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Bell's 2016 season uncertain as team loses sponsor

The SmartStop Pro Cycling Team, captained by Watson Lake's Zach Bell, is no more.

The SmartStop Pro Cycling Team, captained by Watson Lake’s Zach Bell, is no more.

The American UCI continental team, founded in 2008 under the name Mountain Khakis, has lost its title sponsor and its riders, including Bell, have been released from their contracts.

Bell came on as captain at the start of the 2014 season when the team left the criterium circuit and turned its focus towards stage races.

“I’ve really enjoyed being the guy who can help dictate the mentality of the team and help some of the younger guys really reach their potential,” said the two-time Olympian.

“The other teams have known this has been on the horizon for us for a little while. So I’ve chatted a bit with some of the programs I’d be interested in, but at the moment that list is pretty short. I’m not pushing it; I’m not going like crazy just to get another contract. If I keep going at a pro level, I want it to be with the right people.”

The team wasn’t dissolved because of a lack of success, it was simply business. The sponsor company, SmartStop Self Storage, was acquired by Extra Space Storage for $1.4 billion in a merger this past June. It was around that time the team was told it would reach the end of the line following the season.

“To make the company look as profitable as possible so they can get a good price, part of that is trimming down the non-essential things, and I’m sure the bike team was probably fairly high on that list,” said Bell, 32. “It’s a promotional thing, but it’s also one that’s pretty easy to stop to improve the bottom line.”

The SmartStop team, based out of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, concluded its ride following Tour of Alberta on Monday. SmartStop placed 11th out of 15 teams in the tour. Bell placed 43rd in the tour’s second stage for his best result.

Last month SmartStop finished fourth out of 15 teams in the Tour of Utah with Bell’s teammate Jure Kocjan winning the second stage.

The team currently sits fourth in the UCI America Tour team rankings and rider Rob Britton ninth in the UCI America Tour individual rankings.

The season highlight for Bell, as far as his own results go, was placing fourth at the Canadian Road Cycling Championships at the end of June.

“I haven’t had a very strong showing this year, personally, but that was a good day. It could have gone better, but that was a highlight for me,” said Bell, a multiple-time national champion, with titles on both road and track.

“As a team, we won a stage in (the Tour of) Utah and I’ve never been on a team that won a stage at that level.

“You see some teammates excel. A guy like Rob Britton, a guy I’ve been working closely with the last couple of years, to see him on the top step of the podium finally was really good. He’s a good friend of mine and I trained a lot with him this winter and helped him get there ... He’s finally proved he’s made it to that level and for me, that was pretty huge.”

The team and the season might be over, but Bell still has plenty on the go. He’s busy with the Northern Lytes (Linking Youth To Elite Sport), established by Bell and Whitehorse Olympic cross-country skier Emily Nishikawa. The program, which aims to deliver expertise from Olympic athletes and coaches to rural Yukon youth, has two more camps planned before the end of the year, said Bell.

“We’re just working on the details right now,” said Bell. “That’ll put us at five for the year, which is fantastic. We’ve had some good reception from it and we’re definitely looking to grow the partnerships because we haven’t been able to meet all the requests this year, which is a good problem to have. I’m glad people are engaging with it. Air North has been extremely supportive of it and has made it really successful ... Pretty much everybody who has been requested, we’ve been able to get them up.”

Contact Tom Patrick at