Road cycling. Track cycling. Either way, Zach Bell is the man.
Just two months after winning the national title in road racing, the Watson Lake cyclist returned to the velodrome to win gold in the omnium at the 2013 Canadian Track Championships in Dieppe, N.B., on Sunday.
It was Bell’s first time racing on the track since the 2012 London Olympics.
“I expected to go in and be the strongest guy there – I’d be lying if I didn’t say that,” said Bell. “It was good to perform, but it was also good to see some of these young guys coming up and getting closer to the level. They still have a ways to go, but they were stronger and smarter than they have been in years past – especially the guys near the top there.
“It was challenging for sure. My form wasn’t actually too bad considering I haven’t really been on the track since the Olympics.”
Bell collected a bevy of hardware to finish at the top of the multi-stage omnium event in the elite men division.
The 30-year-old won gold in the points race, the elimination race and the scratch race. He also raced to silver in the individual pursuit and bronze in the “kilo” – the one-kilometre time trial – on the weathered outdoor track.
“The track is not very fast, so no personal best times or anything like that,” said Bell. “But I am a little surprised by how fast I was in some of the speed events. Given that I haven’t been on the track very much, I still had quite a bit of speed, which was good.
“The road is still more the focus.”
Because of time restrictions at the championships, omnium racers were grouped in with cyclists who were competing in the individual events, like the kilo.
Therefore, Bell also holds champion status in the points race, the elimination race and the scratch race.
He was the fastest omnium racer in all but one event in Dieppe.
“I got third in the kilo, but that was in the pool of all the riders and I was the fastest omnium rider in the kilo,” said Bell. “If I had been the faster pursuer (in the pursuit race) I would have won every event in the omnium. It’s a little bitter-sweet, but the guy who won (Quebec’s Remi Pelletier Roy) is a really good guy and I’m trying to mentor him a little bit. Because when I do completely step away from the track, I want him to step in and be competitive at a pretty high level. Some of that will be giving him some of the lessons I had to learn the hard way.”
Bell’s results last week in Dieppe represent his best at the track nationals since the 2010 championships, in which he won four gold and one silver.
The two-time Olympic track cyclist, who placed eighth in the omnium at the London Games with a win in the scratch race, placed second in the omnium at the 2012 UCI Track Cycling World Championships.
But Bell has spent almost all of the cycling season on pavement, not wood.
He won his first national road title at the 2013 Canadian Road Championships in St-Georges, Que., in June. He also took fourth place in the time trial and eighth in the criterium at the nationals.
Cycling with his new team, the Hong Kong-based Champion System Pro Cycling Team, he won a stage in the Tour de Korea in June and a stage in the Tour de Taiwan in March.
Bell also won the final stage of the Tour de White Rock, the Peace Arch News Road Race, to end the B.C. Superweek in July.
Last month Bell raced in the London Surrey Cycling Classic in London, England, followed by the Arctic Tour of Norway and the Tour of the Fjords. He placed eighth in a 24-kilometre time trial during the fjords tour.
“It was really my first race in Europe I was able to show my stuff,” said Bell. “Some of the places up in northern Norway were similar to some of the places in the Yukon. That was kind of neat.”
Bell is currently racing in the Tour of Alberta from Edmonton down to Calgary this week.
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