Zach Bell Interview: Hunting omnium gold at the London Olympics
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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Zach Bell Interview: Hunting omnium gold at the London Olympics

by Ed Hood at 6:43 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Track, World Championships, Olympics
Canadian’s near-miss on title in worlds sharpens resolve for 2012 Games

Zach BellThe omnium – love it or hate it, we better get used to it.

There are six disciplines run over two days – flying lap, points and elimination on the first day; pursuit, scratch and kilometre on the second.

It’s no longer a ‘side show’ event; it makes its Olympic debut in London and the last big try out for the men who must train to excel in six, not just one discipline of track racing was in the World Track Championships in Melbourne last week.

The Australian Glenn O’Shea took gold, with silver going to 29 year-old ex-wrestler Zach Bell (Canada/Team Spidertech). It was a strong performance, and marks the Canadian out as a real contender for Olympic gold in London.

Bell’s breakthrough year was 2007, with stage wins in the Vuelta a El Salvador and Delta Tour in Canada, plus the overall GC in the latter.

He was second in the individual time trial at the Pan Am Championships; won the Burnaby six day track race in Canada and took a World Cup silver in the scratch race at Melbourne behind German strong man, Roger Kluge.

In 2008 he rode the Olympic points and madison; won again at Burnaby and in the Delta Tour and won a World Cup scratch in Cali, Columbia.

The following year he took overall victory in the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic in the US, also winning the Bank of America Wilmington GP.

On the track there were more World Cup placings and a silver medal in the fledgling World Omnium Championship, behind talented Australian, Leigh Howard.

Commonwealth Games year saw him take bronze in the scratch in Delhi behind World Points Champion, Cameron Meyer as well as standing on World Cup podiums in Australia, China and Columbia.

Last season again saw numerous World Cup podiums and an overall win in the UCI Omnium World Cup competition, as well as third in his National Championship road race behind Svein Tuft.

His final tune up race for Melbourne was the World Cup omnium in London where he finished third. He took time to speak to VeloNation soon after his long flight home from Australia to Vancouver.

VeloNation: You’re from the Yukon originally, Zach – there can’t be much track racing there?

Zach Bell: It’s a roundabout story; I used to wrestle for my school and for the territory. I used to do some mountain bike riding and touring with my dad.

When I went to University I continued to wrestle but began to pick up injuries and decided I’d like to try an alternative sport.

I rode a few races and eventually dropped the wrestling and concentrated on cycling. I thought I’d maybe race at provincial level but saw I had some talent for the sport – more than I had to progress in wrestling.

That was about eight or nine years ago.

VN: Why the omnium?

ZB: I did the points and madison at the last Olympics; but both races have been dropped from the Olympic programme.

I rode the omnium in the 2009 Worlds and enjoyed it – I had the skills that worked for the omnium.

I have skills across the board but I haven’t developed that specific power that the top points race riders have.

VN: Are the top cycling nations making more of a science of the omnium, now?

ZB: Definitely. In 2009 it wasn’t official that the race would be in the Olympic programme and there were only five events over one day.

It was a great result for me at the time to get silver, but this year my Worlds silver is worth much more.

The omnium is an Olympic discipline and this is Olympic year.

Zach BellVN: Your strength is your consistency – fifth, third, eighth, second, second and eighth in the six events

ZB: That’s what it’s all about, right?

I would say that my strength used to be that I had good speed – but now I’d say that my consistency is my strength.

I’m happy with that, but I’m not quite consistent enough!

VN: Can you close the gap on O’Shea by London?

ZB: Yes, I think I can. To come in to last event (the kilometre) tied with him was a big step for me.

I think I have a number of advantages in London – for a start I don’t have to worry about the team pursuit.

Even if O’Shea doesn’t have to ride that, he has to train for it and it’ll be on his mind that he may get called up to ride.

There’s no Canadian team pursuit squad in the Olympics, so I don’t have that distraction.

(Editor’s note: under Olympic rules, a nation’s omnium rider must come from the five riders nominated for their team pursuit squad, if they have one.)

I think that the team pursuit will go below 3:50, so he has to be prepared for that, whether he rides or not.

I also think that I can pull back points in the bunch races – and I hope I’ll be faster by then, so there’s space for me to get closer.

VN: Which is your favourite discipline?

ZB: The points race is special for me. It’s where I started and I did it in the last Olympics.

It brings out the real racers, guys who want to go and then go again for sprint after sprint rather than just sitting there, banging their head off a wall.

VN: And least favourite?

ZB: The elimination is hard to wrap your head around – very challenging.

The French guy (Bryan Coquard) is so skilled at it; he wins it most every time – for me it’s the most challenging discipline.

VN: Your two weakest events in Melbourne were the kilometre and elimination – what will you do between now and London to strengthen those?

ZB: The kilometre will come naturally; I hadn’t done that much track work coming in to Melbourne and that kilometre ride wasn’t indicative of my ability in the discipline.

I’d say it was the worst kilometre I’ve ridden in the last few years – plus, I fouled up at the start, but that’s a technical detail and I can fix that.

For the elimination I’m going to spend a lot of time doing video reviews of Melbourne and try to get it so that my reactions are automatic – hesitation is the poison in the elimination.

VN: Do you have a break now, before the final build up to London?

ZB: A brief break but my build up will begin with a lot of road work for my Spider Tech team.

I’ll be working out a schedule with them that builds my capacity.

VN: A lot of the road teams don’t really care about track results.

ZB: Steve Bauer (team owner and former world and Olympic medallist and Tour de France yellow jersey holder, ed.) is trying to build Canadian Cycling.

He knows that me spending time on the track isn’t ideal for the team; but he knows that it’s good for Canadian Cycling.

Steve’s very flexible and has helped me develop.

He’s very supportive and I wouldn’t have been on the podium in Melbourne without him – but after the Olympics it’ll be more about the road team for me.

VN: Will it be the same format and same faces in London?

ZB: The format will be the same and it’ll be mostly the same faces; Viviani from Italy, Archbold from New Zealand . . .

But there was one element missing in Melbourne, the Columbian Arango, he’s really strong and I’m puzzled why he wasn’t at Melbourne.

The German, Roger Kluge too is a surprising rider; I think he rides the World cups at 80% - he surprised with a medal in the last Olympic points, last time and could do it again.

Zach BellVN: The bronze medallist, Hansen from Denmark is very strong – he was four seconds clear in the pursuit.

ZB: He’s young so he’s not yet consistent but when he’s on form he’s very strong – yes.

There are probably about ten guys who’ll be ‘there’ in London.

VN: What’s your take on inexperienced riders from lesser cycling nations being up on the boards with you?

ZB: It’s the nature of the sport, they have to be there, even some of the strong guys are inexperienced – I was one of them, once!

VN: There are no big track meets between now and London – isn’t it difficult going in to the bunch events with no race craft?

ZB: Yeah, it’ll all have to video analysis for the bunch races – you have to be careful if you start riding races at a lower level.

That can give you a deceptive impression of how you’re going.

VN: And have the Canadian media made a fuss over your medal?

ZB: I wouldn’t say a fuss – this is the first day I’ve been available to the media, but there’s certainly interest.

I think that they realise that whilst the Canadian track team is small, there’s a strong possibility we could come back with medals from London.


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