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Canadian Champion Zach Bell Talks With the DP
 
By Cathy Mehl
Date: 1/15/2007
Canadian Champion Zach Bell Talks With the DP
 

Zach Bell – Canadian Cycling's Rising Star and One of It's Biggest Supporters

Written by Sara Best

As a Canadian writer and cycling fan I was really happy to get the chance to talk to Canadian track and road cyclist Zach Bell by phone in December. Bell had just returned from the Track World Cup series in Moscow, December 15-17 where he took two 9th place finishes in the points race and the individual pursuit.

Bell is currently tied for 10th in the Track World Cup standings and is also an accomplished road rider, most recently winning a stage and the sprint competition at the Tour of Shenandoah in April of 2006.

Bell has signed with Symmetrics pro cycling team to ride on both the track and the road for 2007.

As the young Canadian rider gets ready to head to Los Angeles for the third of the four-race Track World Cup series January 19-21, he took some time to talk to me about how he got here, where he's going in the sport, and why he's so passionate about promoting Canadian cycling.


Daily Peloton: So, congratulations on your two 9th place finishes in Moscow.

Zach: Thanks very much.

DP: Were you happy with your results?

Zach: Kind of yes and no. I mean, I was happy with the time I rode but there were some strange circumstances - in the points race especially. I feel like I rode better than I placed you know what I mean? Some weird things happened early in the race.

Bell talks to reporters at, Tour of Shenandoah, VA, USA, April 2006
Jeff Haden/BlackBird Images( www.blackbirdimages.com)

What kind of weird things?

Well, within the first ten laps three guys just took a lap and the whole rest of the group was just totally complacent to let them do that. In my experience anyway it doesn’t usually happen that way.

Usually guys, especially early in the race, are a little more active about trying to keep things together or at least trying to make sure they're in the move.

These three guys didn't even attack really, they just kind of rolled away and then they got half a lap and the group actually just kind of sat there till they got around and then started racing again. I was thinking, "jeez, are you kidding me?"

I think it has to do partly with the fact that the track in Moscow is pretty big and some guys are kind of intimidated by it, not so much the size, but intimidated by how long they'll have to be out there so guys are kind of hesitant to either try and go across, which is usually what keeps it together, is a bunch of guys trying to go across, but the guys trying to go across just end up dragging everything back and I think guys are a little hesitant to try to do that early on in the race.

In the end, the three guys who got the lap didn’t end up doing anything after but, because they got the lap, they finished fairly well and there were a few of us kind of right after them that had basically been fighting for most of the leftover points.

So, I mean, I think I was pretty active and pretty aggressive and it was just one of those racing circumstances that prevented it from being a much better finish.

I was talking to my director today about it and I was basically telling him that I think I've just basically got to keep racing the same and maybe in the next race stuff like that won't happen, or maybe I'll be in that weird move or something like that.

Zach Bell and Mark Cavendish at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, Melbourne,
Australia, March 2006
Rob Jones/Canadian Cyclist (www.canadiancylist.com)

Were you sorry at all to see a world record previously held by a Canadian broken by Theo Bos? [Flying 200m, previously held by Curt Harnett, 1995]

Um yeah, I mean obviously…I was actually kind of joking around with Gina [Gina Grain, Canadian pro road and track cyclist] and I said, "well, I guess we better start doing something, that was kind of the last official marker we had in the record books. I guess we better do something pretty soon." So we were kind of joking around about it.

The pressure's on.

Ya, it was sad to see it fall, but it was great that it had stood for so long.

And, in my opinion, just in watching Theo kind of mature over the last couple of years as a rider, it was a long time coming. He's phenomenal.

So he deserved it?

Oh yeah. I mean, me and quite a few of the other riders around the World Cup felt that he had a really good shot at doing it in Bordeaux last year when he was riding so well.

I was surprised to see him do it – I wasn't surprised to see him do it in Moscow, but I was surprised to see him do it this early in the year. I mean, you have to have good form to be able to do that no matter who it is.

I think it was good and the manner in which he did it demonstrated that he definitely deserved it. He did it after a whole morning of racing. He still managed to put it up so, I think he was confident that he was going to be able to do it.

Photo: Jeff Haden/BlackBird Images

And now that you're back home, do you get a break at all? When do you start training again?

Basically I'm doing a little cross training over the Christmas holiday and then I'll start back in Burnaby (B.C.) on the 27th preparing for the Los Angeles Track World Cup.

So, going back a bit, I read that you were a wrestler? What in the world made you to move from wrestling to cycling? It doesn't seem like a really natural progression.

