Watson Lake cyclist Zach Bell still carries disappointment about his performance at the London Olympics early this month. Perhaps he always will.
However, the Whitehorse-born athlete, who now calls Vancouver home, has picked up the pieces and is planning for the future.
Two things top his list of priorities: caring for his new family – his wife Rebecca is eight months pregnant with their first child – and switching his focus from track cycling to road racing.
“I’m coming to terms with how it went and am just trying to think about what’s next and what’s going to happen, how to carry on with the experiences that I’ve had and making them valuable to others,” said Bell. “There’s still some racing to be done … mostly I’m thinking about next year now and getting ready for what needs to happen.”
The 29-year-old placed eighth in the men’s omnium track cycling event at the Games. An eighth-place finish at the Olympics is nothing short of a spectacular result, but Bell went in as a strong medal contender. He earned Canada’s spot in the men’s omnium with a silver-medal performance at the 2012 UCI Track World Championships in April, placing one spot ahead of the eventual Olympic gold medal winner.
Bell also won medals at the two World Cup events he competed in during the season, putting him in fourth at the end of the UCI World Cup tour, which he won in 2011.
He did have a moment of greatness in London. Bell won the 15-kilometre scratch race, which moved him up to seventh with one race to go in the six-stage omnium event.
Bell, who placed seventh in the points race in his first Olympics in Beijing in 2008 (before the omnium was added to the Games), intends to focus on road cycling, but another go at an Olympic track medal is not out of the question.
“I think (Canada’s) track program is just going to get stronger,” said Bell. “We have some young kids coming up. Me going to the next Games is not a forgone conclusion; I might not make the team next time. But I think I’m still far enough ahead on some of these young guys that I can hold them off for maybe one more cycle.
“I’d like to have another shot… I don’t think I performed at a level that I’m capable of.”
Before Bell commits to the Rio Olympics in 2016, or to a road cycling team, a balance must be reached.
He wants to make sure he doesn’t neglect his growing family. As Bell looks at re-signing with SpiderTech, Canada’s only pro-continental racing team, or with another team, allowances have to be made. He doesn’t want to leave his family for long stretches at a time, and when he is away they need to be cared for.
“The idea of Rio is being thrown around. I’m still in a place where I want to do it, but I’m not going to sacrifice my family.
“Last time I spent a lot of time away and it was really hard for us. In order for me to do it this time, I think I’m going to need some pretty solid backers behind me to get there, so I can alleviate some of the stresses on the family of me being away – especially with a baby on the way.
“Right now I’m trying to secure a contract with SpiderTech or possibly another team. I want to keep moving forward on the road and racing at that level. (I will) take a little time away from the track but not totally depart from it. But I’m definitely taking a year or two where I just focus on the road skills and contribute to what my team’s doing. After that, I’m not too sure.”
Making the switch from track to road would mean a lot more racing. October to February is the off-season, which coincides nicely with the baby’s first months, but then there will be as many as 70 races during the year.
Wife Rebecca will be on maternity leave for a year, so she and the baby can travel with Bell to races the first season.
“I know what I want to do, so right now, it’s finding the people … to make it happen,” said Bell. “Whether it’s signing with a team that can get me there or have backers who can get me through to the next Games.
“My wife and I had the discussion and as long as we can do it the way we need to, she’s happy to go through the next Games. I’m still hungry to get it done. As long as I get the chance to reset a bit in the fall here and get some family time, I have more to give.”
Bell is no slouch on the road either. He won a bronze at the Canadian National Road Championships last year. But often he serves in a support role on his team, which is how he sees himself if, for example, SpiderTech achieves its goal of competing in cycling’s greatest event: the Tour de France.
“The Tour (de France) isn’t on the list for me as a goal,” said Bell. “If I do get to a level where I can go there, it would be contributing to some of the other great Canadian riders; it would be a support role for some of the guys on our team.”
Bell has never forgotten his roots. He and his family have donated cycling gear and even a bike to the U Kon Echelon Bike Club, a developmental cycling group formed this season in Whitehorse.
Perhaps U Kon cyclists can extend their gratitude in person, as Bell is planning a visit to the Yukon this fall.
“There was a huge outpouring of support this time, compared to last time (in 2008), and people were really following it,” said Bell. “I was really happy to see that they did get engaged. I had hundreds and hundreds of messages over the five days of the event while I was there. It was pretty crazy.”
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