After two Olympic Games, two world championship medals and multiple national titles, Watson Lake cyclist Zach Bell has decided to call it a career.
“It’s not a snap decision; it’s not something that just happens,” said Bell, who announced his retirement from racing on Tuesday. “I even signed the contract with SmartStop (pro team) last year with my own understanding it might be the last year and I was going to approach it that way.
“Every year since the (2012 Olympic) Games it’s been sort of an examination of where I am in the sport … 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 Games 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, on the heels of the six months that were previous to it, was big personal victory. And a big confirmation of the fact I had what it took still to be a top-level rider.”
Bell’s 2013 Canadian road title, which brought his national road championship medals up to five, came less than a year after a personal tragedy. In October 2012, Bell and his wife Rebecca suffered the loss of their infant son Paxton Michael Bell at three days old following complications during delivery. They welcomed a daughter, Lucy, in June 2014.
In his career, Bell has also collected a total of 10 UCI World Cup medals and in 2010 won bronze at the Commonwealth Games in India.
He has spent almost a decade riding professionally – the last two seasons as captain of Team SmartStop, an American UCI Continental team based out of North Carolina.
Bell has retired from racing, but he’s not leaving the cycling scene. Not even close.
Ushering in news of his retirement was the announcement Bell has signed on as director of the women’s team for Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies.
Bell raced for the American UCI Continental team in the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
“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,” said Bell. “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.”
Bell 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 pro team staff for the complexities of professional riding, it was announced Monday.
“The aim of it 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.”
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 Yukon teams, beginning with three-time Olympic cross-country skier Justin Wadsworth in June and more recently a former NBA coach last month.
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