With thousands of eager Winnipeg fans cheering them on and thousands more watching online, Red Truck - Garneau’s Raphael Gagne stormed to victory and a new national title over Geoff Kabush this past week at the Canadian National Championships. Local favourite, Michael van den Ham finished just off the podium in fourth while Craig Richey overcame mechanical problems to finish ninth. On the women’s side of things, Natasha Elliott narrowly lost the sprint for the bronze medal to road sprinter, Leah Kirchmann.
With three riders on Red Truck Garneau p/b Easton Cycling and three riders on Kabush’s Scott-3Rox, the Elite men’s race was destined to be a tactical matchup: A race won or lost as a result of teamwork. After Michael van den Ham and Raphael Gagne traded early attacks and dictated the pace of the race, Gagne struck out with two laps to go and established the race-winning gap.
Two laps later and Gagne hit the pavement with time enough to celebrate his impressive victory. Just seconds behind van den Ham, clearly spent after the team effort, was distanced in a sprint for third by Aaron Schooler. Craig crossed the line 9th after he suffered an untimely mechanical on the first lap of the championship race. Craig showed true grit and won the hearts of the fans, battling back through the field from a distant last place inside the top-10.
“Wow! I’m super happy to win my first title Canadian title in cyclocross,” Raphael said after the race. “Thanks to my teammate Michael van den Ham, it's a victory for team, we have worked well together. Thank you to Red Truck and Louis Garneau for their support of cyclocross!”
The victory, van den Ham explained, was no fluke, but a carefully crafted plan. “We sat down before the race and ran through some different scenarios of how things could play out and how we could make sure we had the jersey at the end of the day. We knew 3-Rox was going to race together so we went out fast and aggressive in order to put the pressure on them to chase, not us. Raph (Gagne) and I traded attacks in the hope that one would stick. I guess we were right!”
In the women’s race, Natasha was forced to settle for forth the second year in a row after a tight battle with multi-time road national champion, Leah Kirchmann. Natasha said, “The course was awesome and I raced as hard as I could on the given day, but was disappointed with another 4th place.” However, always the optimist, Natasha is already looking forward to next years national which will be held in her home province, Quebec.
All in all, it was a more than successful weekend for the Red Truck Garneau p/b Easton squad. With a national title and dominant performances at the National Championships and a day later at the Manitoba Gran Prix of Cyclocross (C2), the team has cemented their place at the pinnacle of Canadian cyclocross.