Quebec will still be well represented in the Tour de France. In addition to Hugo Houle, whose fifth presence seemed to him heard at the start of the week, Guillaume Boivin will also be at the start on July 1 in Bilbao.
The two cyclists are part of the selection of eight riders from Israel-Premier Tech (IPT) announced today, like their friend from Ottawa Michael Woods, a Quebecer at heart.
Boivin, 34, will be making his third consecutive appearance. Last year, he disembarked in disaster the day before the opening time trial in Copenhagen, replacing a colleague infected with COVID-19.
In poor shape compared to his usual standards – he arrived from the Canadian championships in Edmonton without having been able to sleep adequately – he had to abandon the morning of the 21st and final stage, struck down in turn by the new coronavirus which had wreaked havoc. in the peloton.
“It should be a slightly different Tour de France,” Boivin said, obviously in great shape given his emaciated face, from his residence in Andorra, where he lives during the season.
“I’m super happy to be able to return to the Tour. I hope to make a good one. We had great experiences last year with two stage victories. We are going there with a really strong team and still with great ambitions. It’s going to be hard to do as well, but that’s still the goal. »
In addition to the Quebec trio, the Israeli-Canadian team will be represented by Australian road captain Simon Clarke, winner of the cobblestone stage in 2022, Belgian puncher Dylan Teuns, Australian climber Nick Schultz, second in a stage and 22nd overall with BikeExchange last summer, Latvian all-rounder Krists Neilands and young New Zealand sprinter Corbin Strong, who will discover the Tour at 23.
“I’m going to be there a bit to support the youngsters,” Boivin said. Corbin is a good sprinter, but also handles the bumps well. So I will work with him. Apart from the sprints with Corbin, it will be chasing stages via breakaways, as we did last year. »
Two renowned runners will be conspicuous by their absence: the Danish Jakob Fuglsang, still not back to the top of his form after having missed several months due to a health problem, and especially the Briton Chris Froome, quadruple winner, third in the Alpe d’Huez in 2022, which has never managed to regain its best level since its terrible crash in 2019 at the Critérium du Dauphiné.
The two stars were, however, part of the 12 members of IPT who completed a preparatory course at altitude of nearly three weeks in Andorra and the Alpes-Maritimes, along with the eight lucky winners.
“We’re all teammates, friends, we get along, but every night you sit down for supper, the guy across the street is the guy you’re fighting to go to the Tour de France,” Boivin remarked. It’s always like that: we’re a team, but everyone is still trying to get their piece of the cake. »
In addition to his last minute recall, Boivin had to sacrifice a good part of his preparation to chase points in a context where IPT was trying to escape relegation to the second division, which ultimately proved.
Co-owned by Israeli businessman Sylvan Adams, a Quebec native, and Premier Tech, a Rivière-du-Loup multinational company majority-owned by CEO Jean Bélanger, Israel-Premier Tech was one of the two formations to benefit from an invitation from the organizers A. S. O.
In the fall, Boivin made his intention to return to the Tour clear during a meeting with team management.
“The Tour was a bit of hell for me, I want to go back and do well,” said the three-time Canadian champion. This is really my goal and what I ask of you is to give me the chance to be able to achieve it. I think they saw it the same way. They were very open to giving me this chance, but I still had to prove that I deserved it. »
The athlete who grew up on the South Shore of Montreal sealed his fate last week by contributing to Woods’ second victory at La Route d’Occitanie and his second place at the CIC-Mont Ventoux classic.
“Michael is in really great shape. I think he’s back to his 2021 level. So that’s very exciting. »
Boivin was on the osteopath’s table on Tuesday when he received confirmation of his selection from senior sporting director Rik Verbrugghe.
“I was pretty sure I was going, but until you get the call, you never know either.” I was happy to be able to tell my family and friends who had been bugging me for the past few days! »
Hugo Houle will line up for his part in a fifth consecutive Tour de France, a first for a Canadian since Steve Bauer, sports director of IPT who took part in the Grande Boucle from 1987 to 1991.
After his historic stage success in Foix last year, Houle said he was “very aware that expectations are higher”.
“It should not be neglected, but all I have to do is give my best, he tempered at the start of the week. I’m the same little guy as last year who goes to the Tour to try to perform well, to have fun, to get out of the game as best as possible and to please our team by doing beautiful results. Of course there is pressure. But there are every year. »
Antoine Duchesne, from Saguenay, was the other Quebecer on the Tour last summer. The former member of the French group Groupama-FDJ, whom he introduced to the music of the Fringant Cowboys, retired at the end of the campaign on the eve of his 31st birthday.
Boivin, Houle, Woods and the rest of the Israel-Premier Tech squad will meet in Bilbao on Wednesday for the start on Saturday, July 1.
The first two stages, which promise to be explosive, will take place entirely in the Spanish Basque Country, before the riders return to France during the third which will conclude in Bayonne. The 110th Tour will end after 21 stages with the traditional finish on the Champs-Élysées, in Paris, on July 23.