No, basically I wrestled for a long time, like all through junior high and high school and just like any other athlete in any sport I had Olympic aspirations and the whole thing until I got into University. Basically in University it just started taking a toll on my body.

Looking back on it, the sport itself has no concept of overtraining. Like there's no one in the sport who even believes that's possible. So just the kind of training and the kind of hours I was doing, I mean, I was doing more hours wrestling when I was 14 years old then I am now on the bike.

Wow!

So, in University I started seeing a lot of other guys getting injured to the point where they weren't in the sport anymore. And I was getting injured to the point where I was struggling with the sport a lot and also just the mentality that you needed at that high of a level – at a varsity level – it was kind of getting to me and I didn't know if it was because I wasn't cut out for it or if I just wasn't thinking about it properly.

So I bought a bike and I thought, I'm just going to cross train for one off-season (because the off-season for wrestling is the summer) so I went back up north to the Yukon and was going to just do some of the fun races up there, some of the guys around Whitehorse just race every now and again and then I came back and I was just planning on cross training over the winter two days a week on the bike.

So this was just road racing then, this was before the track?

Ya, in the summer up in the Yukon it was basically just one road race I did and maybe two or three time trials and then when I got back down I was talking to my wrestling coach and said that I going to do this thing on the side and train at the Oval with just some of the club racing trainer guys maybe just over the winter because it wasn’t so abusive on my body and I did two weeks of wrestling and I just thought – "I can't do this anymore".

And pretty much from that week on I quit wrestling and was on the bike five days a week in the Oval kind of just finding my own program with some of the junior coaches there.

And when was this?

That was September 2002 I guess. So I started kind of finding my way then and I didn't really know what I was going to do but knew I was probably going to stay in Alberta and try to race some reasonable level races the next year to try it out.

So that was kind of where I started out.

Bell at the Tour of Shenandoah, VA, USA, April 2006
Jeff Haden/BlackBird Images

And then you turned pro in 2005?

2004. Last year I was with Rite Aid.

And before that Jet Fuel, right?

Yes, so when I signed on with Jet Fuel, I guess technically that was pro but I don't know. I think that last year was properly pro I guess.

So riding with a team like Rite Aid as a pro, is it what you thought it would be? Have there been any surprises?

Um, I think Rite Aid was more or less what I expected but by that time I'd kind of seen some of the operations. I knew that being pro in North America didn't necessarily mean you were actually properly professional - I knew you didn't make enough money to look after yourself.

[Both laugh]

But, ya, the racing was different than I expected, especially in the North American circuit, because, like with Jet Fuel we really didn't do that much in North America. We kind of did a lot more in Europe and that sort of thing so the NRC was - I don't want to say not as difficult – but it kind of was, not as hard training as I thought it was going to be.

They basically hired me as their lead sprinter and I was kind of like, "oh jeez" I mean, they had really no reason to do that and they were putting a lot of faith in me by doing that. And I asked the director straight out "why are you doing this?" I had no real results at that level I mean I had a couple of little good rides here and there but nothing to make them say, "okay, you're going to be our NRC sprinter" y'know?

I thought it was great though, I was glad to hear it because, in my own mind, I figured that's where my future was and once I got into it, and with some guidance from the director there – who's a genius really – it was fine.

I wasn't able to be as competitive as I'd hoped I'd be this year, but I was really hoping for a lot I think in terms of how I would perform.

But, ya, it was good, I mean, I really think that the North American circuit in general is really healthy. There are a lot of guys who are still racing for the right reasons and it's growing a lot. I found it a really positive environment to race in for the most part.

Zach Bell wins Stage 7 of the Tour of Shenandoah, VA, USA, April 2006
Jeff Haden/BlackBird Images

But you had a couple of nasty crashes this September right? What happened there?

I think I jinxed myself that's what happened.

I was coming into the last couple of races of the year - basically it was my last race on the road and my last race on the track and I just managed to lay it down both times. And I hadn't touched pavement all year.

I mean, I’d just gotten lucky, I'd been close a couple of times through the year and then at Crit Nationals – I mean, it's the U.S. Crit Nationals right, it's a big race, and some of the other teams kind of start to take a few more desperate moves and in that one, somebody (a guy who I think is probably pretty experienced) just tried to shoot a corner and get underneath a couple of my teammates and he just went down and we went right over top of him.

It wasn't like a serious, serious crash, it was just annoying because it was ten laps from the end. I mean, I was able to pick it up and get tossed back in and still manage a pretty good result so that one wasn't so serious.

