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Israel-Premier Tech close in on valuable UCI points haul at Arctic Race of Norway

HAUTACAM FRANCE JULY 21 Hugo Houle of Canada and Team Israel Premier Tech competes during the 109th Tour de France 2022 Stage 18 a 1432km stage from Lourdes to Hautacam 1520m TDF2022 WorldTour on July 21 2022 in Hautacam France Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
Hugo Houle (Israel-Premier Tech) at the 2022 Tour de France (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

With three-quarters of the Arctic Race of Norway over and done with, and just the hilly final stage in Trondheim left to race, Israel-Premier Tech enjoy three men within striking distance of the race lead – not to mention a very valuable potential UCI points haul.

Following the queen stage to Skallstuggu on Saturday, which saw Hugo Houle and Carl Frederik Hagen take third and fifth places, respectively, the pair now occupy third and seventh on GC, with Krists Neilands further back in 12th place.

The team is currently part of a big battle to make it into the top 18 places on the UCI team ranking and secure a WorldTour spot for 2023 – or, failing that, to be among the top two ProTeams next year. Should they retain their Arctic Race GC placings on Sunday, the team looks set for a valuable 205-point haul.

"Everybody did well today," said Nicki Sörensen, the team's directeur sportif, after the stage, which saw Israel-Premier Tech lead the way into the final 5.4km climb.

"We made a plan last night and they all did their part today. Cole [Kessler] was the first one to work before Sebastian [Berwick] took over to set a hard pace leading into the climb. Simon [Clarke] did the last part and then our three GC guys all did well on the final climb."

"The goal for today was not only to go for a result on the stage, but also to keep three guys in the mix for the GC ahead of tomorrow's stage, which may be even harder than the stage today. We managed to do that and I'm very happy with the way everybody performed today. Great work all around!"

Houle is the best-placed of the team's three riders on GC heading into stage 4, the Canadian Tour de France stage winner lying nine seconds down on stage 3 winner and race leader Victor Lafay (Cofidis).

He said earlier in the race that the team would be looking to race aggressively, as they had at the Tour when he and Simon Clarke delivered a pair of stage wins, rather than thinking specifically about UCI points.

"Everyone is aware of the situation," Houle said. "It's important that we perform to our level, and I think we cannot change the way we race. We have what we have in the legs and that's what is the most important.

"Of course, we see it getting more and more coverage in the press but on my side I still focus on what I can do. The idea is to try to win the race and points will come with it."

Houle, who will race the GPs Québec and Montréal as well as European Classics to end the season, said that the team will be looking for success wherever they can find it to end the season, also noting that the first year (2020) of the three-year ranking is what has held the team back in their quest to remain in the WorldTour.

"If we win races, we will have the points," he said. "It's important that we have success in the biggest races, like a WorldTour one-day race, coming up. I think we have the riders to be good.

"We didn't have the results that we expected in the beginning of the season and we're also carrying that, and also the first year of the team in the three-year rolling was not great. So, it's also another thing that doesn't show from this year. I'm still confident we can do it, but we have to be good. We have to fight until the end."

The team, who recently added Dylan Teuns in a mid-season transfer, is safe to continue for a long time in the coming years with their current backing, even if they are relegated for the WorldTour for 2023, said Houle.

"No matter what happens this year, this team is there for the long run, for a long time. We are lucky that we have a strong backer behind us with Sylvan Adams here and Premier Tech joining.

"So, whatever the situation is here, we have to give our best, but I think our team is in a pretty good situation and, no matter what, we will come back and try to get to the top-level teams in the world."

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