'Tour De Payson' Is Great Way To Exercise

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As six-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong slept somewhere in Courchavel, France, resting for stage 11 of cycling's most popular and grueling event, seven cyclists halfway around the world in Payson mounted their bikes Tuesday evening for a ride of their own.

At 5:30 p.m. -- the start of the ride -- the mercury hovered around 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Ken Shepherd, longtime Payson cyclist, is helping his daughter-in-law, Angie Shepherd, become a more proficient and in-shape road cyclist. The Shepherds and other local cyclists gather at Manzanita Adventure Sports Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. for a group ride around the perimeter of town.

On this particular Tuesday night, heading west on Main Street, the heat felt soft, almost bearable on the faces of the cyclists.

But as the group turned back where the asphalt ends on Country Club Drive, and headed east down Main Street up to the Beeline Highway and on to Ox Bow Estates, fatigue and heat settled in, and a couple bikers fell behind.

"It's a whole new thing, it's working different muscles," said Angie Shepherd, a 24-year-old mother of two on her second time out on the Tour de Payson. "Biking is fun. I want to prepare so I don't hold the group up."

For 10 years, a core of local riders -- Dan Basinski, Ken Shepherd and Wayne Gorry -- have been getting together every Tuesday, weather permitting, for the Tour de Payson. And over the years, riders come and go.

"It's more fun to ride in a group than it is alone," Basinski said. "I like road biking because I can control my training. It's easier on the equipment, and it gets boring doing the same all the time."

Road biking is the beauty while mountain biking is the beast of the two-wheeled sports.

"Mountain biking can be very intimidating," Gorry, a local mountain bike champion and school teacher said. "I road bike mostly to train for mountain biking. It doesn't thrash me as much."

Unlike the mountain biker who bucks over rugged off-road terrain and pulverizes hairpin switchbacks with his beefy, nubby tires, hardcore suspension and bulky motorcycle-like frame, the road cyclist glides over pavement on slim, slick tires, pirouetting around potholes and climbing hills on light, graceful frames of carbon fiber, titanium and other high-tech alloys.

Bicycles, in some form, have been around for centuries, however, modern cycling showed up in the 1896 summer Olympiad in Athens, Greece when the first group of Olympic cyclists completed two, 54-mile loops. Less than 10 years later, Frenchman Maurice Garin won the inaugural Tour de France in 1903.

Over the past 30 years, athletes like Eddy Merckx, Greg Lemond and Armstrong, who's set to win his seventh Tour de France, have given the sport of cycling a resurgence.

"Lance has made the sport more popular," said cyclist and former triathlete, Cindy Pool, Payson High School's new biology teacher who rides every Tuesday with the group. "Everybody wants what he has."

Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer, which eventually spread to his brain and lungs. After a grim prognosis, followed by aggressive chemotherapy treatments, Armstrong's cancer went into remission. Shortly thereafter, he got on his bike and won an unprecedented six Tours de France.

His success and tenacity, Pool said, has inspired a new generation of athletes to peel themselves off their couches and get active.

That's why Pool, who recently started biking again after a five-year hiatus, enjoys the group ride Tuesday evenings.

"There is not a lot of support for women," Pool said. "I was really afraid to get back into cycling -- the dynamics of riding so close to one another, crashing. (Basinski) really encouraged me to overcome my fears."

The Tour de Payson is a 25-mile ride around the perimeter of the town, and if you're new to cycling or out of shape, the route has options.

"It's OK when you first start out to take shortcuts, go slow and stop," Angie said. "You're consistently meeting back up with the group."

The group follows the same route, stopping at established meeting points to wait for slower cyclists, and pointing out shortcuts for newbies along the way. For the more hardcore cyclist wanting a good workout, the faster members of the group break into sprints and attack the hills around town.

The seasoned members of the Tour de Payson recommend a few essentials for those new to the sport.

"You don't need all that expensive crap ... the $4,000 bike," Ken said. "Get started, and if you get passionate about biking, then you can get all that stuff."

Before joining a Tuesday evening ride, Basinski suggested taking your bicycle into Manzanita Adventure Sports -- it's the only bike store in town -- and have Devin Wala or one of the other mechanics look it over.

"Your bike must be in decent repair," he said. "If you're going to consider buying a bike, buy a decent bike. Don't buy one from a chain store. It was probably set up by the guy in the garden department, and it won't last."

"You need to have a decent quality bike that you feel comfortable on," Pool added. "Then I would recommend talking to knowledgeable riders who can help with questions and getting into shape."

A respectable, entry-level road bike and all the accessories can be purchased for under $1,000 Basinski said. And, he added, buy a good helmet and wear it.

Members of the Tour de Payson encourage anyone interested in riding to join them Tuesday evenings at 5:30 p.m. Meet in front of Manzanita Adventure Sports, 403 S. Ash St., (928) 474-0744.

"I would encourage new people to come out," Gorry said. "You can ride in beautiful places around here, you can cover quite a good distance, it's easy on your joints, and the benefits are endless."

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