Watson Lake’s Zach Bell is the best in the world. Period.
For the first time in his career, the 28-year-old has reached the top of the heap, securing the UCI Track Cycling men’s ranking of No. 1.
For Bell, it’s not just the time of the year that makes the achievement special, it’s the year itself.
“It feels pretty good. I’ve kind of knocked on the door in years past, been second and third,” said Bell in an interview with the News. “This time of year, it means a lot more than some of the other times (when I’ve been near the top), when it’s been early season and other guys haven’t attended races. We’re coming to the close of the season, so to get to that point now is a bit more significant.
“And being an Olympic qualifying year, with the A teams coming out, it’s a lot more significant.”
Pushing him to the top of the standings was a silver in the omnium at the 2011 UCI Track Cycling World Cup in Beijing on Saturday.
Off to a strong start, Bell took first in the opening event, the flying lap race, an individually timed race in which cyclists complete three laps of the track with their fastest determining their placement.
“You get three laps to get up on the track, get your speed going, and then you basically just go as fast as you can for one lap,” said Bell. “It’s the most sprint-like event (in the omnium) – it’s like the 100-metre dash.”
After three world cup omniums so far this season, adding up to 18 singular races, the flying lap win is the second event he has won this season, also taking first a scratch race in Melbourne, Australia, where he won silver to start the season.
Bell went on to finish fourth in the points race and the one-kilometre time trial, sixth in the individual pursuit and ninth in the scratch race in Beijing.
Showing improvement from the first two world cups, Bell took sixth in the elimination race, moving up nine positions since the last event in Cali, Columbia, where he captured a bronze.
“Big progress – that was another high point on the weekend,” said Bell. “I’m not a complete idiot when it comes to that race; I’m starting to figure it out.”
Simple compared to some other events, in the elimination race riders in last place each lap are pulled.
“It was getting pretty frustrating up to this point. We did a lot of video reviewing. I sat down with my coach, between the last (world cup) and this one, for a good number of hours just about this race. I guess it paid off.”
Consistency has been the key to his climb to the top of the rankings board, now having won two silvers and a bronze at the three world cup omniums so far this season.
For this most recent silver, Bell was just two points behind Great Britain’s Samuel Harrison in the standings with 30.
“It’s been consistency; always being up there,” said Bell. “I’ve tried not to be really in top form this year because I’m hoping to save that for the World Championships.”
As Bell looks to the World Championships, being held at the end of March in Apeldoorn, The Netherlands, he has the mettle that comes with a top ranking.
“It gives me a lot of confidence in where I am at the moment,” said Bell. “Right now it feels like whoever these countries send to the events moving forward, I’m going to be able to handle them, one way or another.”
Sport Yukon’s International Male Athlete of the Year for the last three years, Bell won a bronze in the scratch race and took in two other top-10 results at the Commonwealth Games in October.
Last August, he firmly established himself as the country’s top track cyclist winning four golds and a silver at the 2010 Track Cycling Canadian Championships.
Contact Tom Patrick at email@example.com