year for a total of 18 – that makes it almost 5,000 metres total of altitude gain. It’s the same as a mountain stage!
Argon 18: What’s next for you? What are the big goals on the horizon?
Hugo: Every day I’m motivated to keep training because I’m always seeing improvement. I feel that I’m progressing, and that’s the best motivation, along with what I can bring to my team because I’m here to support the other riders who are really strong, really strong racers.
But my ultimate goal is to win a stage in a Grand Tour, for my brother who passed away when I was younger. I want to win that for him. I’ve just signed on with Astana for the next three years, so that is my goal for these three years if I have the right opportunity, get in the right break, hunt for that stage win. It would be amazing to be able to do that for him.