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Interview With Zach Bell

by Amy Smolens

May 21, 2009 – When we saw that Zach Bell (Kelly Benefit Strategies) had won the Bank of America Wilmington Grand Prix for his new team, it was the perfect incentive to have a chat with him. In our conversation we not only found out details about his life with his new squad, but we picked up some interesting information on the romantic side of the Yukon native that you may not know.

When you knew that Team Symmetrics was coming to an end, how did Kelly Benefit Strategies come into the picture and how did you know they were the right team for you?
Zach Bell: They’re a team that’s kind of had a pretty similar team culture from the outside, at least. Because of that I think that when we were at races together our teams generally ended up spending some time together. Also, I knew David (Veilleux) who was on their team and was also pretty familiar with Martin (Gilbert). And then Svein (Tuft) had ridden a lot with Jonas (Carney, team director) so those are a few reasons why that was where I wanted to go.

Also, back when I was riding on Rite-Aid (in 2006) I inadvertently shared a radio frequency with Jonas when he was directing for Kodak. He knew we were sharing but neither team knew how to change the frequency. Pretty much from then on I knew I wanted to ride with Jonas at some point because his guys had so much information, he was feeding them so much information that it was just unbelievable. So from then on I pretty much knew that at some point I had to ride for this guy for at least a year, if not longer because there’s just so much knowledge there. It’d be like riding for him and Gord (Fraser) and guys like that who have a lot of experience.

And is it perfect for someone like you because he was a crit rider and a fast sprinter, as well as a track racer like yourself?
ZB: I think so. The track thing kind of came in towards the end there. He understands what’s going on with the track racing. I’m trying to be a better stage racer than a crit rider in the long term, but he’s good at offering insight into both. I mean, he’s a pretty good fit, especially at this time of my career.

What kinds of things can you learn from him about road racing and stage racing?
ZB: Well, the biggest thing so far is the ability to pick his brain on specifics of each course, because he’s done every race in North America like fifteen times or whatever, right? So he really understands how the races play out. Each course, he understands how it affects the field, you can ask him right away “how often does this finish in a break” and he can say “oh, I did it ten times, and seven times it’s finished in a break.” That kind of information is good to know especially for somebody like me who’s been on a lot of different teams and so I’ve raced on a lot of different circuits, so I don’t have a lot of specific experience with some of the courses on the NRC and stuff, so that’s been good.

And he also really understands a lot of the riders, too. You know, he never really went away from the sport for that long before he started directing so he knows the older guys who have been around and he knows exactly how they ride, but he also transitioned and has seen all the younger guys as they’ve come up. So he has a lot of information on specific riders, how to beat them and how to take advantage of their weaknesses and that sort of thing. Yeah, I mean, those are a few things.

And of course, he’s also got connections all over the country so we always end up with good places to stay and stuff like that, right? That’s always helpful and that’s just the beginning of it. There’s all kinds of other information he’s given us.

Talk about the Bank of America Wilmington Grand Prix last weekend and how that race developed. (results here)
ZB: Well, it’s a pretty fast course, especially the way the wind was that day. Basically, we had a tailwind on the uphill drag to the finish, we had a bit of a tailwind there and a bit of a headwind on the downhill. It wasn’t strong but it was enough that it really helped you a bit on the uphill but didn’t really hinder you too much on the downhill. So the speed stayed pretty high. We kind of went in as a team with the strategy of controlling the big players on Colavita, they’re the one team that’s been giving us quite a bit of trouble. So we went in with the goal to control them, in the hope that by controlling them we could control the way things went with everyone else. We ended up getting into a move that was pretty favourable, there were three of us and only two from every other team but we had some missed communications on the radio and didn’t drive the move as much as we should have.

We would have preferred to have it go to the line but then the move got caught with ten laps remaining. (Alex) Candelario was looking after me and (Jake) Keough and with about a half lap to go he just kind of punched it down the back straight. He got a bit of a gap on me and Keough, and two guys just kind of filled the hole pretty quick, which was alright because with only three of us we couldn’t do a full on leadout. To have two guys just kind of punch in there ended up working out for us. And then going into the third corner he (Candelario) pulled off and going into the third corner the other two guys took it really wide, like they almost pulled off themselves. They looked behind and didn’t see their teammate so they pulled right off and I kept the line. I shot the corner super tight and really fast and I ended up getting about a four or five bike-length gap on Jake, who I was leading out.

When I came to the last corner I just hit it, I hoped he was still there but I knew that if he wasn’t, it would mean I had a gap, too. And then (Colavita’s Sebastian) Haedo just came up on the right hand side and he’d spent a lot of time in the wind sprinting. I went from there – it was probably at about 400 metres – so we were both kind of cracked once we got to the line and the last 50 metres. It was just like a bit of a brawl, right? It really didn’t even look like a sprint anymore”¦it seemed that it came down to a (bike) throw and I just threw it as hard as I could.

