Derek Gee is going through hell and he loves it.
The 25-year-old Ottawa, the only Canadian cyclist in the Giro d’Italia, has been a revelation in his first Grand Tour with three second and one fourth places in the first two weeks for the Israel-Premier Tech team.
Asked if he expected to cause such a stir during the grueling 21-stage, 3,489.2km race, Gee admitted he has surprised even himself.
Gee sits 32nd in the overall standings, 26:01 behind leader Bruno Armirail of France. He also sits second in the points race behind Italian Jonathan Milan and seventh in the King of the Mountains standings.
Now looking to make his mark as the riders head to the Dolomites and a grueling final week.
Gee was scheduled to support Domenico Pozzovivo’s general classification campaign, but the Italian veteran’s career was cut short when he contracted COVID. Gee now leads the team overall with Italian teammate Marco Frigo three places behind in 35th.
There is more pain to come.
Three of the last six stages have received the maximum difficulty rating of five stars, beginning Tuesday with the 203-kilometre Stage 16 at 5,200 meters of elevation from Sabbio Chiese to Monte Bondone, including a first-category climb to the finish.
Stages 18 and 19 later in the week feature more mountains.
“It’s pretty cruel,” Gee said cheerfully. “There are quite a few difficult days between now and Rome [where the race ends next Sunday after a time trial in the penultimate stage].
“Although confidence has been building throughout this career, it’s still quite a daunting task.”
His goals this week include competing for the race combativeness award and securing a stage win. Gee came within half a wheel of catching German Nico Denz in a furious final sprint on Saturday on Stage 14.
The Giro takes its toll. Gee says that he is “completely exhausted” every day when he gets off his bike.
“And that’s a big part of why I think I can look back on three second and fourth places with little to no regrets,” he said. “I gave it my all to try to win a stage in the first two weeks. And I lost it, but for sure that was all I had.”
Sam Bewley, sports director of Israel-Premier Tech, is rooting for Gee to get that elusive stage win.
“He was so close… and in hard stages too. He was fourth in a mountain stage [Stage 13], so he has shown that he can do everything,” he said. “He works hard, he’s polite, he’s respectful to everyone. I’m elated for him again to show how good he is and how strong he is. He deserves [a stage victory], and I think everyone in the peloton probably agrees that he deserves it. He will keep trying, we know that for sure.
Gee says that he had learned about himself along the way.
“The confidence level that I had versus now has definitely changed,” he said. “I’ve learned that maybe I don’t hate cold and rain as much as most. It’s been quite a learning curve for sure.”
At six-foot-two and 167 pounds, Gee has also shown that he can thrive in the mountains despite his size.
“I think I have very good legs,” he said. “Of course, when you’re doing high mountains that are over 2,000 meters above sea level and you’re climbing for almost an hour straight, it definitely favors guys who are closer to 130 pounds and maybe were born in the highlands of Colombia. or something like that, but being up there with climbers like that on one of the high-altitude days far exceeded my expectations for that climb. But it was also quite a lot of suffering.”
Gee has been burning about 6,000 calories some days on the bike.
“I’ve hardly stopped eating since I got here and still the weight is coming off quite a bit. It’s very, very hard to maintain our intake. And we have some fantastic dietitians on the team and support staff to make sure we’re recovering properly and feeding properly. But it’s hard, for sure.”
“It just not strong enough.” 🤏
The disappointment is real for Derek Gee who took second place for the third time in the last seven stages 🥈🥈🥈#giroditalia | @IsraelPremTech pic.twitter.com/NLpprTmBvz
Sleeping was easy, at first, he said.
“And then you get to a point where you’re so tired you can’t sleep. And especially on days when you get a result, even if the body wants to turn it off, sometimes the brain can’t. It will be the hardest day of your life and to top it off you will have to run the next day with very little sleep.”
Israel-Premier Tech has many other Canadian connections.
Team partners include Canadian-Israeli businessman Sylvan Adams and fellow Canadians Jean Belanger and Kevin Ham.
Former Canadian cycling star Steve Bauer is one of the team’s sporting directors. Other Canadians involved include director of performance Paulo Saldanha, trainer Christopher Rozdilsky, soigneur (support staff member) Jon Adams and chief mechanic Andreas Back Watt.
History of the Canadian Giro d’Italia
Canadians have made headlines at the Giro in the past.
Ryder Hesjedal won the race in 2012 and Svein Tuft donned the leader’s pink jersey in 2014 after his Orica-GreenEdge team won the inaugural team time trial. Even this year, a Canadian has participated in the last 17 editions of the Giro.
Gee, now based in Girona, Spain, won the 2022 Canadian national time trial championship in wet and windy conditions in Edmonton.
He is also an accomplished track cyclist, finishing fifth in the team pursuit at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, Canada’s best Olympic result in the event since 1932. In 2019, he was part of the Canadian team that finished fourth in the pursuit by teams at the UCI Track World Championships.
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