NIWOT — Depending on the season, high school junior Kenny Lang is a member of either the Niwot High School cross country team or the Melton Design Build/GS CIAO Juniors cycling team.
Lately, the 16-year-old has begun to realize how his performance in one has begun to positively impact his ability to compete in the other. This summer, Lang won state cycling titles for his junior men's 15-16 age group in three separate events.
Simultaneously, Lang captured a shining finish to his brilliant summer cycling season and gave himself the head start he needed to prime a breakout cross country campaign in the fall.
"Cycling really helps with leg strength and stuff like that, but also the competitiveness that you have to use when racing," Lang said. "All the tactics and the pressure are the same so it has made me a much stronger runner. Now I can kind of jump right into the cross country season."
Lang won the Colorado Juniors Criterium Championships on July 31 in Denver. A week later at the Rocky Mountain Junior Cycling Challenge, Lang won state titles in both the time trial in New Castle and the road race in Stilt. He also finished second in the hill climb state championships at Mt. Evans while competing up an age group against 17- and 18-year-olds.
"I've been on the cycling team for the last two years so this was my second year where I was really able to grow," Lang said. "All of my training led up to the state championships and everything, my conditioning, my race plans, they all came together. It was pretty awesome to end the season on that."
With school starting back up, Lang will now quickly transition into cross country mode for the fall prep season. As a sophomore last year, he placed 30th at 4A state at the Norris-Penrose Event Center in Colorado Springs. His time was 17 minutes, 17.8 seconds.
Only four sophomores placed higher than Lang last fall. The 14 seniors who placed ahead of him have since graduated. Lang hopes he can transfer his summer cycling success to improved his individual position and the Cougars boys' 16th-place team finish.
"Both are also team sports that people don't always realize are team sports," Lang said. "You have to run as a team and in cycling, you are often racing as a team to make sure that one person wins and when that person wins it's a win for everyone. I think our team could do great things this season."
While a popular debate continues over whether high school athletes should specialize in one sport or diversify, what does Niwot's new head coach Kelly Christensen think of Lang spending his summers on a bike instead of a track or trail?
"Obviously, we're super excited about the success he's had with biking," Christensen said. "He's coming into the season in great shape. It's just a different kind of fitness. It shouldn't take him too long to transition and I would think that here in a couple weeks he's going to be tearing it up pretty good for us. With that success, he's also coming into the season in a good place mentally. I think it's great that he's been working so hard."