Catching Up With Canada's Top Track Cyclist

Zach Bell’s Ascent Toward London 2012

A native of Watson Lake, Yukon, Zach Bell is the best of Canada’s men’s track cycling program. In late August, Bell won Canadian titles in individual pursuit, points race, scratch race and the omnium.

Two years ago in Beijing, Bell was one of the first two Yukon athletes ever to qualify for the Olympic Games. There, he finished 7th in points and 12th in madison. In his next Olympic experience, Bell has a chance to win Canada’s first track cycling medal since Lori-Ann Muenzer’s gold in 2004, and the first man to reach the podium since Brian Walton in 1996.

The Olympic cycling program has changed for London, with the “omnium” event being added. Like pentathletes on wheels, cyclists ride five events (two time trials, scratch race, pursuit, points race) and he with the most points wins. At the 2009 World Championships, Bell won silver in this event.

Recently, caught up with Bell:

How would you describe the track team right now?

The Canadian program is growing and it’s the first time we’ve had riders at every level, from world champions to grassroots riders. The group has been very active in supporting one another and the coaches and athletes work extremely hard to create the best possible situation with limited resources. This close cooperation has helped us reach a competitive level.

What do you consider career highlights?

Winning two events at the Beijing World Cup definitely stands out. Also getting a silver medal at the World Championships in Poland in 2009. But the experiences of riding at major games like the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne or the Olympics in Beijing will always be memorable. They make you feel like you are representing Canada because the country is behind you asking you to be there because you are the best they have to offer in your discipline.

What did your first Olympic Games do for you as a cyclist?

It was a moment of confirmation for me in sport. It was something that gave me the confidence to be an international competitor. Since then I feel like there has not been an event at which I cannot compete. The process of preparing for the Games helped me to learn what it really meant to be a full time athlete, what it took to mentally and physically. That will be with me the rest of my career.

Have preparations begun for London 2012?

Preparations have defiantly begun. The challenge with the new event (omnium) is that there are some questions as to how to train for it and how other countries will respond. But we have already started to formulate our approach and we will test these tactics in the upcoming events.

What are your goals there?

It is my first realistic chance for an Olympic medal. My goal is to win a medal.

Describe the lifestyle of a high performance Canadian cyclist.

It is a balance between training and seeking support. I spend three to five hours a day training and much of the rest of my time either planning with my coach how to stretch our resources to their maximum or seeking out more support. Virtually every successful Olympian is a (full-time) athlete.

We spend some of our time as athletes playing the role of managers. If we did not do this we would not compete or qualify…let alone win Olympic medals. I have a huge amount of belief in our national coach Richard Wooles and this program. With the proper backing we have the talent bring home many medals in 2012 and 2016.

How did you start out in cycling?

I grew up playing on bikes but was a wrestler as an athlete. I wrestled at the University of Calgary but began to suffer some injuries. I decided to get involved in cycling as a training tool. But soon discovered I enjoyed the sport much more. I made the switch and planned to compete recreationally. Within the first year I was competitive at the national level, so I decided to see if maybe cycling might keep my Olympic dreams alive.