FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Thomas Dimitroff was spinning his wheels. Literally.
On NFL draft day in 2011, the Atlanta Falcons general manager had unfinished business with the Cleveland Browns regarding a talented college wide receiver named Julio Jones. So Dimitroff did what any wise NFL executive would do in a franchise-changing, high-pressure moment: He jumped on his bicycle.
Not just any bike. It was an S-Works specialized version.
“I was riding around the neighborhoods of Buckhead and I was actually climbing, and I remember getting a hold of [late Browns general manager] Tom Heckert, God rest his soul,” Dimitroff recalled. “I asked him if the reports that there was another player in the mix for the trade and that we might lose the trade. You have to know Tom Heckert, but he was like, ‘Nah, everything’s fine. Just enjoy your ride. The deal is done. We’re set.’
“So, yes, I remember confirming the Julio trade with him while on a bike.”
The story shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who know the 52-year-old Dimitroff. Cycling isn’t just his hobby. It has been another one of Dimitroff’s passions since his days as a youth growing up in Canada when his father preached self-sufficiency and refused to buy him a car.
Dimitroff has an affinity for both road and mountain biking, with a collection of 15-plus such bikes to satisfy his itch, not to mention a few electrical cruisers. He wouldn’t reveal the most he has paid for a bike, but rumor has it he owns a Pinarello F8 that costs in the neighborhood of five figures.
He has gone on rides up and down the coast from Vancouver, Canada, to Tijuana, Mexico, and has taken his bike adventures all the way to the southern vineyards of France. Dimitroff even rode alongside former champion cyclist Lance Armstrong through the mountains of Colorado during the same season the Falcons appeared on HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” some footage that probably would have made for good reality TV.
“Look, for somebody that works the hours he works, it’s pretty incredible,” Armstrong told ESPN regarding his friend Dimitroff’s commitment to cycling. “If he had a regular job or no job, he’d be a hell of a lot stronger, of course. But to maintain the work schedule that he does — which I know is crazy — it’s very impressive.
“I can also see how that job is probably unbelievably stressful. And I’m a firm believer that the sport of cycling is a great stress reliever, just being out and just putting yourself in the hurt locker a little bit and just time to get out in the open country and clear your mind.”
No, Dimitroff didn’t go on a week-long ride after the Falcons’ gut-wrenching Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots. He does, however, try to carve out time for extended rides when he’s not in the midst of roster-building. This week’s bye might give him a chance to put in a few extra miles, although he does have offensive line issues to worry about because of injuries.
Dimitroff has come quite a ways from playing college football at the University of Guelph (Canada) and peddling around on a cobalt Schwinn, as he did as a child.
“Suffice to say I’ve ridden my bike all my life, as long as I could get on two wheels,” Dimitroff said. “All the way through my childhood, all the way through my teenage years, and quite honestly all the way through college, everyone would kind of laugh because I had my bike chained up to a bike rack in the middle of winter when it was snowing like crazy.”
Dimitroff used to be more committed to mountain biking than road biking because he lived in Colorado, loved the fitness element, and appreciated challenges associated with getting out on the trails. He admitted foolishly taking on those tasks in the past without wearing a helmet, something he won’t dare do now. But even when Dimitroff has worn protective gear, it hasn’t kept him from going on injured reserve occasionally.
“I’ve snapped collarbones and broken wrists,” he said. “Those were mostly on my mountain bike — knock on wood — because mountain bike wrecks can be radical. Some of the descents you’re flying down, you probably reach 55 miles per hour. I mean, it’s fast.
“I remember one time I was coming down a road in Colorado. It was kind of a slick day. I laid the bike on the pavement, and I started sliding. I kept sliding and spinning, if you can imagine, on my backside. And I was approaching this guard rail. Somehow, it hit me in the middle of the spine. It was probably the scariest wreck I ever had. And that happened before I got this job.”
Dimitroff does more road biking these days because the open road is more accessible, naturally. Throwing his mountain bike in the car and heading up to the mountains of North Carolina or north Georgia isn’t out of the question, but is a bit more cumbersome.
“Through all of my years of amateur racing and mountain biking, I started to pull a lot more miles on the road to train for mountain biking,” Dimitroff said. “You can only do so much training on a mountain bike, because your back and your joints obviously get beaten up. Just before I moved out to Colorado 20-something years ago, I started putting more time on the road.”
Sometimes, those rides lasted up to five or six hours and were as long as 100 miles. The whole goal back then was having a strong fitness base.
“Then I realized more and more how much I really enjoyed being on real good road bikes,” Dimitroff said. “It was like being in a fine race car. You’re out there and it’s so much precision. You’re so efficient with your pedal strokes and such. … You really appreciate how smooth and fast you can go on a road bike.”
Dimitroff never really had thoughts of competing at the professional level of cycling, but he considered setting aside time in the future to ride some stages of the famous Tour de France. Every now and then, Dimitroff will get with a group of about 15 pro and amateur cyclists and go on a long ride, like he did to the Falcons’ facility one day this past summer. And, of course, riding with Armstrong was a chance of a lifetime.
“I have a good relationship with Lance,” Dimitroff said. “We’re good friends, and I appreciate what he’s gone through in many, many ways. … I don’t think I’ve met someone who is more competitive than Lance Armstrong. We have some great discussions about that. He’s got a lot of really interesting insight about pushing oneself, probably more so than any of us could ever imagine.”
Armstrong might give him added motivation, but Dimitroff obviously has no problem motivating himself. He’s enjoying the ride.