07/12/2015 06:28 EDT | Updated 07/12/2016 05:59 EDT

Raphael Gagne a surprise Pan Am mountain bike champ

BARRIE, Ont. — To have a pair of Canadian women win gold and silver in mountain bike racing at the Pan Am Games was a wonderful accomplishment, but not a huge surprise.

Canadian women have dominated on the world stage in mountain bike racing for years. Pan Am Games gold-medal winner Emily Batty and silver medallist Catharine Pendrell were simply carrying on tradition.

To have a men's gold medallist, though, that's a different story.

Canada's Raphael Gagne pulled away from Argentina's Catriel Andres Soto on the sixth and final lap to claim the gold medal in the men's mountain bike race at Hardwood Mountain Bike Park on Sunday afternoon.

"Obviously the girls are top-ranked worldwide," Gagne said. "We're not quite there at 11th. But this here for me is definitely the biggest win of my career and it is a conformation of my strength this year. The men are improving."

Gagne finished first in one hour, 31 minutes and 14 seconds. Canada's Derek Zandstra was fourth in1:34:06.

Zandstra agreed Gagne's win will give the Canadian men's program a boost.

"It's nice to see Raph win the race, for sure," Zandstra said. "We don't have the same start at the World Cup as we do here and that makes a big difference for us. It's a good stepping stone for sure. We're always looking forward as a country to keep moving up in the rankings so this was pretty cool."

New approach

Gagne, 27 and from Quebec City, is an up-and-comer on the men's mountain bike racing circuit. He won the United States Cup this year and is second in the Canada Cup standings.

Gagne said he took a different approach to training this winter. He said in the past he felt he was running out of energy midway through the racing season so while he trained, he also enjoyed a little down time to let his body rest and recuperate.

"Some fitness and freshness in the middle of the season for me is a good recipe," Gagne said.
By the time the riders got to the last lap it was a two-man race between Gagne and Soto, the favourite.

"He was really strong and I felt like he was more of the aggressor," Gagne said. "The first half of the last lap he pulled a gap of about five seconds and held it for 10 minutes. I was able to bring it back, get myself together and then attack. The second attack I did worked and I just never looked back."

Zandtsra, 31 and from Trenton, Ont., has been racing for 20 years. He won the 2013 World Cup championship and has won five Canada Cup races as well as a Nationals race at Hardwood Bike Park.