Watson Lake’s Zach Bell may have retired from racing, but he hasn’t left the world of competitive cycling.
He’ll still be on the racecourse, but now he’ll be in a car – a team car.
Ushering in news of his retirement last week was the announcement Bell has signed on as director of the women’s team for Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies.
As director, Bell will plan strategy and decide how to best use the strengths of the cyclists on the team.
“If you think about the group of riders as the chess pieces, the director is the player,” said Bell. “I’ll play a big part in selecting the teams for different races, which athletes will be at which races … Right down to driving the team car, making the calls on the road with strategy and how we’re going to implement things in order to be successful.”
Bell raced for the American UCI Continental team in the 2009 and 2010 seasons. When Optum was unable to give Bell a spot on the team as a cyclist, he decided to trade his helmet for a clipboard.
“There was really only one team I wanted to race with and when they didn’t have a spot, that answered my own questions for me,” said Bell.
“It’s a good team, with some Canadians on the team, that I think can be quite successful, and I want to contribute to that,” he added. “There are two girls (Jasmin Glaesser and Kirsti Lay) on the team who are short-listed for the (2016 Rio Olympic) Games and I think I can help contribute to their success there.”
When Bell is not helping Optum’s women’s team reach its potential, he’ll be helping other cyclists do just that.
Bell, 33, has also spearheaded the creation of the Parcours Institute Inc. and Parcours Cycling, a first-of-its-kind program designed to prepare aspiring cyclists and staff for the complexities of professional riding, it was announced last week.
“The aim of is to over time create an industry that is more professional and the way to do that is to create more professional people,” said Bell. “We can boost the athletes’ careers by making them greater assets both to the teams and the sponsors and everybody involved. That’s basically what the objective is.”
Bell is also dedicated to helping aspiring Yukon athletes. A little over a year ago Bell announced the creation of the Zach Bell Rural Youth Sport Development Program, aimed at bringing Olympic athletes and national coaches to Yukon to conduct multiple-day camps with sports groups in the territory. With the partnership of Whitehorse’s Olympic cross-country skier Emily Nishikawa, the program has since been rebranded as Northern LYTES (Linking Youth To Elite Sport). It has so far been a resounding success with numerous Olympians and national team coaches visiting the territory to work with sports teams, beginning with three-time Olympic cross-country skier Justin Wadsworth in June and most recently a former NBA coach last month.
Bell’s retirement comes after a career that includes two Olympic Games, two world championship medals and multiple national titles.
It wasn’t a decision he rushed into, he said.
“Every year since the (2012 Olympic) Games it’s been sort of an examination of where I am in the sport,” said Bell. “For a variety of reasons, that answer was it’s time to move on to other things.”
Bell, 33, is inarguably one of the greatest athletes ever to emerge from the land of the midnight sun.
Not only did he compete for Canada in two Olympic Games, he raced in two disciplines.
At the 2008 Beijing Olympics he raced road, placing seventh in the points race and 12th in the men’s Madison event. At the 2012 London Olympics Bell raced track, winning the 15-kilometre scratch race on his way to finishing eighth in the men’s omnium.
In addition to winning a considerable amount of medals at national track championships – like when he won four gold and a silver at the 2010 nationals – Bell won silver in the men’s omnium at the 2009 and 2012 UCI Track World Championships.
A year later, Bell won the Canadian Road Cycling Championships in June 2013.
“In terms of performance, I think medals at world championships have to be at the top of the list. You don’t get to be second in the world if you’re just anybody. For me, that was pretty spectacular,” said Bell. “In terms of perseverance, I think winning that national championship on the road in 2013 … was big personal victory. And a big confirmation of the fact I had what it took still to be a top-level rider.”
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