HE HASN'T laced up his skates since the NHL officially canceled its season in February, but the Ottawa Senators' Curtis Leschyshyn, 35, insists he's in the best shape of his 16-year career--thanks to his foray into competitive cycling. The 6'1", 207-pound defenseman, who won the Stanley Cup with the Avalanche in 1996, has put 12,500 miles on his road bikes--including a $8,000 Trek Madone his teammates gave him for playing his 1,000th NHL game--since the Senators were knocked out of the 2004 playoffs, and he now trains six days a week and rides races near his home in Littleton, Colo. "Cycling has satisfied my appetite for being competitive," says Leschyshyn. "I'm more nervous before a race than before a hockey game." At the prestigious Boulder Stage Race earlier this month Leschyshyn won the first two stages of his career.
Leschyshyn first began riding in 2003, and last July, he and Senators teammate Radek Bonk went on a bike trip to France that coincided with the Tour de France. They spent a few days relaxing in a Burgundy chateau, saw the race finish in Paris and climbed the grueling Alpe d'Huez with U.S. Postal Service team members turned Trek guides Dylan Casey and Kevin Livingston. "The biking was very hard in the Alps," says Bonk. "Curtis was the top of our tour group."
Back home in the Rockies, Leschyshyn, who with his wife, Laura, has three kids, Jake, 6, Anna, 4, and Kate, 1, hired a coach to devise a punishing cycling regimen. Averaging 20 mph and mixing in climbing intervals, he bikes about 300 miles a week, including one 80-miler. His hockey strengths--legs trained to generate short, powerful bursts of skating speed--serve him well on sprints and flat stretches. "The meat of his training is improving his endurance," says his coach, Neil Henderson, a former conditioning coach for the AHL Hershey Bears. "His upper body is developed because he has to move people off the puck. In cycling that's just weight he has to move up the hill."
At the Boulder Stage Race, with Laura cheering him on, Curtis won a 421/2-mile stage and a 16-mile criterium. "His power output is among the highest I've seen--even among elite cyclists," says Henderson, 32. Leschyshyn will compete in the Colorado State Time Trial Championships next month, then strap his skates back on to prepare for what he hopes will be a 2005-06 NHL season. Not that he's trading in his two-wheeler. "When I retire from the NHL, I'd like to race," he says. "You can compete until you can't walk anymore. That's what I like about it."