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Canada's Gee, Houle and Boivin named to Israel-Premier Tech's Tour de France team

Ottawa's Derek Gee is headed to his first Tour de France, alongside fellow Canadians Hugo Houle and Guillaume Boivin on the Israel-Premier Tech team.
Cyclist Derek Gee is shown in this undated handout photo. Ottawa's Gee is headed to his first Tour de France, alongside fellow Canadians Hugo Houle and Guillaume Boivin on the Israel-PremierTech team. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Israel-Premier Tech, Cycling Academy LTD, Phoebe Haymes

Ottawa's Derek Gee is headed to his first Tour de France, alongside fellow Canadians Hugo Houle and Guillaume Boivin on the Israel-Premier Tech team.

Gee is coming off a third-place finish in the Criterium du Dauphine, an eight-day stage race considered a key warm-up for the Tour. It marked his first WorldTour general classification podium.

“I’m unbelievably excited to be lining up at my first Tour,” Gee said in a statement. “It’s truly a childhood dream to race the Tour de France, and I can’t wait to experience the atmosphere of the biggest race in the world.

"The dream would be to win a stage and try to follow what Hugo and Mike (Woods) have done for Canada at this race in the last few years.”

An emotional Houle won Stage 16 of the 2022 Tour, pointing to the sky as he crossed the finish. Houle dedicated the win to younger brother Pierrik, who died in December 2012 when he was hit by a drunk driver while jogging. He was 19.

Woods, who finished third behind Houle that day, went on to win Stage 9 of the 2023 Tour.

Israel-Premier Tech is after more of the same in this year's race, a 3,498-kilometre trek that starts June 29 in Florence and ends July 21 in Nice.

“The main goal is to win a stage,” said sports director Steve Bauer, a fellow Canadian who raced in the Tour nine times between 1985 and 1995. “It’s a clear goal that certainly 21 other teams have as well. We have a strong, balanced and versatile team with riders able to shine in different terrains, giving us potential to be competitive throughout the race as the Tour evolves stage by stage. The competition will be fierce, but I believe in the group we are bringing to this Tour.”

“The Tour is never easy, but we know we have guys who can win," added Bauer.

He should know. Bauer fourth overall in 1988, winning Stage 2 and spending five days in the leader’s yellow jersey. In 1990, he wore the yellow jersey for nine consecutive days.

Israel-Premier Tech has plenty of other Canadian connections.

Canadian-Israeli entrepreneur Sylvan Adams is one of the team's owners. Canadians Jean Belanger, president and CEO of Premier Tech based in Rivière-du-Loup. Que., and Kevin Ham are also partners in the team.

Canadians Paulo Saldanha is the team's performance director. Israel-Premier Tech is also home to Canadian rider Riley Pickrell.

Gee won Stage 3 of the Criterium du Dauphine earlier this month, earning the right to wear the yellow leader's jersey in the general classification. He became the first Canadian to wear the leader's jersey since David Veilleux, who won the first stage in 2013 and held onto the lead for three days.

Houle finished 64th overall behind Gee. The 33-year-old from Sainte-Perpetue, Que., will be making his sixth straight appearance in the Tour.

It's a fourth consecutive Tour ride for the 35-year-old Boivin, from Montreal.

Gee was promoted to Israel-Premier Tech's WorldTour squad from its academy in May 2022. He signed a new long-term deal in June 2023 following his breakout performance at the Giro d’Italia.

Competing in his first Grand Tour race, Gee finishing second four times and fourth twice in the 2023 Giro. He placed 22nd in the final general classification standings and was runner-up to Italy’s Jonathan Milan in the points race and France’s Thibaut Pinot in the King of the Mountains standings.

The Canadian was also honoured as the Giro’s “super combative rider.”

Israel-Premier Tech's other Tour riders are Germany's Pascal Ackermann, Denmark's Jakob Fuglsang, Latvia's Krists Neilands and Britain's Jake Stewart and Stevie Williams.

Stewart, making his Tour debut and Boivin are set to help Ackermann in the sprints, while Fuglsang and Neilands help in the mountains.

Williams, making his Tour debut, won the Tour Down Under and Flèche Wallonne earlier this season.

Ackerman is also making his Tour debut but already has stage wins in the Spanish Vuelta and Giro d’Italia.

"I am pleased with our roster for this year’s Tour," Adams said in a statement. "It was one of the toughest team selections we have ever had to make which speaks of the depth of our rider roster. Ultimately, our performance team was unanimous in making these selections, knowing we wanted a team geared toward hunting for individual stages, rather than a high placing on GC (general classification).

"For the third consecutive year, our roster will boast three Canadians, cementing our position as both Israel’s and Canada’s home programs."

Woods, who crashed out of the Giro, is healthy again and will race in the Spanish Vuelta, the third Grand Tour. He is due to compete in the Canadian Road Championship this weekend in Saint-Georges, Que.

Due to the Paris Olympics, the Tour will not finish in the French capital for the first time. This year's race will take the 176 riders through Italy, San Marino, Monaco and France

The race features prize money of 2.3 million euros ($3.4 million) with 500,000 euros ($731,640) going to the general classification winner.


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 21, 2024

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press