HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
Ever since Derek Gee immersed himself about six years ago into the gruelling cycling discipline of track racing to travel counter-clockwise around an oval track at full speed, he had another concrete plan in the back of his mind.
While building and preparing for last summer’s Tokyo Olympic Games – which took place a year later than originally planned because of the COVID-19 pandemic – he knew he would one day reconnect with cycling’s even more demanding task: road racing.
The Osgoode, Ont., native was true to his word as he has stepped away from Cycling Canada’s national track program in Milton, Ont., and joined Israel Cycling Academy, which is the feeder team for Israel Premier Tech of the elite World Tour. Both teams have plenty of Canadian content – from the owner (Sylvan Adams) to the cyclists (seven out of 48 riders, including Ottawa’s Michael Woods and Alex Cataford) and even the head of the development team (Gord Fraser of Ottawa).
After the 2021 Canadian road cycling championships, Gee contacted Israel Start-Up Nation (now Israel Premier Tech, named after a Canadian company) and the pro cycling team offered him a chance to join their squad.
Focused exclusively on the Tokyo Olympics last year, where the national team was fifth in men’s team pursuit, Gee had only two road races in 2021, but he made the most of the short season. At the national championships, he earned bronze medals in both the men’s individual time trial and road races.
“I made the decision to give road a try a long time ago,” Gee wrote in an email interview. “As long as I have been in the track program, I’ve always planned to give road a shot after the Olympics. I haven’t left the track team completely, just switched priorities for the next little while. Hopefully, I can still incorporate some track racing.”
While Gee only had two road races in last year and none in 2020 because of the pandemic, he was a seasonal, summertime road racer in the previous two seasons, always racing the national championships and one or two multi-stage, domestic events. In 2017, he had 16 race days in Europe.
The Israel Cycling Academy is dedicated to young, developing riders at the Continental Tour level, who are mostly under 23 years old and aiming to make the Israel Premier Tech team.
“They made a bit of an exception for me,” said Gee, who is 24.
Occasionally, like pro hockey and baseball, athletes are called up to the big team and Gee had that experience earlier this season. After strong performances in a pair of one-day road races in late January in Spain and France, he was promoted to the Israel Premier Tech team for the Gran Camino, which ran Feb. 24-27.
Although he was racing to protect premier rider Woods, he also showed well in the four stages. He placed 21st in the Maceda to Luintra third stage and was an impressive fifth in the event-ending individual time trial in Sarria.
Overall, he finished 23rd in the general classification (final standings), eighth in the mountains classification and 25th in the points classification.
“I was called up to race and it was a really amazing experience. It was a massive learning opportunity as I got to work for our team leader (Woods) and learn from some of the best in the world,” Gee added.
“The final day was an individual time trial. I got the chance to race full gas for my own result and managed to come away with fifth on the day, which I’m incredibly happy about.”
Woods had a first- and a second-place finish in two of the four races, which helped him place second overall in the Gran Camino. Movistar Team’s Alejandro Valverde of Spain was seven seconds ahead of Woods, who also was second in the points and mountains classifications.
“Michael Woods … was our team leader for the race, so he was who I was racing for and learning from, which was an amazing experience,” Gee wrote.
This month, Gee also placed well in a pair of single-day races – eighth in the Grand Prix de la Ville de Lillers Souvenir Bruno Comini and 22nd in the Milano-Torino race. He rejoined his Israel Cycling Academy team for this week’s Tour de Normandie, where he was 51st overall after the first two stages.
“So far, I couldn’t ask for a better experience!” Gee enthused. “I’m incredibly fortunate to be on a team that allows this kind of integration with the World Tour team and the support from both the teams is incredible.
“Road racing is so much more complex than track, so I’m really loving learning the ins-and-outs of the different kinds of racing and hopefully the results keep coming this season.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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