After years of coming close, Yukon cyclist Zach Bell is a national champion on the road.
The Watson Lake native placed first in the 2013 Canadian Road Championships in St-Georges, Que., on Saturday.
“Being an athlete from the Yukon and being able to win, basically, the most prestigious, professional race you can find in Canada … I think it’s pretty cool,” said Bell. “The first thing I thought was, ‘How cool is this that someone from the Yukon won this?’”
Bell, who won a bronze in the road race in 2011, also took fourth place in Thursday’s time trial and eighth in Sunday’s criterium at the national championship.
But the road race is the big one. It’s the one all the top road cyclists are gunning for each year.
“It’s a pretty big deal,” said Bell, who completed the 180-kilometre race in 4:13:51. “The road race is the one in the country that everyone wants. It’s the biggest one you get.
“I was talking to Gord Fraser, a Canadian team icon and national coach, and he won it late in his career. He was like, ‘That’s the one I couldn’t walk away from. I had to keep on racing until I got it.’
“It’s just great, especially in a year where I’m trying to focus on the road. And to step in with my teammate (Ryan Roth), who had the jersey last year, and being able to keep it in the team – so many different things about it are huge.
“It’s the biggest road win of my career, probably. I think it’s more significant than the things I’ve been doing in Asia this year.”
Bell has won two races in Asia this season with his new Hong Kong-based Champion System Pro Cycling Team.
He won a stage in the Tour de Korea on June 14 and a stage in the Tour de Taiwan in March.
Those two wins, which came in sprints to the finish like on Saturday, were good preparation for the nationals, said Bell.
“Because national championships don’t have big teams, because the guys come from all the international teams, I knew it was going to be a pretty hard race right from beginning,” said Bell.
“The last 15 kilometres was just attack after attack after attack. I just tried to cover everything and make sure I wasn’t left out. I saved my energy as much as possible; I didn’t really attack at all. I knew it was up to those guys to drop me.
“The other two races I won this year played out very similarly. I kind of got a few dress rehearsals, which was nice.”
With the title, Bell gets a new addition to his wardrobe.
For the next year Bell will wear a special jersey that identifies him as the Canadian champ in every road race he cycles.
The special jersey can intimidate other cyclists, but it also identifies him as the guy to beat.
“It’s a bit of both,” said Bell. “The next day in the crit, I got eighth, but there was definitely more of a target on my back the day after the road race than there was the day before.
“You get that from some teams but some teams, especially at a higher level, you get more respect because they see that you’re more capable on the bike. So it paves the way for you a little more sometimes.”
“It’s a pretty big honour,” added the 30-year-old.
The national champion status is not completely new to Bell, a two-time Olympic track cyclist. In 2010, Bell completely dominated the Track Cycling Canadian Championships, winning four gold and a silver.
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