Kelly Benefit Strategies sprinter, Zach Bell, won his first NRC stage race at the 50th Fitchburg Longsjo Classic, held in Massachusetts over the US Independence Day holiday weekend. Bell used his cagey sprint to pull back a six second deficit to previous race leader, Tom Zirbel, in the final criterium.
Bell finished with a four second advantage on runner up Charles Dionne (Fly V Australia) and nine seconds ahead of Zirbel (Bissell).
“None of this would have happened without our team cohesion and I think that’s where we put pressure on Bissell,” said Bell. “All the guys put in huge efforts, especially in the last criterium. They put me in good position to make it possible to win. When the guys did that, it made my job seem much easier.”
Zirbel had kicked off the four stage race by taking the leader's jersey with victory in the opening time trial. Through the help of an under-manned Bissell squad, he held the lead until the final stage. Kelly Benefit Strategies had placed three riders directly behind Zirbel in the time trial, with Bell in fourth. Bell gained time toward the overall through strong performances on the steep finishing climbs in stages two and three and by securing time bonuses at stage finishes.
“I think I’m definitely leaning more toward the sprinter side,” said Bell. “As a sprinter, I climb better than most and time trial better than most but my stength is definitely the sprint. I’m not usually a GC threat if there is any sort of significant climbing involved.”
Bell moved into second place, six seconds behind Zirbel heading into the fourth and final stage. He made his winning move by using his sprint to jump across to a late-race breakaway and gained 15 seconds on the field that contained Zirbel.
“I saw that after chasing, Bissell was really starting to crack and Tom only had a few riders left,” Bell said. “I felt really good so I decided to jump across to the break. I knew that I had to use my sprint to get away from him because he has such a good time trial. I was shocked that he wasn’t there and I was also lucky that when made it across, the guys still motivated to drive it.”