March 24, 2005
This year's El Tour de Phoenix follows a new route Richard DeBernardis, founder and director of Perimeter Bicycling Association of America, which puts on the event, says the route was changed to avoid traffic congestion later in the day in central Mesa.
The move also allows the start and finish line for both the 74- and 26-mile events to be at the same place, Red Mountain Park in Mesa.
“We’ve added six miles to the (long) ride plus Usery Pass,” says DeBernardis, who expects finish times to reflect the added miles and climb by 20 to 30 minutes.
Their marriage was launched with a bike ride, the 1991 El Tour de Tucson, and this year Marie and John Neuner of Phoenix are being honored as cycling enthusiasts and cancer survivors who ride in the pursuit of health. The Neuners are the dedicatees of the 14th annual El Tour de Phoenix on April 2.
“We always look for something that is an inspiration to other people,” says Richard DeBernardis, founder and director of Perimeter Bicycling Association of America, which puts on the event. “John's name has come back year after year. Then, with Marie's health problems and John's health problems, these are people who have gone through struggles and still remain positive and still ride their bikes. Quite simply, they are an inspiration.”
John Neuner has helped with El Tour de Phoenix since the beginning, serving as the start/finish line director and later as head of the bike patrol. He will be at the start of this year's 74-mile route, but will ride the 26-mile circuit with Marie and their daughter Victoria, 6.
It will be a challenge for all three — John riding lead on the tandem and Marie serving as the stoker right ahead of Victoria, who will have her own pedaling apparatus attached to the back. Tandem riding is the only riding the couple do these days; Marie suffers from multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. Marie was diagnosed with MS six months before the Neuners were married.
The couple became engaged at another BAA event, the El Tour de Tucson, which was documented in Sports Illustrated.
“We had been dating about a year when we went to ride the 25-mile event,” Marie says. Finishing the event, John noted that they needed to pick up their medallions at the medallion tent, where the proposal "Will rider 6051 marry rider 6050?” was posted. It was announced over the loudspeaker that she would. John had the engagement ring in his bike patch kit.
In 2004, both were diagnosed with cancer — her breast, him neuroendocrine — within two weeks of each other. Treatment for both is believed to have been successful.
“When I'm not riding, I don't feel as healthy,” John says. “It's a good way to keep off weight, and it’s social. Cycling has an interesting cross section of people.”
“It's not like exercise,” Marie says. “It's like traveling.”
A dedication dinner for the couple is planned 6:30 p.m. March 31 at the Windemere Hotel and Conference Center in Mesa. Dinner cost is $30. Make reservations at www.pbaa.com.
El Tour de Phoeni
When: 6:30 and 9 a.m. April 2
Where: Red Mountain Park, 7745 E. Brown Road, Mesa
Cost: $70, proceeds benefiting the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
Registration/packet pickup: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. April 1 at Windemere Hotel & Conference Center, 5750 E. Main St., Mesa
Information: (520) 745-2033