Sports

Zach Bell cruises to road-race title at Tour de White Rock

A team? Zach Bell doesn’t need no stinkin’ team.

Bell, the reigning Canadian road-race champion, cruised to victory solo – he was the only member of his Champion System team in the field – at the Tour de White Rock’ Peace Arch News Road Race Sunday, in what was one of the event’s most dominant performances in recent memory.

Bell – a Watson Lake, Yukon native who now lives in the Lower Mainland – won the 134-km men’s race in less-than-dramatic fashion, crossing the finish line four minutes and five seconds in front of second-place finisher Michael Schweizer, who pulled away from the chase group on the final lap of the race’s short course. German rider Florenz Knauer was third, 42 seconds behind Schweizer, his fellow countryman.

And while Bell, a former Canadian track-cycling champion, admits riding solo against so many powerful teams was tough, he knew from experience – he’s competed in White Rock “five, six times, maybe more” – that a cyclist could win the race without team support.

It was Bell’s first podium finish of BC Superweek, having placed no higher than 18th at both Delta and UBC races.

“It’s been the story of the teams this week, and there was a lot of single riders like me, Christian (Meier) and Will (Routley) trying to fight against all these teams, but some of them are just too strong,” Bell explained. “But this is the kind of race where your team can desert you pretty quickly… I think a lot of guys are pretty intimidated by the course, and I know the course rewards guys who aren’t scared of it.

“It rewards the aggressive rider, if you’ve got the legs.”

Bell certainly did Sunday, breaking away from the peloton midway through the long laps, first riding up front with fellow Watson Lake native Jesse Reams and then by himself.

With a lead of nearly three minutes on the penultimate long lap, Bell ramped up his effort and gained 40 seconds on the field, which all but sealed the win.

“I’ve been feeling good on the long efforts, and the first few laps I was just trying to keep it real conservative, but there was one lap where guys started attacking, and I thought ‘This is where you can demoralize ‘em.’ So I just lit it for one lap and went pretty hard up both hills.

“’Then I heard the (time splits) and thought, ‘Whoa, that’s some dream-crushing right there.’”

While Bell won the men’s road race essentially by himself, the opposite was true in the 80-km women’s road race, as the powerful Now and Novaris for MS team – which was seven riders strong Sunday – dominated the podium, with California’s Kathryn Donovan taking first place, nearly three minutes ahead of teammate Lex Albrecht. Team Tibco’s Jasmin Glaesser rounded out the top three, with Now/Novaris riders Olivia Dillon and Devon Gorry in fourth and fifth place, respectively.

The win was a fitting end to BC Superweek for the Now/Novaris team, which swept Saturday’s Tour de White Rock criterium – Gorry was first, followed by Robin Farina and Lauren Komanski-Rauck – while Albreht took the White Rock omnium title for overall results.

“The team has had a great week. We’ve been on the podium almost every night,” Donovan said Sunday.

After riding in or near the lead for much of the race, Donovan made her final push for the win on the short course, pulling away from the chase group on the hill.

“I attacked on the climb and stayed away but I still wasn’t sure how far ahead I was, so I went hard just in case,” she said.

Donovan said with so many teammates in the hunt for the omnium title, the team was not pushing for one particular rider to win. Instead, they just wanted riders up near the front of the race.

As for how Donovan managed to pull away on her own, she was not exactly sure.

“You’d push it… then notice all of a sudden, girls were missing.”

On Saturday, the men’s criterium was won by Knauer, who also claimed the men’s omnium title. Friday’s men’s hill climb was won by one of the youngest riders in the field, 18-year-old Brandon Etzl, from St. Catherine’s, Ont.

Etzl finished just ahead of Knauer, who won the event in 2012.

Knauer’s teammate, fellow German rider Yannick Mayer, placed third.

In the hill climb, riders cycle a 700-metre long steep grade on Buena Vista Avenue, between Oxford and Martin streets.

“It was a tough race,” Etzl said. “I thought if I eased into the first climb while the other riders took off, then maybe I’d catch them and it just so happened that my punch pushed me right past them so it worked out well for me I guess.”

Albrecht won the women’s hill climb, who also won the Tour de Delta criterium earlier in the week.

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