Since mid-summer, Watson Lake’s Zach Bell has firmly established himself as Canada’s best track cyclist, winning four golds at the nationals and a bronze at the Commonwealth Games.
If he keeps the strong results coming in, and improves his performance in one event in particular, he very well could be the world’s top-ranked track rider in the new year.
For the second time in three weeks, Bell was on the podium at a World Cup event. After winning silver at the season opener two weeks ago in Melbourne, Australia, Bell followed up with a bronze at the UCI Track Cycling World Cup Tour in Cali, Colombia, on Friday.
“Yeah, it went pretty well,” said Bell. “It’s another qualifying event for the Olympics and it pretty much went exactly the same (as in Melbourne). There were a couple different guys there, but I was relatively as strong in the same events as I was before, and I struggled in the ones that gave me problems before.
“It’s what we expected. There were only two weeks between and with the travel, all the way back from Australia and the travel down to Colombia, there wasn’t time to do much work.”
The two hardware-winning performances places the 28-year-old at No. 2 in the world track cycling rankings, just two points behind England’s Clancy Edward. With this being an Olympic qualifying year, a No. 2 ranking is more impressive than it was just a year ago, said Bell.
“This is different because it’s a culmination of events, and it’s an Olympic qualifying cycle, so everything means a bit more,” said Bell. “It’s more significant to be where I am now, opposed to last year where the events weren’t part of Olympic qualifying. So the fields tend to be a little bit thinner through the year; people do the bare minimum to qualify for world (championships).”
The two World Cup events were omniums: a culmination of six different races into one. Like in Melbourne, Bell struggled with the newly added elimination race, in which trailing riders are removed every two laps, placing 15th. However, Bell increased his standings with an eighth in the individual pursuit, second in the scratch race and fourth in the time trial to move into third by the end.
“I’m definitely struggling a lot more with (the elimination race) than the others,” said Bell. “Because it is so new, there’s a lot of guys making adjustments. I think a lot of guys made the same mistake as me in Melbourne and when they got to Columbia they tried to make the same adjustment I made. So, basically, it worked out to a lot of us doing the same thing.
“That type of race has a real pattern of how you move to the front and move to the back and it’s all about your timing, so you’re not on the back when you shouldn’t be.”
In Melbourne, Bell started out the elimination race in front and then tried to stay in “a pocket” in the middle of the field but slid to the back at the wrong time, also finishing 15th.
In Cali, Bell was more aware of his timing to break out from the back of the pack.
“But with 20 guys trying to do the same thing – and you can only go four-wide on the track – you can only get so many guys through.
“What’s good is that while that event is giving me so much trouble, I’m still making the podium,” he added. “So when I figure that out, hopefully, I’ll be pretty unstoppable.”
Through cycling in omnium events, which were reintroduced to World Cup cycling just a couple years ago, Bell and Canadian teammate Tara Whitten, who took second in the women’s event in Cali, have developed a new appreciation for the team effort that has helped produce such strong results.
“When you come off you have to cool down, heal your body, but you also have to change your gears for the next event,” said Bell. “A lot of the time there’s a lot of equipment changes: handlebars, seat position, wheels. With myself and Tara, being the omnium riders, we developed a new appreciation for the work the staff is doing.
“You come in and there’s somebody there to look after your nutritional need, there’s someone to look after your equipment needs, and somebody who’s basically managing results and making sure your ranking is appropriate.”
Bell will be back in action at a World Cup event in Beijing at the end of January, an event Bell returns to as defending champion, having won gold there last year. He won silver at the event in 2009 as well.
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