….from www.bicycling.com

A Ride with Zdeno Chara
The Boston Bruins All-Star defenseman rides the Tour de France course each summer and stashes bikes around the world.

1003-zdeno-charaYour dad was an athletic trainer when you were growing up in Slovakia. Is that how you got started with bikes?

Yeah, he was involved with training the cycling team. As a little boy I handed out food and water at feed stations. I got really into it, especially when the riders were coming uphill. You see the pack chasing a breakaway as you are looking for your cyclists—it’s really a challenge to find them.

Speaking of challenges, you don’t spend your whole off-season sitting on the beach.
Cycling has been a part of my training for as long as I can remember and eventually I talked a couple friends into riding some stages of the Tour de France. We pick either the Alps or the Pyrenees. We’ll do five, six or seven stages. After we ride each one, we wait for the racers to come. I’ve been one of those guys running alongside the riders, trying to push them up the hill a little.

Do you know any of the racers?
[Alberto] Contador is a really nice guy, a down-to-earth type and a really good person. I am friends with a lot of the Czech and Slovak riders—the Velits brothers, Pavel Padrnos, Rene Andrele, Jan Hruska. Hockey players and cyclists get along well. The riders are all huge hockey fans. When we get together I always ask them about cycling and they always want to talk about hockey.

Have you had a chance to meet Lance Armstrong?
I’ve always been a big fan of Lance, but I haven’t met him yet. I was really close a few times, but I got a little shy. He did sign a jersey for me.

Hockey players are fighters. Ever get into it with a driver on the road?
There have been arguments but not fistfights. Sometimes drivers forget or lose sight of cyclists. They cut you off or almost hit you so you have to always be aware. And, like in hockey, wear a helmet.

At 6-foot-9 and 260 pounds, do you have a hard time finding bikes?
It can be tough. I have two custom road bikes (from Calfee, in California, and Trek). I have one mountain bike but I don’t do that type of riding very much. It’s very technical and for a pretty heavy guy like me it’s not fun to fall down a hill.

Both cycling and hockey are known for their diehard fans—which ones are crazier?
They are both really passionate and wild. You have so much contact with the fans in cycling. They can pour water on you or touch you. In hockey you hear the fans but they can’t get as close—at least until after the game.

What’s more daunting—blocking a 100-mph slap shot with your body or racing downhill on your bike?
Both are exciting, but I’m more comfortable taking the slap shot then doing 70 mph down a hill. Obviously, hockey can be dangerous, but get a flat at that speed and you’re in trouble. The worst thing in hockey is ending up in the boards, but if something goes wrong on the bike, who knows where you’ll go?

Small Talk Favorite Ride?
France’s Col du Galibier. The mountain is beautiful and makes for one of the Tour’s hardest stages.

Ever travel with your bike?
I did at the beginning but then I decided to just get more bikes, which is fantastic. I have one in Boston, one in Florida, three back home in Slovakia and one in the Czech Republic. You never know when you are going to need to ride.

Next cycling trip?
I’ve heard Australia is great. And I haven’t been to Hawaii. It’d be cool to ride up the volcanoes.

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