Standing six-foot-three, 225-pounds, Scott Thornton doesn’t fit the typical cyclist profile. Yet, the Sharks veteran left winger is enamored with the sport and jumps at any opportunity to ride.
When the third stage of the Amgen Tour of California, the only time trial stage of the inaugural race, biked through San Jose on February 22, Thornton received his chance to get inside the ropes and on the track. As an honorary member of the Health Net Pro Cycling Team Presented by Maxxis and riding a Cannondale Slice Time Trial bike, Thornton christened the course prior to the pros setting out for the ride.
“I’m not exactly built for cycling, but maybe that’s why I like it so much,” said Thornton. “It is a good challenge to try to get out here and compete.”
Hitting the course at 9:15am, the 34-year-old native of Belleville, Ontario set a mark of 48 minutes, exceeding his goal of 50 minutes. Not bad for a cyclist that has never been clocked in a time trial.
“I didn’t get in a warm-up,” said Thornton. “I basically threw the gear on, got on the bike and ran two trials out of the gate to see what it was like. But I felt pretty comfortable with my time. It was better than my estimate.”
Launching off the ramp, the course would provide all the warm-up he needed.
“You only have about 200 meters and then you climb Bailey Hill, which isn’t a big hill, but I had a cold start,” said Thornton. “I used that as my warm-up and it took me about 15 minutes to recover.”
On the track, he had plenty of company. Followed by a vehicle filled with a variety of media types, Thornton was also joined by a van full of his Health Net teammates, who provided moral support along the way.
“I told them no megaphones,” said Thornton with a laugh. “If they started with the megaphone I told them that I was getting off the bike.”
Typically, a cyclist will ride with a computer tracking time, speed and heart-rate. During his race through San Jose, he didn’t have that luxury.
By not having a gauge on how hard he was pushing himself, the well-conditioned professional athlete had a back-up plan.
“I went as hard as I could go without puking,” joked Thornton, whose maximum heart rate tops out at 186. “I’m pretty sure that my heart rate was there.”
No stranger to grueling fitness tests, the eldest statesman on Team Teal participated in the daunting 129-mile Death Ride through the Lake Tahoe region during the lockout. While it isn’t at the level hockey is on his priority list, it is quite evident that Thornton is passionate about cycling.
“This is the other sport that I love outside of hockey,” said Thornton. “This is one of my favorite sports to watch. And getting a chance to participate and getting an inside view of what goes on a little bit is incredible.”
While he does not ride during the season due to the wear-and-tear and time constraints of an 82-game schedule, Thornton uses cycling to maintain his fitness level through the off-season.
During the summer, he rides 35-70 miles four times a week using San Jose’s hilly terrain for slow climbs. Supplementing his cycling efforts, he runs the remaining three days.
“My main goal is to build an aerobic base first and then as the summer progresses, I do more power intervals,” explained Thornton. “By supplementing the strength intervals with running sprints, I make my routine very hockey specific.”
He is joined by a group of friends that run a bike shop in San Jose during the summers. While not many current teammates ride with him, former Sharks such as Owen Nolan, Mike Rathje and Jeff Friesen hit the pavement with him.
Lately, Thornton has recruited enforcer Scott Parker to the road. Standing six-foot-five, Parker is another non-traditional cyclist, but is becoming ever-more interested in the sport.
“He’s getting into it a little bit,” said Thornton. “Hopefully we can get him on his own bike, because he is borrowing one right now.”
Speaking more like a fan than a professional athlete, Scott Thornton reflected, “this is one of the biggest days that I’ve had and it is just unbelievable. I’m completely out of my element here and it’s just a learning experience. The guys from Health Net and Cannondale have gone out of their way to make me comfortable.”
While most NHL players are getting a well-deserved Olympic rest, Thornton used his time to increase his endurance. With many games remaining after the Olympic break, that endurance training should pay dividends with the Sharks chasing a Western Conference playoff spot.