For Watson Lake cyclist Zach Bell, going to the Commonwealth Games this October in Delhi, India, is not just exciting, it’s a return to his roots.
“I’m looking forward to doing another big games as a Yukon athlete,” said the 27-year-old. “It’s exciting to be able to go back to the events where I got my international start.”
Bell, who cycles for Kelly Benefits Strategies Pro Cycling Team out of Minneapolis, was named to Canada’s Commonwealth Games team last week, joining just 12 other male and female riders from across Canada.
“I know pretty much all of them,” said Bell of the men’s team. “On the road and on the track, it’s probably the strongest team this generation has seen for any major games. It’s essentially going to be the (2008) Olympic team plus a few riders who are a bit stronger than they were at the Games.”
Making the team means Bell’s second trip to the Games, having competed at the last ones in Melbourne, Australia in 2006, finishing fifth in the scratch race. Bell also set a Canadian record in Melbourne - four minutes and 31 seconds over four kilometres - in the individual pursuit, a record that stands today. Included on this year’s team is Travis Smith, who raced with Bell in 2006, winning two medals at the Games.
“I think the men’s road team is extremely strong,” said Bell. “I’m significantly better than I was at the last Games.”
The team does not include Canada’s latest cycling super star, Ryder Hesjedal, who just days ago finished seventh at the Tour de France, the best result from a Canadian in over 20 years.
“It’s not for lack of trying to get him, but he’s had a pretty extensive season already,” said Bell. “I think he’s earned the right to opt out.”
Not only is Bell confident with the team, he is confident with himself, having produced strong finishes so far this year.
Just over two weeks ago, Bell won the Tour de Delta road race in Delta, BC, breaking away from the lead pack of 10 riders in the final eight kilometres for the win.
“I never won that race before, and that’s actually the last race I did, so my form is starting to come in,” said Bell. “I’ve been chipping away at road results this year.”
He has also had top-five finishes in a couple American stage races over the last few months and began the year winning two gold medals at a World Cup event in Beijing.
Sport Yukon’s International Male Athlete of the Year award recipient the last two years, Bell also represented Canada at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, finishing seventh in the points race.
“I like to race with my professional team, but at the end of the day it’s sort of a job,” said Bell. “Usually when we come together as a Canadian team, it’s always a pretty major event - the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games - so it’s good and we have a good family on the track.
“It is definitely a different feeling (representing Canada).”
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