Eric Weinrich had nearly forgotten what it was like to hear the crowd roar for him.
Granted, it wasn’t the same fervor that comes with scoring in a National Hockey League game. But when Weinrich weaved through the streets of Yarmouth on his bike, competing last month in the Yarmouth Clam Festival race, he remembered the thrill as he rode 36 miles through the town where he lives.
“That was fun,” said Weinrich, an assistant coach with the Portland Pirates.
“It’s probably the closest I’ll get to competing in front of a crowd like I’ve done my whole life. It’s fun to see the people you know and the people cheering you on. I’ve never been in a bike race with a lot of people watching it.”
Four years after he retired from playing pro hockey, Weinrich has discovered a new outlet, and is winding down his fourth summer of competitive cycling.
As part of the Portland-based OA/CycleMania masters cycling team, Weinrich has participated in eight road races and time trials, including the Yarmouth Clam Festival race, which he completed in 1 hour, 23 minutes and 42.6 seconds to finish fifth among 69 cyclists.
“I’ve been involved in competitive sports my whole life and when you’re coaching, you get the feel of competition but you’re not actually participating in it,” Weinrich said.
“The recreational part of biking is fun and it’s social, but there comes a point where you need to take the next step.”
Weinrich, 43, ended his playing career with the Pirates after the 2007-08 season, two years after completing an 18-year NHL career with eight teams.
“Here’s a guy with a hockey background, and it’s surprising how well he goes on his bike,” said Eddie Quinn, who trains with Weinrich with OA/CycleMania.
“He puts his heart into training, and his hockey season runs a lot longer than people think, even with coaching. Here it is in August and you think he would ride constantly, but he’s still involved in coaching year-round and he puts in 15-16 hours a week training. It all depends on the race he’s aiming for.”
Weinrich was exposed to bicycling while growing up in Androscoggin County; his father commuted to work daily by bike from Poland to Auburn.
But for about 10 years, the bicycle sat in the family garage until Weinrich was in high school and reached a point where he became serious about training to play college and professional hockey.
Bicycling, he found, was a lower-impact training regimen than running and provided similar cardiovascular benefits.
Furthermore, he said, workouts can be tailored to cycling to complement offseason training.
“If you can do it outside rather than sit in the gym, guys would rather do that,” he said.
During the 2004-05 season, the year the NHL lost a season because of the lockout, Weinrich and his family lived in New Jersey, where the winters were mild and he could cycle throughout the year.
In New Jersey, he began to bike with a group of competitive cyclists and discovered the urge to compete, not just stay in shape.
“The more you do it, the more you catch the bug,” Weinrich said.
“You can only do so much before you need to get a little more out of it.”
Quinn, who owns CycleMania on Federal Street in Portland, said what sets Weinrich apart as a cyclist is his exceptional strength and mental mindset.
“He knows how to focus from playing hockey,” Quinn said. “He knows how to suffer and how to suck it up. That’s the whole thing with cycling. You have to make the call to continue or bag the day.
“He’s very good with that.”
Staff Writer Rachel Lenzi can be reached at 791-6415 or at: [email protected]