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Oh my Gee! Ottawa cyclist has sensational rides at Giro d'Italia

Ottawa native Derek Gee is having a breakout performance at the Giro d’Italia. So far, he has had five top 5 finishes. Gee credits his community in Ottawa for helping him get to where he is today. Ottawa native Derek Gee is having a breakout performance at the Giro d’Italia. So far, he has had five top 5 finishes. Gee credits his community in Ottawa for helping him get to where he is today.
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Ottawa cyclist Derek Gee says no one is more surprised about his impressive ride at the Giro d’Italia than he is.

The 25-year-old native of Osgoode has five top-5 finishes so far at the three-week event that climbs across Italy.

"This was about as far from what I was expecting as possible. I was selected to the team last minute," Gee said.

"The Giro is probably the second-biggest race of the year, behind the Tour (de France). So, to get the opportunity to race it was something really special!  I was hoping to just survive it; it is pretty grueling. It is unbelievably hard."

What makes his results even more impressive is that this is Gee’s first grand tour event. He says his original goal was simply to make it to the final stage that ends in Rome on May 28.

"I was just hoping to help my teammates; I definitely wasn’t expecting stage podiums," Gee said.

Gee and other competitors will cover approximately 3,500 kilometres and climb thousands of metres in elevation.

The atmosphere has been unbelievable in Italy, says Gee.

"Bike racing in Italy, every town we ride throw is lined with people, they are all screaming. You even pass people who are, at this point scream, 'Go Derek!' Which is shocking! I never have fans know who I am; I am usually hidden in the group. The atmosphere is something I’ve never experienced."

Gee began cycling at a very young age, inspired by his father who raced as well. He was originally a track cyclist and competed in the Tokyo Olympics. Gee trained with the Ottawa Bicycle Club and says, "The Ottawa cycling community has always been my home. We would do weekly races on the Aviation Parkway, riding in the Gatineau Park every week; the community has been supporting me since I was nine years old."

After the Olympics, Gee made the switch to endurance road cycling. He competes for the Israel Premier-Tech team.

"The Giro has really changed my life so far, but it has been a culmination being dedicated to the sport for 15 years."

The team is no stranger to Canadian cyclists. His teammate is Ottawa’s Michael Woods, one of the country’s most successful cyclists. Gee credits Woods for helping him navigate being a rookie.

"Since I joined the team, (Woods) has been a huge mentor for me; he has been absolutely fantastic with advice and how to navigate being a pro, I wouldn’t be where I am today without the Ottawa community."

Gee says he owes so much to his Ottawa cycling community. He says they supported his training and helped him with bursaries that allowed him to train overseas.

Doug Corner is part of the Ottawa Bicycle Club and has watched Gee compete from the start. He says the entire community is behind him.

"Astonishment! There is so much buzz in the community, everyone is talking about him,"  Corner says. 

Corner says he is proud when Gee mentions his roots in Ottawa.

"He does say he is from Ottawa- and we are all so proud of that, so it is good to see him out there."

Corner knew Gee has something special at an early age. Corner helps organize the Preston Street Criterium races, and won the race in 2017.

"Ninety-nine percent of the effort is his, for sure," Corner says. "We are in the background providing support, financial assistance, coaching. There is background support, but when it comes down to it, it has to be the individual doing it all, and he is doing it all."

Brett Stoppa is an aspiring cyclist from Ottawa. He says watching Gee’s successes is inspiring. "Going home and watching a stage of the Giro and seeing, 'Oh, it's Derek!’ Gives you motivation to train. He is going to the next level. It shows that there is opportunity for local cyclists to maybe become a true European cyclist and race the big races!"

Stoppa trains in Europe and says Gee is part of a wave of Canadian athletes making waves across the world.

"Even being in Europe, with my European teammates, they recognize, 'Oh this guy – Derek Gee is from Ottawa,' and they ask, 'What is it about these Canadians - they can have an opportunity in cycling too."

Stoppa says it's positive that Gee's success is shining a light on a sport that is not as talked about such as hockey or other popular sports.

Gee says this event has given him the confidence he needs to dream even bigger. He says he wants to do the Giro again, and now has his eye on the Tour de France.

"I am more motivated than ever. It has given me a ton of confidence to know I can compete with some of the best guys in the race," Gee says.

He hopes to return to Ottawa soon to catch up with family, friends, and supporters.

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