Derek Gee isn’t just ‘surviving’ the Giro, he’s thriving

It's been an impressive Grand Tour debut for the first-year pro.

Matt de Neef
by Matt de Neef 17.05.2023 Photography by
Cor Vos
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After Ben Healy (EF Education-EasyPost) crossed the line solo to win stage 8 of the Giro d’Italia on Saturday, there was a long wait to see who would be next to reach the finish. When his former breakaway companions arrived, it was first-year Canadian pro Derek Gee (Israel-Premier Tech) who took out the sprint for second, beating Filippo Zana (Jayco AlUla) and Warren Barguil (Arkéa Samsic) in the process.

Three days later, Gee proved that result was far from a fluke. On stage 10 he again got himself in the day-long breakaway, and again finished second to an EF Education-EasyPost rider – Magnus Cort. This time, there wasn’t minutes between Gee and victory – it was only in the three-up sprint that Cort was able to take the win.

In just a few days, Gee had gone from relative unknown to two-time runner-up in one of the world’s biggest races. So who is Derek Gee? And how did he get here?

Gee in action on stage 8 of the 2023 Giro d’Italia.

Originally from Ottawa, Canada, Gee first got into bike racing the same way that many do: following his dad into the sport. Gee junior started racing competitively at just nine years old, and started racing track at 13.

It’s on the boards that Gee has spent most of his adult racing career to this point. He’s a 13-time Canadian track champion, with wins in the individual pursuit, teams pursuit, omnium, madison, and points race. In 2018 he was part of a Canadian team that took bronze in the Commonwealth Games teams pursuit, and in 2021 he went to the postponed Tokyo Olympics, helping Canada to fifth in the team pursuit – the county’s best result in that event since 1932.

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A post shared by Derek Gee (@derekgee97)

You might also recall that Gee was involved in a terrifying crash in the qualifying rounds of the scratch race at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. Thankfully, Gee walked away without any major injuries.

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A post shared by Derek Gee (@derekgee97)

While Gee was best known as a track racer until a year or so ago, he’s been racing on the road for many years. He won the Canadian junior time trial and road titles back in 2015, and has done UCI-level road races every season since 2014 (barring the COVID-affected 2020).

In the past six years, Gee has worked his way up through Canada’s time-trialing ranks, going from 16th in 2017 to winning the elite national title in June 2022. That 2022 season was Gee’s first as a full-time roadie. He raced with the Continental-level Israel Cycling Academy development team that year, but was quickly guest-riding for the program’s WorldTour squad, Israel-Premier Tech.

At Gran Camino (UCI 2.1) in February 2022, Gee took fifth in the race’s individual time trial while racing for Israel-Premier Tech, paving the way for a promotion to the setup’s top team this year (the team was relegated from WorldTour to ProTeam level for 2023). Gee has signed with the Israeli outfit until the end of 2025.

At the time of writing, Gee has completed 36 UCI-ranked race days in 2023, all of them at WorldTour level. It was in early April though that he first started to catch the eye of the international road racing community.

In his debut visit to the iconic Paris-Roubaix, Gee fought his way into the day’s early breakaway and had the honour of being the first rider to hit the legendarily rough cobbles of the Trouée d’Arenberg. Sadly, the excitement didn’t last long – Gee’s front tyre exploded in spectacular fashion shortly after hitting the cobbles.

It took five minutes for Gee to get a replacement wheel, and by the time he was moving again he was on his own. He rode the last 94 km to the finish solo, reaching the velodrome as the very last rider inside the time cut.

Gee went a month without racing after Roubaix, but when he next pinned on a number it was in his debut Grand Tour: the 2023 Giro d’Italia. Gee started with the goal of “just surviving” the three-week race, but after a largely anonymous start, the Canadian made his presence felt on stages 8 and 10. On both days he was in the breakaway for nearly 200 km, on both days the break survived, and on both days Gee took an impressive runner-up finish.

After finishing second to Healy on stage 8, he described the result as feeling “like a win”.

“I’m over the moon,” he said in a team press release at the time. “Coming into this Giro, I thought I had no chance, I was just trying to survive and get experience so this is amazing. It’s really confidence-inspiring to have the team believe in me and put me in a calendar like this so I’m really happy that I can validate that.”

His runner-up finish on stage 10 wasn’t quite as satisfying.

“To be honest, this one hurts a little more as I could really see the victory right there,” he said. “I knew that Cort was faster than me and that I shouldn’t go up against him head-to-head. I tried a late attack but ultimately, I ended in a sprint against him anyway.”

Gee was beaten by his more-experienced rival, Magnus Cort, in the sprint that decided stage 10.

While Gee is making a name for himself as an exciting, emerging rider, the 25-year-old has also become known for his rather unusual hobby: birdwatching. After looking for a low-energy pastime in 2019, Gee really embraced the birding life in 2020 during COVID times. “I know this makes me sound like an old person, but I really love birding,” he said recently.

His Instagram page features many photos of his feathered friends.

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A post shared by Derek Gee (@derekgee97)

While Gee takes great pleasure in finding rare avian species, he’s also in the process of finding himself when it comes to bike racing. After “a huge learning curve” in 2022, trying to find his way in the pro peloton, he’s hopeful 2023 will bring more self-discovery. The Israel-Premier Tech website describes Gee as a “TT specialist” but there’s clearly more to the talented 25-year-old.

“I think a successful season would be to really find what kind of rider I can be in the pro peloton and really discover where my strengths are, where my weaknesses are and hopefully make big contributions to the big guys on the team; the guys who can really go for those massive wins,” Gee said.

“A big part of it will be doing a big variation in the types of racing I do and to come out of 2023 with a good picture of how to progress and start to get results in 2024/25.”

Those results appear to have come sooner than expected. And one of those “massive wins” he speaks of? It doesn’t feel that far away.

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