By Sue George in Val di Sole, Italy
Raphaël Gagné gave Canadians more to cheer about at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championship in Val di Sole, Italy, after he finished seventh in the U23 men's cross country race. Under largely clear and sunny skies on Friday afternoon, Gagné surprised even himself with such a good race.
"I'm super happy to be in the top 10," Gagné told Cyclingnews after his race. "It was a goal of mine to make the top 15, and I would have been happy with just that."
Gagné, who won the Baie-St-Paul round of the Canada Cup earlier this month, finished 8.46 behind newly crowned U23 World Champion Nino Schurter (Switzerland) and just 20 seconds off his next best man, Dario Alejandro Gasco (Argentina).
"I felt good - even if the climbing was steep," he said smiling as his team support crew towelled him off. "There was not too much flat, which is good for a rider like me, and the technical parts were good. I can do those."
Perhaps another key was race experience on the course earlier in the week. "Doing the team relay on Tuesday was good for me," he said. The course was radically different then as it was wet and muddy, but it still gave Gagné a chance to see what it felt like in a race situation, plus get the legs going for a short, one-lap test at race pace. Of 20 teams, Canada finished sixth with Gagné, Catherine Pendrel, Derek Zandstra and Evan Guthrie.
The direct sunlight during the race was mitigated by only a few passing puffy white clouds, which left the heat to take a toll on some riders. "I cramped on laps four, five and six," said Gagné matter-of-factly when describing his six-lap effort. "But I paced myself and it wasn't too hot. I did drink a lot of water and Gatorade." The riders were seen taking feeds at almost every opportunity through the feed zone.
Gagné has another year left to go for a medal in the U23 category, but he's already looking ahead. "The Worlds come to Mont-Sainte-Anne in 2010. It'll be my first year in the seniors." It'll also be a worlds on home terrain; Gagné hails from Quebec.
Next up for Gagné is plenty of racing in Québec. After the Canadian nationals on July 19 in Mont-Sainte-Anne, the world heads there for the next round of the UCI World Cup on July 27. The Bromont World Cup will follow one week later on August 3.