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Back 2019-05-08

IndyCar Legend Tony Kanaan’s Passionate Pursuit of Bikes

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Tony Kanaan loves cycling. He really loves cycling. That much was obvious during his recent visit to Zipp. For the highly popular IndyCar driver, cycling is a crucial training tool for car racing. But cycling and triathlon are so much more. The bike is how TK, as he is known, destresses. It’s how he connects with fans. TK geeks out over gear, just like roadies everywhere. We chatted with the 2013 Indy 500 champ about his life on two wheels. Here is an edited transcript:

How much have you increased your cycling over the course of your racing career?

Quite a bit, actually. Since I was a little kid, 12 or 13, racing Go-Karts I wanted to get strong. But at the time, it was not recommended for a kid to lift weights. Back in the day, the only thing I could really do was cycling, running, and swimming. Over the years, I definitely migrated into triathlon, but the bike was always my passion. Bikes are extremely similar to racing cars. You’re talking aerodynamics, drag, power… although it’s a different kind of power. You have to have your own power on the bike. Nowadays, it’s a lifestyle for me. There’s not a single day that I’m not on my bike, unless I’m in my race car. Even then, we have it set up in the motorhome that we take to races, we have a Wahoo and a bike that stays there. When it’s an easy day at the race track, I get at the end of the day and I feel like a quick spin. I just hop on the Wahoo KICKR and do an hour on Zwift, just having fun.

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So you do Zwift and local rides?

I do everything. I’ve met a lot of people through Zwift. A lot of people recognize me on Zwift. Even the guys here in Indy, we ride outside, our own rides.

Is it a fun way to interact with fans? You often think about modern professional athletes being more separated from fans than in the past but cycling has been a way for you to connect.

Big time. I’m pretty engaged with my fans. A lot of people know I ride. Sometimes I even go on my Twitter or my Facebook and say, ‘Hey guys if anybody wants to ride tonight, I’ll be on Zwift at 8 o’clock.’

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Throwback to a decade ago with Kanaan, right, with fellow driver Vítor Meira at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

There seems to be so much passion among motorsports pros for cycling. Why is that?

It’s so similar to racing cars. You get some guys like me, (Scott) Dixon, (Alexander) Rossi, Jimmie Johnson, some of the guys who get really competitive about it, what happens is the guys who they race against say, ‘I’m going to start cycling, too, because I want to go kick his butt.’ There are days here in Indianapolis that we have six or seven IndyCar drivers. During the month of May we do something cool… Every morning the track lets me, Dixon and Rossi ride from 7 to 8 in the morning. People who follow me on Strava, during the month of May, you’ll see exactly the Speedway. Then other drivers see it…. All of sudden we have half of the field who actually loves cycling.

Race car drivers have to deal with intense heat during competition. How has cycling, especially racing in Kona, helped you deal with that?

That’s the biggest factor in which I think the bike helps us, the heat factor. But also your reflexes, especially when you’re in a group ride. When you’re riding in somebody’s draft, you obviously have to pay attention. The bike gives me obviously the cardio, but I love when it’s hot because that’s what we face in the race car. I lose 3 to 4 pounds per race, just liquid. And obviously sharpness, the quick reaction, the reflex, the focus that you have to have. When I ride with Zipp guys, some of the good guys, the Cat. 1 guys, nobody is riding for fun. When things start to get real, everybody’s focused because you can’t afford to fall. That’s something, you train your focus too.

You love going to Kona for the Ironman World Championships even when you’re not competing.

On and off I’ve been there for the past eight years.

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What is it about that week on the Big Island that you love so much?

Before I went there for the first time, and I promised myself that if I was going to go to Kona, I was going to have to do the race. It’s the same thing I did at the Speedway. I did not actually show up at the Speedway until it was my first time as a rookie. Since 2011, when I did the race (in Kona) I suffered like a pig. (Now going to Kona), I call it the Tony week. It’s time to go to relax and train. The wife knows that. I travel enough during the year to ask her to take another week off completely away from the kids and her. I know it’s tough. But she understands it’s the week I decompress, I destress. I love it. I go there, I train a lot. I go there, I’m like, ‘Man, how many people are that fit in the world? How many people can run that fast?’ I enjoy the atmosphere. I see you guys counting wheels (Kona Wheel Count). … You see the big names, and I’m a fan. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some of the big triathletes and ride with them. It’s my favorite week of the year in my off season.

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Follow @TKanaan on Instagram.