NORTH Vancouver resident Zach Bell won silver in the omnium at the UCI World Track Cycling Championships last weekend in Melbourne, Australia, securing a berth in the 2012 Olympic Games and establishing himself as a medal favourite for that event in London.
The omnium is a unique track event that combines six different races held over two days to test athletes in a variety of distances and situations.
On Day 1 Bell finished fifth in the flying lap, third in the points race and eighth in the elimination race to sit in second place halfway through the omnium. On Day 2 Bell came out flying, finishing second in the four-kilometre individual pursuit, posting a time of 3: 20.371, before scoring another second-place finish in the 100-lap points race. Those two results vaulted Bell into a tie for first with Australian and hometown favourite Glenn O'Shea, setting up a showdown in the final event, the one-kilometre time trial.
With gold on the line Bell posted a time of 1: 04.216, eighth fastest overall, but O'Shea ripped out of 1: 03.042 to post the second fastest time overall and claim the world title.
"It's a bit bittersweet," Bell said about the silver. "I've been in that situation twice now at worlds where I've come into that last event in the omnium paired with an Aussie who I know is quick. It was right there for the taking.
"Glenn rode a really good race and he was faster than me on the day. But it is hard because you only get so many shots at a world championships and when it's right there in front of you it's hard to see it slip by."
The omnium is a new Olympic event, a kind of cycling decathlon that takes a heavy toll on riders. Bell, a native of Watson Lake, Yukon who finished seventh in the points race and 12th in the Madison in the 2008 Olympics, is a big fan of the new six-race combo event.
"I love it," he said. "It's way better than just racing one (track) event. It's exhausting but in a good way. You get to make up for mistakes and you get to race a lot more in this event. That's ultimately why I'm doing this."
Bell has marked himself as a clear favourite in the omnium heading into the 2012 Olympics. He won silver at the worlds in 2009 and has been on the podium for all but one of his UCI World Cup omnium races since then. In 2011 he was named the UCI World Cup Tour Champion, a title given to the best overall rider for the entire season. He is the only rider currently on the Canadian national team to have previous Olympic experience.