May 05 2016 0 Comments
The first events on Raph’s calendar were Fontana and Bonelli Park Us Cups, followed by the Sea-Otter Classic. With a victory and two top-ten finishes in three US Cups and a 12th place finish in UCI World Cup in Cairns, Australia, Raph has just come back from what looks like his best season start to this day. After winning the overall series in 2015, Raph's Cannondale was proudly holding #1 plate on the 2016 US Cups.
Mountain bike fans in California had the chance to whiteness some epic performance by Raphaël last month. After taking the win in Fontana, Raph battled with Simon Andreassen during the bigger part of the race in Bonelli Park, to finally finish second to the 18 year-old Danish Junior Cyclocross and cross-country World Champion.
Simon Adreassen (first) Raphael Gagné (second) and Geoff Kabush (third)
Aside from the monuments like Nino and Julian, Simon will be a major rival this year. Coming from a cyclo-cross background, Simon showed great technical skills, especially in the mud at Bonelli Park.
A muddy day on the job; Raph after the Bonelli Park XCO race
After the racing block in California, The UCI World Cup Calendar kicked off in Cairns, Australia. Raph offered a great effort, grabbing his second 12th place finish since last season.
"The heat made the race extremely challenging in Australia. I knew I had to be smart and manage my efforts so that I still had gas in the tank at the end. I started the race in twentieth place, and made it to 12th, which is a great result considering the level and the conditions. It proved me I was fit and on-track for the upcoming objectives."
Raphaël has also joined ranks of Cannondale/360fly p/b Sugoi this year, and he admits it makes for quite the change compared to his previous seasons on the World-Cup.
"Came race-day, I was used to get my gear and bike ready off the trunk of a rental car, in the parking lot. Now, we have the full setup; the RV, the tent, and always the same team of mechanics to get the bikes ready and provide race support. I always had great equipment, but now, being with Cannondale allows me not to worry about the details and focus on what counts."
Teammates Alex Grant and Keegan Swenson complete the Elite Men Roster.
This year, Cannondale launched a new XC full-suspension race bike, the new Scalpel-Si. Raph, his teammates, and other members of the Cannondale family like Manuel Fumic and Macro Fontana have been testing the bike months before the launch.
"The bike handles extremely well. The geometry is more open, allowing for a smoother ride over big obstacles, and giving the impression there is more than 100mm of travel. The wheelbase is also a bit shorter, making the bike quicker in technical sections and helping with traction."
Although Raph loves the new Scalpel-Si, he is still traveling with both XC bikes, switching from the hardtail F-Si to the full-suspension Scalpel-Si depending on terrain and conditions of each event.
He’s in Québec for a few weeks before heading back to Europe for UCI XCO World Cups in Albstadt, Germany and La Bresse, France at the end of this month. The Canadian Olympic selection will be announced at the end of June, but the last two selection events are the Germany and France World Cups, held on May 21 and 29. So no doubt here, Raph will be giving it all he’s got to try and secure a spot on the Rio team. Although most athletes his age will aim at making the selection for the Olympics, Raph entertains a different point of view on the upcoming months.
"My goal is not only to show-up in Rio. I have proven what I can do last year with the Pan Am Champs, and had a great first couple of races this year. The form is there and I really feel good on my bike. My objective is to go to Brazil and give a solid performance."
Raphael missed the Rio test event in 2015 due to issues with his visas, but has made his homework when it comes to course recon. The generally hard pack course includes a rock-garden technical section and a 3- minute hill climb, which he believes suits him well. For a preview of the Olympic course, jump onboard Julien Absalon’s BMC Teamelite below:
Stay put on Raph’s news and results this summer. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @raphaelgagne and make sure to come and cheer for him in Mont-Saint-Anne on 6-7 of august.