(Paris) Two seconds after the yellow jersey Jonas Vingegaard, Wout van Aert and the rest of the Jumbo-Visma armada, Hugo Houle and Antoine Duchesne crossed the finish line together in the 21e and last stage of the Tour de France, Sunday in Paris.
Posted yesterday at 7:15 p.m.
After another sweltering day, the sun was finally falling on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Swell finished 88e and Duchesne, 86e of the stage won by the Belgian Jasper Philipsen. It was no coincidence.
At the end of a Great Loop where he shone with all his fire, Houle wanted to give way to his friend on the wire, thus granting him the unofficial title of best Canadian and Quebecer of the stage, a matter that made them laugh.
“I let him win today, I had to wait for him,” laughed Houle.
“The yellow jersey got in our face! replied Duchesne, laughing. For once, Hugo got up to let me pass before him…”
Unfortunately, their compatriots Guillaume Boivin and Michael Woods could not join in the “fight”. The two riders from Israel-Premier Tech (IPT) had to withdraw before the start. The first was sick, the second infected with COVID-19.
It was the small shadow on this otherwise joyful day for Quebec and Canadian cycling.
Obviously, all eyes were on Houle, the great hero with his historic victory at Foix on Tuesday and his third place a few days earlier at Saint-Étienne. In the general classification, he finished in the 24e place, a peak for a Quebecer.
The native of Sainte-Perpétue was welcomed with a standing ovation at the VIP tent of the Israeli-Canadian formation. After receiving congratulations from owner Sylvan Adams, he headed to his lover Stephanie Matteau, who hadn’t seen him for a month. Their reunion took place under the eyes of everyone…
“He looks tired,” she said, watching her boyfriend’s emaciated face as they all tore themselves off on the most famous avenue in the world.
“When you enter the Champs, it’s always the conclusion of three weeks of hard work, explained Houle. It’s still a relief. We have seen it again today: as long as you are not in Paris, you are not in Paris. With the abandonment of Guillaume and Mike, it makes you realize all the more how lucky you are when you finish the Tour. I wish they were with us. It is clear that it spoils the party a little. »
In his fourth experience on the Champs-Élysées since 2019, Houle was at least able to share the day with Duchesne, his former roommate who was returning to the Tour after a six-year absence.
“It was a beautiful moment. Antoine was very relieved to have an excellent level in this Tour. He was very, very strong. It doesn’t necessarily show, he does his job as a teammate, but he did a great Tour too. We talk a lot about me, but Antoine had a good Tour. I was happy for him. »
Duchesne contributed to teammate David Gaudu’s fourth place finish. Only Vingegaard, Tadej Pogačar (UAE) and Geraint Thomas (Ineos) beat him.
The French returned the favor to the Quebecer by positioning him at the front of the peloton after entering the Champs-Élysées circuit, crowded with spectators, including many Danes who had made the trip to applaud the yellow jersey.
Not without effort, Duchesne managed to take off afterwards, accompanied by his teammate Olivier Le Gac and three other riders.
“Often, the breakaway leaves early on the Champs, but like the Tour this year, it was the hardest to take! “, said the Saguenean of origin, who was one of the last three to resist the hyenas of the peloton launched at more than 60 km / h.
The young Philipsen (Alpecin) won in the sprint to sign his second victory on the Tour. He beat Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen (BikeExchange) and Norwegian Alexander Kristoff (Intermarché).
“The best Tour he could do”
After the official celebrations, Houle got back on his bike to the team coach, place de la Concorde. His companion followed on foot.
“It’s the only one I normally attend,” said Stéphanie Matteau. It’s a great day and it’s nice to see them go through several laps. This year, it was even more exciting to wait for him at the finish. »
Employee of KPMG in Monaco, the accountant by training could not be present during the success of her spouse in Foix. She only took a few minutes on the phone.
I will admit that that day, I wish I could have been there at the finish to feel the joy he had when he won. But even from a distance, I was able to experience his victory a little with him.
Stéphanie Matteau, spouse of Hugo Houle
The Groupama-FDJ bus was the first to enter the paddock. Boss Marc Madiot raised his glass to Belgian Philippe Gilbert, “the greatest classic rider in the world”, who was competing in his last Tour at the age of 40.
In a corner, Chloé Rochette, Antoine Duchesne’s wife, was making guili-guili for Jules, the couple’s 3-month-old baby. How did he react when he saw his father who had left since the end of June? “He smiled, but he smiles at everyone, so it’s quite easy! “, she related.
Antoine got out of the bus to pose with his little family. At the same time, his parents and two sisters emerged from the crowd to join in the fun.
Her sister Sarah-Ann had lost her voice from screaming. His father Marc had climbed a post to be able to see his son during the breakaway.
“It’s the best Tour he could do, praised Mr. Duchesne. We have never seen him go so far in the passes to accompany David. He’s not a climber, we know that. »
He gave 150%, it was very impressive.
Marc Duchesne, father of Antoine Duchesne
At the Israel-Premier Tech bus, Steve Bauer, Canada’s cycling patriarch and athletic director, dipped into the cooler to offer a cold beer to the representative of The Pressraving about the level Houle has reached this year.
The principal concerned refused the one handed to him by a friend. “I prefer wine,” justified Houle, who obviously isn’t kidding when he says he wanted to do well at the Arctic Tour of Norway, in two weeks.
Houle reconnected with Louis Garneau, a longtime patron who came to greet him in Paris. It was the businessman from Quebec who gave him a cross in memory of his brother who died tragically in 2012. He himself wears a reduced model around his neck.
Houle will not return to the country before the Grands Prix Cyclistes de Québec and Montréal, on September 9 and 11.
“I’ll have time to decant it by then,” he assured, unable to measure the new notoriety he has just achieved in his native province.
“It will make me happy to be here. The Grands Prix have been working for years to democratize cycling in Quebec. If I helped and I’m part of the momentum, so much the better. That said, I really did it for my personal convictions, which pushed me to surpass myself. »
Around 9 p.m., it was still light in Paris. Houle continued to respond to the smallest requests: a selfie here, a photo with a little guy there. A team dinner was still on the program. No rest for the warriors of the Tour de France.