Zach Bell’s cycling season had its ups and downs. But the ups far outweigh the downs, he says.
“I feel there was more success than any other year,” said Bell. “Even though it wasn’t all on my resume, I was a part of more big things on the bike than I had been before. That was pretty cool.”
“I’m into my first or second day of off-season, but I’m excited about next year,” he added.
The Watson Lake cyclist broke his collarbone in a crash in New Mexico at the start of May and was unable to defend his national road race title. But he also captained the SmartStop pro team that made the podium in every event they raced and helped Canada to a medal at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, over the summer.
Bell and his wife Rebecca also welcomed a daughter, Lucy, in June.
“A pretty big highlight is being able to captain a team that’s been the underdog all year and produced every single time,” said Bell.
“Results-wise, the way we rode in Winston-Salem (Cycling Classic), getting on the podium there at our home race was pretty special.
“Commonwealth Games was special too. I was playing a pretty similar role there with the national team. Considering I had a huge hiatus with the baby and a broken bone, I think this year was hugely successful.”
The 31-year-old capped the season with a pair of strong finishes at the 2014 Tour de Alberta last week.
Bell opened the second annual Alberta tour with eighth place in the event’s prologue in Calgary on Sept. 2.
He completed the four-kilometre time trial – with two kilometres of uphill – in six minutes and 21.85 seconds to lead his team and finish as the top Canadian.
“I was pretty familiar with that hill and I had raced on it a few times before,” said Bell. “I think a few years ago I had the record on that hill – I knew I could go up it OK. So I just tried to do a good time, I paced it well. It was probably the first time in a field of that level I was able to crack the top ten in a time trial, which is good progress. I haven’t really had great time trials this year, so to get one of that quality was good.”
Two days later Bell placed 11th in the 145.3-kilometre Stage 2 from Innisfail to Red Deer.
“Red Deer was just another really good stage for our team and for me in particular,” said Bell. “It was probably one of the best finishes in pro cycling for me (but) timing and communication with teammates didn’t really work out for us … There was some talking back and forth that didn’t really get the point across.
“It’s just growing pains, really. The team is still trying to get its feet underneath it.
“To come away from that in 11th place, it’s not a great result. But considering all the things we screwed up, it was pretty positive.”
Bell finished the Tour 43rd overall out of 75 elite men in the general classification (GC) after five stages spanning 732.8 kilometres.
He placed second for Team SmartStop, based out of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, while teammate Jure Kocjan placed 26th with a third-place finish on Stage 4.
SmartStop finished 10th out of 13 teams in the team GC. But the team is more interested in individual finishes than team standings, said the captain.
“Team GC, it’s not really a consideration, to be honest,” said Bell. “What teams generally look at is what the top place individual is. With a team like ours, we were going to Alberta to get results with individuals on specific stages.
“I had a top 10 and an 11th place, and Jure (Kocjan) was third on one day. For us, that was more the goal we were thinking about. Team GC is a kind of abstract ranking calculated on the top three riders every day … Usually, we’re all working for one guy and then the next two guys are just coming in where they come in.”
SmartStop also fielded a smaller team in the tour, with many of the riders having started back in January. Some of their legs were starting to show the signs of a long season of racing, said Bell.
“Guys were getting tired and it showed on our side a little bit,” he said.
“Every race we entered this year we got a guy on the podium at least one day, and that’s a pretty huge feat,” he added.
The two-time Olympian produced three top-10 finishes, helping a teammate win a medal, on the track at the Commonwealth Games. He rode to fifth in the 40-kilometre points race, to finish as the top Canadian.
Bell also came 14th in the men’s time trial in road racing at the Games.
“I’ll be looking after the baby for a bit and getting on the mountain bike and hopefully making a trip up there (in Yukon) to do a little bit of work with coaches and kids and stuff,” said Bell.
Zach and Rebecca are continuing to honour the memory of their son Paxton through their Paxton’s Lights of Hope charity.
Through paxtonslights.com, people can purchase candles to benefit the B.C. Women’s Hospital Newborn Intensive Care Unit, which cared for Paxton and his mother before his passing a couple days after birth in 2011.
“Last year people in the Yukon were hugely supportive of that, so the candle company has made special arrangements this year to make sure they can get the stuff to people in the Yukon a lot easier,” said Bell. “Hopefully we can get a lot more support for that again this year.”
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