But, then, at Track Nationals in the men's madison with Martin [Martin Gilbert, Sierra Nevada Kodak], I managed to hit the track pretty hard.

You had to go to the hospital?

Ya, I mean, it was precautionary and stuff but, ya, I'm still having a few problems with my hip from that. Mostly just muscle tightness and things that I can work out but I have to be a little bit more careful with things.

But I don't even know what happened there. It was a technical issue with me and Martin. We've been exchanging together so much that we're getting kind of a little bit lazy.

Overconfident?

Well, not overconfident but we've been doing the technique for so long that we keep moving more and more towards just throwing hard now, and I think some of the technique starts to slide.

Probably more on my end than his because I’m so way less experienced than he is and something about our technique was making my tires lose traction and on one of the throws, he just went to throw me in and basically just threw me into a wheelie but because he was pulling me he basically pulled me right underneath him so he landed on top of me. So, it was weird, and I'm still working out the technical bugs on that but, there was kind of nothing you could do about it. It was nobody's fault really other than my own.

So you signed with Symmetrics this fall. Why the move from Rite Aid?

There were a lot of things involved. I was pretty happy with most of the arrangements on Rite Aid. There were a few things that were quirks about the program there that were just complicating things a little bit. I mean, obviously, Symmetrics becoming the track pro team…

They're the first Canadian team to register as a UCI Track Team right?

Ya, and so that was good, I mean that was huge. Not only was it huge for me because I like the track but, because now, all of a sudden, all of this track stuff that I have done, becomes a lot more valuable for them and for sponsors and for me too just in terms of making a living right?

And I mean, I've talked to them every year pretty much since I talked to Jet Fuel really, and both sides have always been really excited about it but then goals – either goals that they had for me, or goals that I was hoping to achieve just didn't line up and so we've always been like "okay, well next year let's talk about it again and maybe we'll be going more in the same direction" and then this year everything was just perfect.

It just all worked out.

Ya, and I mean riding with a Canadian team – for me – it's just really important. Just the way they operate in trying to collect as many of the good Canadian riders that they can and try to keep them in the country and really create a stage for development of cycling in Canada.

Because, I know that Bradley Fairall announced that he's going to take a break from Symmetrics this season to race in Europe.

That's right.

You don't have the same aspirations?

Um, at this point, no. Especially the way the Symmetrics program is going. I mean, I see them and the potential in the program and the guys there, I can see this as like a career team for me.

That's great.

Ya and obviously, I think they have to continue growing, but I think that's their goal too and so I'd like to be a part of that program and I know a lot of the guys on the team are also kind of looking to create bigger and better things.

But, in terms of the European circuit, the pro tour circuit, it's something I would consider down the road – but only for a year or two. The way it is over there, I don't think it's as healthy as the North American racing circuit with the development of the scandals and stuff going on.

It almost seems as though the racing part is getting left behind.

Ya, and I mean, I think the racing is good but, there's racing and then there's life right? And the good thing about the North American circuit is that the racing is getting to that level where it's as good, but the teams and the race organizers aren't asking the riders to leave life y'know.

Especially as a North American rider I think you have to be willing to leave everything else in life to go race in Europe really. I'm not too keen on that. I look at a guy like Gord [Gord Fraser, recently retired, Health Net] and look at the kind of career he had over here and he did a couple of years in Europe and really his career is one that I look at and think "that's a solid career, that's the kind of career I could handle having" where I do most of my racing in North America and I'm able to look back on the sport when I'm done and think "that was a positive experience" and I think I could do that in North America.

And you're going to ride for Symmetrics on both the track and road. Do you have a preference between the two? Is the track really where your heart is or do you like them both equally?

It's funny because you're getting me at a really weird time of year because people who are interviewing me in mid March or May when it's road season, I always say "oh, I love the road." But now, at this time of year, I'm really excited about the track.

[both laugh] So I should ask you again in May?

Ya. They both have huge appeals for me. I really like the track as an individual kind of event, as an individual kind of effort because it's all about you and all about how you think and the strategies are different and I think that the tools that I have right now as a young rider are definitely better for the track.

And I enjoy the track community a lot more. Just because I think even at the highest level it's a lot more – at least in my experience anyway – it seems to be a lot more family oriented. Y'know you go to a World Cup and it's always the same guys and everyone's always hanging out in the same place, whereas you go to a big road race or a stage race or something and the teams kind of keep to themselves. There's some friendly talk between guys who are old teammates or whatever but unless you have some sort of previous internal experience with other riders there's not as much community going on in the road I think. It's probably because guys are just so dead whereas on the track there's a little bit more time to kind of meet the other guys and everybody's hanging out on the infield and that kind of thing so I appreciate that aspect of the track a lot.

