Optum names Canadian Olympian Zach Bell as new women’s team director

Zach Bell may have hung up his wheels but he is far from being retired from the professional bike racing industry. The Canadian Olympian will direct the Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies women’s team in 2016, while simultaneously helping to kickstart Parcours Institute Inc., a new professional certification program for athletes.

"I was with this organization as a rider and always hoped to work with them again,” Bell said in an Optum team press release. “As my career has come to a close in the peloton, I wanted to share my knowledge of the sport and help the next generation of athletes succeed both on and off the bike. This team has a professional and ethical program and is full of potential. There is a unique energy with this group of riders and I am excited to be part of it.”

Bell stopped racing at the end of the 2014 season after nearly a decade of top-level competition. He medalled at the UCI Track Cycling World Championships, Pan American Track Championships and represented Canada at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. He also competed for Optum Pro Cycling in 2009 and 2010.

Bell will begin his directing duties with Optum at the start of the 2016 season, and the team will focus on North American events. The women’s team was announced last month to include Canadians Jasmin Glaesser, Kirsti Lay, Katherine Maine, Sara Poidevin and Catherine Ouellette, along with other North American riders Heather Fischer, Hannah Ross, Elle Anderson, Erica Allar, Jessica Prinner and Emma White.

“It is exciting to have a strong Canadian element within the team – especially during an Olympic year,” Bell said. “Some of them are already on the short list for Rio. I have been in a similar position and can play an important role in ensuring the success they have with the team aligns with their ambitions for the 2016 Games.”

Bell takes over the women’s program from Pat McCarty, who will direct the men’s team in 2016.

Team-backed athlete certification program meant to train aspiring athletes for the pro ranks

Bell has also taken on a new role as Managing Director of the recently announced Parcours Institute Inc., a certification program designed to prepare young athletes (men and women aged 18-25) and staff for the requirements of being part of a professional team.

“Young athletes in North America have a broad range of options for training their physiology, but to this day there has been no centralized training program for all the demands of the pro circuit,” Bell said. “These demands include media and sponsorship relations, nutritional challenges, and navigating the complex frameworks surrounding anti-doping policies among other challenges. Athletes have had to learn these skills over time and only after they are accepted into professional teams – and that is just not necessary.

The certification program is recognized by and developed with professional teams including Silber Pro Cycling and Holowesko-Citadel (formerly called Hincapie Racing), along with Axeon, H&R Block Pro Cycling, and Circuit Sport (the parent company of both the men and women Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies teams).

“The involvement of the teams has been crucial, and I can’t thank these industry leaders enough,” Bell said in a press release from Cycling Canada. “They are the ones who recognized something was needed in the development and recruitment of athletes. Cycling is a professional sport, requiring both professional and conventional training to get ready for its requirements. The sponsors are all professionals in their respective industries, and they want to associate with other professionals. It shouldn’t be the only way to the pros, but athletes who have questions about the path can choose Parcours Cycling as a place to find answers.”

Parcours will also offer staff training programs for aspiring mechanics and massage certified practitioners. These courses will involve live athlete exercises and culminate with live race internship placements on professional teams. This will give graduates a direct connection to the industry.

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