Raphaele Lemieux, the 34 year-old Canadian who surprised the field in RHC Brooklyn 10 with a 4th place and truly showed what she is capable of in Red Hook Criterium London No.3 by both winning her qualification heat as well as the final. In that race she beat world-class pro road, track and fixed gear cyclists including Dani King, Colleen Gullick, and Eleonore Saraiva. This win also made her the first Canadian to ever win a Red Hook Crit. Raphaele, who is an optician in Montreal during the week, already has a long history in sports as she was a top speedskater from the age of 15 and made it to the national team in cycling. We sat down with her in Montreal to find out more about how she got into the sport, how she experienced RHC London 3, and what her goals for the RHC series this year are.
Text: Brian Megens
Photography: Tornanti.cc (except below image)
I am at the Olympic Park in Montreal to recon the course of the Bike Crit which is taking place the next day. I see Josh Gieni, race director and manager of Team IBike, brooming. I ride further and notice a woman with a cap working hard to clean the course. As I come closer I recognise Raphaele Lemieux. I greet her and she greets me back with the friendliest smile. The next day I see the same woman super focussed crushing the field in the IBike Crit but winning it with dignity and respect for her fellow competitors. This is how I get to know Raphaele Lemieux during my 2 weeks in Canada, super friendly, in for small talk with everyone, always wearing a cap, and blending in with the people around her. Off the bike there is nothing that indicates that she is one of the best fixed gear cyclists in the world. However, when she changes her cap for a helmet she becomes a competition beast who is super focussed on getting the best out of herself.
On the question how Raphaele started cycling “I started when I was 15 when I was speed skater and had to find a sport which would be good training over summer. I started doing summer races when I was a junior up to the first-year senior but speed skating was always the main priority (…) I was in the national team in both cycling as speed skating and even went to World Cups. 5 years ago I got into fixed gear cycling. I always use a bike in Montreal for commuting and the fixed gear bike was just the best way to do it. Last year, I tried a fixed gear crit for the first time and thanks to the support of Ibike I can compete. I think it is a very interesting sport, it is growing fast. It is also really cool to see people from different backgrounds coming together and race. You need to train hard if you want to win but the vibe is also really chill, not too serious but serious on the moments you want to perform.”
Raphaele’s fulltime job takes up most of the time “I don’t train a lot. Every Tuesday there is a crit in Montreal where the women ride together with the U23 riders. Some crits are also held on Wednesday’s and Thursday’s in summer and during the weekend I often go for some mountainbike rides and Sunday I do interval training on the hill in Montreal.”
Raphaele entered RHC Brooklyn No.10 without any “expectation at all, but after the 4th place I decided to go for the Series and maybe see if I could get top-5.” She went to London to get that top-5 place. She started to prepare herself for London the weeks prior. “I rest a lot and did really short intense interval training, on the flat (…) The day before I left for London, the Ibike team organised a nice training on the parking lot. That one helped me a lot for RHC London 3.” In the week of RHC London 3 Raphaele “got nervous, but I in the end I have nothing to lose, I have a job, its not the end of the world if it doesn’t go your way, but in general I knew that I was pretty ready for it.”
A day prior to the race “I read the article on FGC on who to watch, and I realised that corner 3 is really important as after that one there is not a lot of place to pass (…) I knew that I needed to be at the front at the right time.” During her heat “You learn the track, you learn who to watch. I was feeling good, my aim was to be top-10, in the last laps I believed that I could win and I passed Dani King on the uphill and from there I went full gas to the finish line to win the heat and gather the extra points.”
Then of course the rain … “It doesn’t matter for me. I like riding in the rain, its not a problem for me and I actually quite like it. Most girls were scared going into the corner while for me the rain affects me more while waiting than during the race and I must say that the Aventon team helped me a lot while waiting for the heat and final. It was really nice to get help from teams that also are your biggest competition.
In the final … “I like to ride my own lines, it was easier to ride in the front and ride my own lines than slowing down and adjusting to the riders in front of you (…) You need to be in the front if you want to win. I was always riding top-5, I don’t think I was ever out of the top-7, that is how I stayed away from crashes. Everyone from that top 6-7 could win, they are all great riders so I had to watch everyone and couldn’t go for anyone specific. After winning the mid-prime I believed that I could do exactly the same tactics for the finish which meant that corner 3 was always in my mind. I attacked on the long straight, and from there heading in corner 3 to go full up to the finish line …” About her gear ratio or tire pressure Raphaele is clear “that is a secret, I think having all these details sorted helped me and that’s why I like to keep them to myself”
Her goals for the RHC general classification changed after London “Top-3 in the GC. For Barcelona we will see but I think it will be a lot different, London was really fast (despite the rain) but Barcelona is much more technical. I am excited we will see.”