Posted by Editoress on 07/27/20
Today is the latest in our series - Race Revisit - where we return to a past event that took place on (or around) this date. As well as a recap of the event and links to our original coverage - race reports, results, photos and video interviews - we will also be including comments and in-depth commentary from some of the Canadian athletes who were there.
Traditionally, the Mountain Bike National Championships have taken place around the middle of July, so we are going to look at some of those over the next few days. To be a national champion in cycling is rather unique in the sports world, because it gets recognized every time a rider races over the next 12 months. Everywhere a rider competes in the world they have the right to wear the maple leaf identifying them as the Canadian champion, and race organizers usually recognize national champions in the call up to the start line. If the rider is on a pro team, their team usually has a special design ready to go quickly.
We begin our Cross-country Mountain Bike Nationals coverage with Raphael Gagne, who won the 2015 Elite men's title on July 18th, only a few days after winning the Pan Am Games title - we don't have as much coverage as usual, because it took place at the same time as the track events for the Pan Am Games. The Nationals were held in St-Felicien, Quebec, which had previously played host to the Nationals and a Mountain Bike World Cup. Raph (Rocky Mountain), Evan Guthrie (Norco Factory) and Leandre Bouchard (Cyclone d'Alma) led out on the start climb, and Gagne quickly moved into the lead, showing the form that had won him the Games title. Bouchard moved into second place with Guthrie, both just ahead of Jeremy Martin (Rocky Mountain) and Guthrie's Norco Factory team mate Evan McNeely in third place. As Guthrie and Martin faded, McNeely moved ahead of them into third place. Bouchard had second locked up, but Gagne was well out of reach at the front of the race.
Raph spoke to us from his home in Quebec City.
Going there, in my backyard, it was actually a pretty straightforward win. There has been a lot of strategy involved in past Nationals ... in Hardwood in 2013-14, and even at St-Felicien in 2012 ... with 3Rox having the numbers (Geoff Kabush, Derek Zandstra, Cam Jette, etc.). So I was just hoping that I was strong enough even if there was strategy involved. You cannot do much if someone is out front and you cannot match the speed.
I had a decent start and even after five minutes I attacked, and got a gap right away. That's how I had foreseen the race - I was either going to go conservative and really watch carefully, or I was going to try and go away early. It kind of happened naturally; I remember after the start I went to the front and just went hard. I got a gap, so then I attacked so I could make it stick, then I just did my race.
I remember it being a course that I always loved. I have raced there since I was 10-12 years old for Quebec Cups and then Nationals and the World Cup. It's the type of riding that is fast and flowy, but still some old-school technical stuff, so a good mix.
I came there prepared and with a good vibe. I even camped with a friend for the first night I got there! I had done the Monday [after the Pan Am race] in Toronto for the media then I flew home and spent two days at home before I went to St-Felicien. When I got there, I felt refreshed, even though I was at home for only 48 hours; it was good.
It means a lot to win Nationals and wear the national champion's jersey. I remember when I was a kid seeing someone being a national champion, like Roland Green or Geoff Kabush ... but, more importantly, like Marie-Hélène Premont or Eric Tourville, who were local to me. They were like idols to me, so it was more significant for me, more tangible that something like a World Cup result. When you are a young kid, you don't really know how big the world is, so that [national title] was a big achievement.
I was really happy to capture that title, especially with the momentum I had that season and it being almost local in St-Felicien. It was great to get that win, because I had been away so much with the early US Cups in March and April, and Europe for the World Cups in May, and then I was back to Colorado for a long time for the US Cup Final [which he won] and to prepare for the later part of the season. So, I was away so much but then I had the chance to race almost at home in Toronto [Pan Am Games] and then at home in St-Felicien, and after that the World Cup in Mont-Ste-Anne.
Since then in the following years I was fourth and then twice second to Peter [Disera], so I have only captured the title once, but came so close twice. It just shows how hard it is to get the title and deliver on the day. I'm really proud of that win in St-Felicien in 2015.
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