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Interview with World Cup Champs Zach Bell and Tara Whitten

by Sarah Nathan

February 25, 2011 – Tara Whitten and Zach Bell were recently crowned World Cup Omnium Champions as the Track World Cup series ended in Manchester, Great Britain on Feb. 19-20. The Omnium, in which riders compete in six events and are ranked by the sum of their placement in each event, is a new discipline to the World Cup, making Whitten and Bell the first ever Omnium Champions. We caught up with them to talk about their Omnium victory, their stellar season, and the Canadian track program.

Congratulations on being World Cup Omnium champions!
Tara Whitten & Zach Bell: Thank-you!

How does it feel to head into the Track Worlds as World Cup series title holders – does it add more pressure or more confidence? TW: I think it is a great confidence booster for both of us to know that we can be so consistent in an event where there are so many variables. There will definitely be pressure to perform at Worlds given our track records in the Omnium, but I think it is positive pressure; the kind that will motivate us to be at our best.

ZB: For me it’s a confidence thing – this is a goal that was not on the radar a few years ago, and to have it happen in the midst of an Olympic cycle with other goals in mind just means things are going in the right direction.

Omnium success demands ability in six different events – has this improved your performance in other World Cup individual events?
TW: Since the Omnium made its appearance at World Cups, I haven’t had time to compete in any other individual events! It is a very full schedule with the team pursuit and the two-day Omnium. I actually think it is the other way around – the fact that I competed in so many individual events in the past (pursuit, points race, scratch race) has given me an edge in the Omnium.

ZB: I’m not really sure if the training ads to my individual events, but it certainly increases your capacity to repeat a performance.

What event(s) if any do you feel most confident in vs least confident?
TW: My favourite events are the flying lap and the individual pursuit – those are the events I can really count on for good results. The mass start events can be a bit more hit-and-miss. Sometimes they’re brilliant and other times a bit disastrous! I have a love-hate relationship with the final event, the 500m. Two years ago that event cost me the gold at Worlds, and then last year after really targeting it in my training, the 500m sealed the victory for me. It’s something that I always have to work on, as the standing start is quite technical and is sometimes a challenge, but when I put the work in it makes such a huge difference.

ZB: I feel good with the 250 and the points and scratch races…these are events that I’ve been working on for a few years now. I just have a better understanding of how to control these races in my favour.

What’s happening with training between now and the Track Worlds?
TW: I decided to skip the last World Cup in Manchester so that I could have a good block of training leading up to Worlds. I have been doing some blocks of road training in addition to some hard track work in LA, where the team will be training until we leave for the Netherlands.

ZB: I’ll also spend some time in LA again, and then finish my prep at the Worlds venue.

Do you think it’s purely coincidental that Canada has produced both the male and female world cup champions in the same event, or does it have to do with the track program?
TW: I think it is a bit of a coincidence that Zach and I have such similar strengths – being endurance riders with a lot of natural speed. At the same time, I think we have pushed each other and learned from each other to make us both better in this event. We have a bit of a friendly rivalry going on too: the men’s Omnium is usually first, so Zach has to lay down a great result and then I have to try and one-up him!

ZB: I think it’s a little of both; you need two talented people, but given the nature of the Canadian sport system, the best athletes often get by trying a few sports, which makes for good all-round athletes. We haven’t been working on the Omnium long enough to say we’re good at it just because of the CCA’s system, but the nature of how Tara and I both made our way to the team gave us experience in many events. Now the system that is in place has started to magnify the basics we had.

Talk about your results and the Canadian track program – what are some of the ways in which the program has continued to build since last season?
TW: The program has made huge leaps since last season under the continued guidance of Richard Wooles. We now have a winter training base in Los Angeles with 8-10 athletes living and training there at any given time. We have new development riders being given opportunities to train and to race, and to push everyone else to be better. With funding from B2ten we have been developing a larger pool of riders for the women’s team pursuit specifically, which will make its Olympic debut in 2012 along with the Omnium. We have been a presence at World Cups this year, sending our largest-ever teams to Cali and Beijing. Other countries are taking notice when we step on the track! We have a great support staff, and have been bringing in more sport science experts to help as well. We just have a really positive atmosphere of excellence on the team, and we all want to help each other to be at our best.

ZB: The program has done two major things that have made our results possible: first, they have established a stable situation with nearly all the basic resources consistently available in LA. We don’t have everything, but we have the essentials now to get the work done. Secondly, we have a staff and service team that are all asking “what do these athletes need?” instead of telling us what we need without the right education or info to make that decision. This means many problems are being solved before they are problems.

What more could be done to continue to improve the program?
TW: We just need to continue moving in the direction that we have been… continuing to focus on creating an environment of excellence where we have all the tools we need to succeed while continuing to develop new riders who will build on the success of our current group.

ZB: As I’ve said in the past the program is just starting to get it right. There are many ways to improve both to get our other athletes to this level and to get more athletes with potential into the program. The ideal situation would see athletes receiving resources to relocate to where they need to be. The house in LA has been great but it’s not a long term sustainable solution as the program grows. Funding to help athletes travel and live in suitable locations would make it all more possible. The program is on the right track though, asking the right questions and steadily working towards gathering the resources, financial or otherwise, to get the program to a place where it can help all athletes achieve their best.

Thanks, and all the best at Worlds!
TW and ZB: Thanks.

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