Demong Swaps Skis for a Bike

The following article was published at TeamUSA.org:

Just hours after Bill Demong won the United States’ first Olympic gold medal in Nordic combined history, Lance Armstrong tweeted him, saying, “Congrats on the gold! Now back on the bike!”

Ninety-five days later – after proposing to his girlfriend, carrying the US flag at the Closing Ceremony, visiting troops in Qatar, throwing a ceremonial pitch at a Mets game, meeting the President at the White House, and gutting his house in Park City, Utah, – Demong is taking Armstrong’s advice.

June 1st, Demong will cliped into his racing bike and begin the four-mile prologue of the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic in Portland, Oregon, a six-day stage race in and around the Columbia River Gorge. After that, Demong has two more multi-day races on his hectic summer schedule.

Demong is not a professional in Armstrong’s league, but he is not a dilettante, either. He is a Category 1 rider, the highest-level amateur defined by USA Cycling.

”The reason I do this,” said Demong, 30, “is that as an older athlete, it’s been important for me to find a way to make my life sustainable and enjoyable. That means I try to mix it up more than most people.”

Aside from enabling Demong to return to Nordic combined every September feeling “really fit and mentally fresh,” cycling has also had a profound effect on his Nordic combined teammates, and pack-racing tactics played a key role in their recent Olympic success in Vancouver.

Demong’s intro to cycling didn’t come until after his first two Olympics. He was initially inspired by Jim Dunlap (a rider with multiple sclerosis), and Demong’s first year, 2006, was modest. “I traded a lot of ski gear for bike gear,” he said.

In 2007, Demong continued to use cycling as cross-training for Nordic combined, but by his third year, he earned enough points to rise from Category 3 to the top-rated Category 1 in about one month “because I was focused,” he said. It helped that he was part of a Salt Lake City team that included other Cat 1 riders.

In July 2008, Demong entered his first Cat 1 race, the Cascade Cycling Classic in Oregon. It was faster, tighter racing than he had ever experienced, and with less than two miles to the end of a stage at Mt. Bachelor, Demong was with five other riders when he put his head down for the final climb and promptly hit the wheel in front of him.

“I shot out of the road and slid on the pavement,” he said. “The guy I hit was okay. He got up and kept going.”

But Demong’s bike was mangled. Unsure what to do, he started running to the finish line in his cycling shoes – click-clack, click-clack, click-clack – with his bike at his side.

After about a half mile, Chris Horner, a professional on the Astana team, passed Demong and insisted on giving him a ride on his own bike.

“It was my first [high-level] race, so I figured it was standard fare,” Demong said.

So the two of them, like grade-school buddies, rode uphill to the finish, Demong on the seat with his bike slung over his right shoulder, and Horner standing up to pedal across the finish line.

“Some people know me more from that, than from skiing,” Demong said with a laugh last week in New York City.

Heading into the Olympic season, Demong said he backed off a bit, but he still contested six pro races last summer, including the 2009 Tour of the Gila in early May – his lone race with Armstrong – and the Tour of Utah, which he plans to do again in August, hopefully when he is in peak form.

Click here to read the entire article.

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