Working my way across the country, I’ve now hit the prairies. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started chatting with André Gagnon, the eighteen year old cyclist and sailor out of Saskatoon.
André was Western Canadian sailing youth champion in 2018, despite also being a competitive road cyclist for the last three years! He’s not afraid to travel, having just ridden on his own from Vancouver to Tijuana, and when he gets back from Nevada’s desert, he’s hoping to throw down for a season and work his way up cycling’s competitive ranks. He can also do a backflip, I saw it on Instagram.
Who is your coach?
Russel Down. The Sask Provincial coach.
What are your most notable results from 2018?
10th Place in Stage 7 of Tour de L’Abitibi.
Are you training anywhere warm this winter?
Yes, I recently just completed a solo bike tour from Vancouver, B.C. to Tijuana, Mexico. After this, I went home to Saskatoon for about a week. Following that week, I flew to the East coast of Mexico, to go train near Progreso. It was hot and the roads were beautiful! After that adventure, I went home for around another week. Team Sask, Alberta and Nova Scotia then combined to form an Endurance Training Camp in the Washington, Utah area. Another great week of training. As I write this, I am now in Las Vegas. I will be here for another week. The next stop is California. Hoping to have all this training pay off at some races!
Who are your biggest role models and sources of inspiration?
B’yauling Toni – This guy is actually a good friend of mine. He recently completed a lap around the world at 18 years old! I met him through the Outdoor School program in Saskatoon. When we found out that we were both into cycling and the outdoors, we clicked. We’ve been friends ever since! B’yauling has shown me that the most common path isn’t necessarily the best one to follow. It all depends on your goals and aspirations. You do you!
Russel Regier – Russel was a very influential person in my life. I was introduced to him in Grade 4, as a student in his gym/music class. He taught me that life was all about making choices. Some choices good, others not so good. One of his favourite games was this reward system he put in place. If you did something well, you got a little credit towards a fake store he set up. At this store, you could use your credit to get something small like a candy. Or, you could put it in the “bank” to get something big like an instrument bag or a pick holder. He subconsciously taught me to save for what I wanted and that discipline is tough but it pays off.
Where’s the coolest place you’ve ever raced?
Definitely Olympia, Washington at the Rapha Junior Stage Race. We were racing beside giant smokestacks at a nuclear power plant. Totally awesome and out of the norm for myself.
What is the biggest setback you’ve experienced?
In early 2018, I decided to take some time off the bike in order to focus on school and work. It really took a toll on my training and I didn’t get much racing in. I was saving money but felt like there was something missing and I was going nowhere. Luckily, my coach told me about Tour de L’Abitibi. There was a spot for a guest rider on team Nova Scotia. That got me back in the saddle.
I heard that you had ambitions to get onto a bigger team for 2019. Did you apply to any? What was the process like? What did it do to your motivation when you didn’t get on a team?
Yes, I applied for a team out of B.C.. I sent in an email with my race resume and a little about myself. I got accepted but after reading the contract, I decided that for financial reasons and personal goals, I was better off to stay with Team Sask. It’s nice to know that I’m wanted on a team so my motivation skyrocketed. This year, however, I will hopefully achieve some results and apply to teams that will match the support I’m looking for.
What is it about cycling that captivates you?
In road cycling, you can do a lot of individual training, but in the end it’s a team sport. It’s all about managing efforts and using the best yourself and teammates have to offer.
Is there any part of bike racing that scares you?
Doing all that training and still having the possibility of a mechanical, flat, or crash.
Other than cycling, what do you do to find balance?
I am a sailor, so I like to get out to the lake as much as possible. Getting on the boat helps me reset my mindset. Being only focused on one thing, going fast.
What’s something interesting about you that few people know?
I’ve adapted a minimalist lifestyle so I try to keep only things that bring value to my life. This helps keep my life uncluttered. It’s also a lot easier to do the things I want to do. When you have less, you have less to worry about.
What sort of positive change would you like to see to improve opportunities for developing cyclists in Canada?
Some more funding would be awesome. As someone that doesn’t like to rely on their parents for dollars, this would be great. I think if there was more funding, youth would be a lot more likely to get into the sport. It’s really expensive to get into right now and brings an all or nothing attitude. I think that’s where most people decide to try another less committed sport.
What’s one of the hardest lessons you’ve had to learn as a cyclist?
It’s important to clean out road rash correctly. Wound care is work but it’s necessary to prevent further complications.
As a Prairie kid myself, the winters and topography really frustrated me during training, not to mention the fact that you essentially have to travel to race. How have you found these challenges and worked with them?
It’s definitely tough. Really tough. Not only do you have to commit financially but also take time off work and school. Living in Saskatchewan, it’s really tough to get to competitive races. These races are what I need to develop as an athlete to figure out my strengths and weaknesses. More local competition would be really nice. I usually just end up working as much as I can beforehand and doing homework on the road.
Any tips for other young, ambitious cyclists?
Work hard, save up and make connections.
What does a perfect race look like to you? Course profile? Weather?
Rolling hills, a strong team, 10-15 Celsius, and a downhill finish.
Where would you like cycling to take you?
I would like to make cycling a career.
I love feeling inspired after an interview. André, thanks for the inspiration to continue to travel and ride – something I’ve been trying to do for a while now. Looking forward to hearing more about your travels and following along as you work your way up the ranks!
Oh, also, André’s right about cleaning road rash folks. Nothing like a calf turning black and swelling to the same size as your thigh. Not that that’s happened to me… I know a guy.
Oliver Evans 20-year-old cyclist from Winnipeg, currently living in Victoria. In 2019, he will race with Trek Red Truck Racing.