But on the road I like the big team aspect and just racing as a team and I like the variety of racing on the road too, the different terrain and you can really excel from one day to the next where the guy who had no hope of getting you the day before can just give you your business the next day y'know?

So ya, they both really excite me and present different challenges for me.

It's great that you're able to do both.

Yes, exactly and I hope to be able to continue to do that but, I think that at some point…

You'll have to pick one.

Ya, just in terms of career right? You're running around all year when you're doing track and road. You're lucky if there's two weeks in there that you can take to even see your family and that's another thing that I've been considering a lot lately and that was another big thing about me moving to Symmetrics. They really wanted me to be based somewhere whereas people like Rite Aid and Jet Fuel wanted me to be more transient to be close to the races and kind of floating all over the US and they just tell me to get to this race or that race whereas Symmetrics said "no, we'll go to a race and then we'll come home."

That was really appealing for me, even if I didn't have a home in Vancouver yet, I could start to have a home.

Christoph Herby and Zach Bell break clear in pursuit of a lone
rider, Tour of Shenandoah, VA, USA, April 2006
Bill McCarrick (www.buffalo2step.com)

And you're still going to ride for the Canadian National Team as well?

Ya, I mean, the last two projects I did were national team projects. I mean, I'm totally open to doing that and right now the national team is really still the backbone of the track. Symmetrics is just getting into it and we're really only going to do the one major project this year which is L.A. and then after that it's really all just national team projects. But this team is really, really keen to develop Canadian cycling and that means they're trying to work really closely with the CCA and the national team program to make sure that both programs are helped.

So, me and the other guys on the team are pretty heavily involved in national team projects.

So, what are your goals for the 2007 season?

For 2007, on the track, there will be a little bit of a shift in focus for me. Obviously my main goal and energy over the next few years is to get to the Olympics, so, basically everything that me and my coaches talk about – and even the directors at Symmetrics, is what are we going to do here, over the next 18 months to make sure we're going to the Olympics.

So, all of my focus is going there. So, for me that means that I'm developing a lot of skills for the points race and that's where the energy is going right now.

In terms of straight up goals I'm working really hard to try to continue placing better and better at the World Cup level and the points race – maybe some top tens this year. I think that me and my coaches see a lot more potential there.

Ideally, I guess, if I had to put a number in there, I'd like to get a top five out of this year in Canadian international racing somewhere.

And then on the road, it depends on what the team asks. Obviously, it's whatever the team needs. But I think there's potential for every guy on the team to win a race this year at kind of the UCI or NRC level so I think that's the goal I have and I think it's the goal that everybody else on the team has. But, if it ends up that we're working for someone or they just have good form all year it's fine with me to contribute to a win like that. If it ends up that I'm sprinting well at a UCI crit or something and they work for me to do something there that's good because on the road it's always about the team result anyway so there's less personal focus like I have to do X, or Y results. Especially when I'm on a team where I feel like I can be there for a number of years, it's not like I’m going out to prove anything to any other team.

Well, it sounds like Symmetrics was really the right choice.

Ya, right now I think there is just so much potential there. So many good young guys, in combination with experienced guys like Wohlberg [Eric Wohlberg]. Especially for a Canadian rider who wants to develop and contribute to an Olympic focused program I think there isn't really another place to be.

Well that's great, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me.

Ya, no problem, thanks for the call. I'm always eager to talk about anything to do with Canadian cycling.

Good luck in L.A. Zach!

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2006 Results So Far:

9th - Points Race 06/07 World Cup #2 - Moscow

9th - Pursuit 06/07 World Cup #2 - Moscow
8th - Points Race 06/07 World Cup #1 - Sydney Aus
11th - Pursuit 06/07 World Cup #1 - Sydney Aus
1st - Canadian National Points Race
1st - Canadian National Team Pursuit
2nd - Canadian National Individual Pursuit

2nd - Canadian National Scratch Race
3rd - Pan American Championships (Pursuit)
1st - Poolsville Road Race
1st - Tour of Shenandoah Sprint Competition
2nd - Tour of Shenandoah Stage 2
2nd - Tour of Shenandoah Stage 5
1st - Tour of Shenandoah Stage 7
14th - World Championships - Pursuit
9th - Commonwealth Games Pursuit and New Canadian Pursuit Record

5th - Commonwealth Games Scratch Race
8th - Commonwealth Games Points Race
10th - Sydney World Cup


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