Is the team working well and gelling together?
ZB: Ahh, I mean, we’re gelling well as a group of guys, but this was the first race Cando and I did together so I mean, that’s a combination that the team hasn’t really been able to take advantage of just yet. I mean Jake and I did some stuff at Speed Week and we were starting to get there. We got some podiums, but this is the first time the three of us were together for sure. So there’s still a lot of work to do. I don’t think that race was a good indication of the kind of potential we have for the bunch sprint. I know that Cando is still on an upswing and I’m on an upswing. And guys like Veilleux and stuff are nowhere near where their capacity lies for the kinds of leadouts they can do. So I would say it’s progressing in the right direction but I don’t think we’re anywhere near where you’re going to see us at the end of the year.

What did it feel like to stand on the top step of the podium for your new team?
ZB: Oh, it’s good. You know, the team hires you to get certain jobs done, especially when you’re coming into a new team. There’s always a little bit of a question as to what your capacity is and I think in Thailand I demonstrated a little bit to the team that I was capable in the bunch sprints, but I never really had a good finish in my opinion there. I had a couple of podiums but I didn’t have the speed there yet. I still don’t think I have the speed that I’ve had in the past just yet, but it’s good to get up there.

And just for the team, it was good to get the monkey off our back and to get that first win in North America, get those NRC points. Because we’ve been close a couple times, and definitely in these crits we’ve been one of the stronger teams and we’ve been really forcing the issue. We just hadn’t had the luck, or we hadn’t had the full group of horsepower at any of the races and it’s meant that we’ve gotten second or fourth or whatever and hadn’t been able to pick up the win. But I think this race was a good demonstration of what happens when you start put all the really strong guys together.

Jonas has a history of signing Canadian talent like Veilleux and Gilbert, also Keven Lacombe. Now you also have Symmetrics teammates Jake Erker and Ryan Anderson. Does this make you feel at home and create a nice ambience on the team?
ZB: Oh, yeah. I liked David before, I’d done a few National Team projects with him and I’ve always been a pretty big fan of his and since we’ve been on the team together it’s even better. And Jake and I did a lot of riding together on Symmetrics over the last years. Ryan and I didn’t get to do a ton when we were on Symmetrics — because of the budgetary issues he ended up having to stay home quite a bit, but yeah, it makes for a good situation. I like riding with Jake and Ryan and all those guys. The cool thing about it is that all of us had some kind of connection with some of the guys on the team before. Like Jake rode with Neil Shirley before, and Ryan’s done a lot of stuff with David, so you know there’s a lot of crossover. And the other guys on the team are all cut from very similar kind of molds. I mean it’s a really well-balanced team in terms of personalities.

So what’s next on your program and your goals for the rest of the season?
ZB: My program coming up is going to be a couple weeks here back in Vancouver, and then I’m gonna be racing again at CSC (Invitational May 30th) and the Crystal City Air Force (May 31.) And then from there it just really starts rolling. Crystal City and they we’re doing Philly (Philadelphia International Championship, June 7), and then I’ll do (Tour de) Beauce and Nationals. So I think the month from Philly through to Nationals is kind of where I have to see some really solid rides, whether it’s in support of one of the guys at Beauce or winning some stages there, hopefully making it to the end in Philly, and giving the opportunity to win there with Cando or myself or whoever.

Any track racing on your agenda?
ZB: No. The track’s sort of been sidelined a little bit. Through the summer there’s nothing really that important. The only thing that might happen, and it’s pretty unlikely, now that the Pan Ams have been cancelled (due to Swine Flu) and are going to be rescheduled, I may be able to go to them now, but I’m not going to bend over backwards to go. It’s a really good project for the development guys and I’m really trying to put a lot of effort into producing for the road team this year.

We saw that you proposed to your girlfriend Rebecca recently and had your friend hide in the bushes nearby to get a photo – tell us how you came up with that plan!
ZB: Do you know Andrea Brewer?

Yeah, sure.
ZB: Yeah, that’s who was hiding in the bushes. Basically I’d been planning it for a while. The ring was ready but it took a little while so when I came back from team camp I called Andrea and we went to a spot above Lion’s Gate Bridge and scoped it out and kind of planned how it would all go down. I was going to do it that weekend. It was a Friday, so Andrea went back home and I called her up – I was on my bike and said, “So why don’t I just bring the ring over now?” – because I was going to give it to her so she could set it all up and she said ok. I went over there and gave it to her and said “Ok, let’s do it today, it’s nice out. I’ll pick Rebecca up from work and we’ll go to the park”.

Andrea was there before us and as we pulled up in the car she was kind of hiding in the bushes and there were these little lion statues there. She’d put the ring and the note and a little rose in between the paws of one of these lion statues. Rebecca and I parked and started walking towards the statues and she spotted it eventually but she thought it was like a memorial for someone who’d been in an accident on the bridge. It wasn’t until she got up close to it that she kind of realized what was going on. And then Andrea was hiding behind another one of the statues on the other side of the bridge with her lens that she’s used to take so many pictures of us riding before!

That’s so nice, and creative, too! Have you set a date?
ZB: Yup, October 4th.

Nice story!
ZB: Yeah, it worked out really well!!

Hopefully, Bell’s racing season will work out as well as his proposal plan did!

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