Canadian rider Derek Gee looks forward to testing himself at Giro d'Italia

·5 min read

Derek Gee feels a mix of emotions heading into Saturday's start of the Giro d'Italia.

Gee, the lone Canadian rider in the field, is excited to be taking part in his first Grand Tour event (the other two are the Tour de France and the Spanish Vuelta). But the 25-year-old from Ottawa also has a healthy respect for what lies ahead — 21 stages and 3,489.2 kilometres of hard racing against the world's best.

"A good mix of excitement and nerves," Gee said. "Both for a lot of reasons. It's pretty exciting to get to a race this big and to get the opportunity in my first year as a pro. But at the same time, it's quite daunting — the three weeks of racing and the level this is at — so it's a healthy mix going in, I think."

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Gee is riding for Israel-Premier Tech, whose partners include Canadian-Israeli entrepreneur Sylvan Adams and fellow Canadians Jean Belanger and Kevin Ham.

Former Canadian cycling star Steve Bauer is one of the team's sports directors. Other Canadians involved include performance director Paulo Saldanha, coach Christopher Rozdilsky, soigneur (support staffer) Jon Adams and head mechanic Andreas Back Watt.

Gee will support veteran Domenico Pozzovivo in his general classification campaign. The 40-year-old Italian has taken part in 23 Grand Tours, including 16 Giros, and has finished in the general classification top 10 on seven occasions. He was eighth in last year's Giro, riding for the Intermarché-Circus-Wanty team.

Others on the Premier Tech Giro roster are Australians Sebastian Berwick and Simon Clarke, Italy's Marco Frigo, American Matthew Riccitello, Wales' Stevie Williams and Denmark's Mads Wurtz Schmidt. Clarke will captain the team.

Gee knows he will be tested at the Giro.

"It's almost incomprehensible for me, having never raced anything even remotely similar to some of the days in this year's Giro," he said. "So it's hard honestly for me to conceptualize just how hard some of these days are going to be."

Other Canadian riders on the Premier Tech pro roster are Guillaume Boivin, Hugo Houle and Michael Woods.

Gee has used all three as a resource.

"They're all experienced pros. They've been amazing — every race I've done with them — with their advice and guidance."

Canadians Dylan Bibic, Carson Mattern and Riley Pickrell are part of Premier Tech's developmental academy team.

"It does feel like home … It's nice to always see familiar faces," Gee said of the Canadian content on the team.

Canadians have made headlines at the Giro in the past.

Ryder Hesjedal won the race in 2012 and Svein Tuft wore the pink leader's jersey in 2014 after his Orica-GreenEdge squad won the opening team time trial. Including this year, a Canadian has taken part in the last 17 editions of the Giro.

The Giro starts in Ortona, with a 19.6-kilometre time trial, and ends May 28 in Rome.

"Derek Gee is lining up for his first Grand Tour so it will be a new experience for him. But he has a big engine, he's a good rouleur (all-rounder) and a good time-trialist, and he can climb so he can have a great Giro d'Italia,'' Premier Tech sports director Oscar Guerrero said in a statement when the Giro team was announced.

Gee has already taken part in the Santos Tour Down Under, Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico, Milan-San Remo, Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix among other races this year.

Gee has been having the time of his life.

"When you're racing the highest-level races, it's really stuff that you've watched on TV since you were a kid and it's something really special to actually get to line up and race them. So I'm enjoying everything I've been lucky enough to line up for."

Gee signed a three-year deal with Premier Tech in May 2022. That came after he turned heads at in the final time trial at Gran Camino that February, clocking the fifth-fastest time against the WorldTour-level field.

"From this, we knew we couldn’t miss the opportunity to sign him to IPT,” said Premier Tech general manager Kjell Carlstrom.

Gee won the 2022 Canadian time trial national championship in wet, windy conditions in Edmonton.

He is also an accomplished track cyclist, coming 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 team pursuit at the UCI Track World Championships.

He won bronze in the team pursuit at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia and gold at the 2019 Pan American Championships.

Gee hopes to continue to race both on the track and road.

"For sure Paris 2024 (Olympics) would be something I'd be very motivated to get back on the track for and hopefully be part of the team pursuit again," he said.

Gee's father is also a racer and won the 50-plus age-group national title in 2014. The two often cycled together growing up.

"He and I did have a competition to see who would win a national title first," said Derek. "I believe now I'm up to 12 or 13 national titles, between track and road, and he has one. But he got that one before I got any. So he'll always have that competition on me."

Gee now is based out of Girona, Spain, a popular European base for pro riders.


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 4, 2023

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press