Hugo Houle is still happy to be at Paris-Nice, despite being last Israel-Premier Tech rider standing

Almost fifty riders have abandoned the French stage race so far, as illness rips through the bunch

Hugo Houle
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Hugo Houle maintains that he is "happy" to still be at Paris-Nice despite being the last member of his Israel-Premier Tech team standing.

All six of his teammates have abandoned, most of them through non-covid illness, as a virus has ripped through the peloton at the French stage race.

Speaking at the end of stage six in Aubagne, the Canadian said he was doing "fine in the circumstances".

"I'm super tired, but I'm doing fine I think in the circumstances," he told Cycling Weekly. "I'm happy to be here. I lost all my friends, but I'm just feeling lucky to be here. Every day is a bonus, today I felt good again. I'm riding well now, so far so good. Always fingers crossed, I didn't know there was a virus around. You go day by day and hang in there."

There are some advantages of being the only one on the team bus, with there being more room for him. He only joined from Astana in the winter, so it must be a strange introduction to racing.

"I tried to focus on my routine, it doesn't change much," Houle said, warming down on his own outside his bus. "Now nobody can bother me with the music or anything, I can go to the toilet, there's never someone there. There's good things and bad things. I have good staff so I don't feel alone."

At the end of stage six, just 109 riders remained in the race, down from the 154 who departed on stage one. Illness has been the main thing named for the attrition rate, but there have also been crashes, most notably on the headwind-affected stage two.

AG2R Citroën, Alpecin-Fenix, Bahrain Victorious, Bora-Hansgrohe and UAE Team Emirates are all down to four riders each, while EF Education-EasyPost has just three left.

Despite being on his own, Houle is feeling alright and found his good climbing legs on the final ascent of Friday's stage, despite it being the longest day.

"Today was quite a long day, headwinds," he explained. "Slowly it hurt the legs all day, I tried to stay out of the wind but alone it's hard. You slowly get tired, and actually on the last climb the legs responded well. 

"Tomorrow there might be snow, so we will see depending on the weather. I expect a really strong start, often breakaways go. It will be hard. Sunday, I will give everything, it's up and down up and down."

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