El Tour de Tucson’s youngest riders show cycling is fun for all ages

Jon Gold Special to the Arizona Daily Star

When Ariana Dinu was 6 years old, she saw some cyclists training for Tour de Scottsdale around her neighborhood. She pointed to them and told her parents, Nan and Valentin, that she wanted to do it, too.

“You have a 6-year-old and they say all kinds of stuff,” Nan said. “Most parents would just blow them off, but I said OK, give it a shot.”

Ariana started training with her dad, who, Nan says with a laugh, is not a professional cyclist, and she took to it.

When the Tour de Scottsdale was canceled due to rain that year, Ariana was disappointed. She was ready for the 50-mile ride.

So she did it herself, and the tour organizers even gave her a medal, the only one they gave out that year.

Now 11, she’s taking on Saturday’s Banner-University Medicine 39th El Tour de Tucson full course for the second time; last year, she was the youngest to complete the race. And now she’s got some competition.

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Her younger sister, Carina, is entering the ride on Saturday for the first time. She’s attempting to break her older sister’s record for the youngest century ride.

El Tour, it seems, is fun for all ages.

‘It’s cool to ride far’

He’s not doing it for the fruit snacks and not even for the cheeseburgers and ice cream that awaits him at the end of the 63-mile ride as part of El Tour de Tucson on Saturday.

For 7-year-old Tucsonan Jordan Price, it’s about meeting a goal that first began a few years back.

He’s been cycling since right around the time he could walk — he was just around a year old when he was on his first balance bike, his father Jacob, an avid cyclist himself, said — and he first rode in El Tour when he was just 4 years old, completing the 10-miler.

In 2020, at the ripe old age of 5, he finished with more than 500 miles of cycling over the course of the year, though El Tour was canceled that year.

Last year at the age of 6, Jordan was the youngest finisher in the 28-mile El Tour course, en route to completing 600 miles for the year.

With 688 miles under his belt this year, he’ll ride in El Tour once more, though he’s going a lot more than the 12 miles needed to complete his goal of 700 miles at the age of 7. Jordan and Jacob will attempt to tackle the 63-mile ride on Saturday, the longest ride of his young life.

“I like riding in the race because I think it’s cool to ride far,” Jordan Price said on Friday. “I like to make my goals by riding far, and getting to 700 miles in the year.”

Just two weeks ago, the Price’s finished a 61-mile training ride, fueled by regular water breaks and ample fruit snacks. Jordan’s thoughts on the grueling adventure?

‘Ariana inspires us’

“This is just completely incredible to me,” she said. “They weren’t motivated by my husband or me. We’re not doing any of this. Ariana inspires us, the entire family. To not give up, to push for whatever we believe in. It’s not easy having kids who are so driven and motivated. You just have to find a way to support them.”

Ariana Dinu is not only an endurance cyclist, but she’s taken on the full triathlon package. She runs, she swims. She’s the only junior athlete in tri-Scottsdale. She recently completed a half-Ironman challenge, even if it was unofficial; the minimum age is supposed to be 18.

“When I set the bar high, I want other girls to know, you can achieve your goal if you just train hard toward it, set your mind to it, and especially, you never give up,” Ariana said.

She just loves to go, go, go, even if she doesn’t have professional ambitions that involve athletics.

“I don’t want to do it for a living, but I really like doing this,” she said. “I want to be a really good athlete, but I also want to do more than just this. In school, I like science, engineering, math.”

‘Really fun moments and really serious moments’

There they stood, breathing heavy on the side of the road on the Loop by Interstate 10 north of Orange Grove Road. Jordan was just in kindergarten, but he was already pushing himself. This 30-mile ride was their longest yet and he was feeling it.

“We had a bit of a gut-check there,” Jacob Price said. “It was a life lesson, that some things aren’t easy. At this point, he’s pretty aware that most of his peers are not riding this far. Sometimes when he’s hit that wall, he learned that some things are kinda hard, and that’s why not a lot of people do it. Because it is hard. When you’re willing to do things that are hard, you can do some pretty cool stuff.”

Jordan caught the bug from his dad and his maternal grandfather, Mark Neibel, who was a regular El Tour rider.

His first El Tour back in 2019, the 10-miler, came less than a month after he took off his training wheels. It was then that Jacob realized his son had a need for speed. Jacob had a more pressing need to make sure Jordan took this pursuit safely and seriously.

“A big part of riding with kids is feeding them snacks and keeping them hydrated,” Jacob Price said. “I’m making sure we watch the pace and making sure he maintains it. But last year during the ride, I assumed he would fatigue, and it was almost the complete opposite. As he got closer and got past 20 miles, he started going faster and faster. He never really ran out of steam. He kind of surprised me.”

Jordan is too young for any serious cycling aspirations, other than the goals he’s set for himself. He also plays soccer and baseball and Jacob makes sure that Jordan is the one who pushes for further distances, not himself.

“As far as future cycling, I don’t have any goals or expectations for him as far as the sport. He’s talented enough that he could have some cycling future if he wanted to, but there’s just a lot of benefits to cycling if he just uses it as a pastime,’” Jacob Price said. “He loves playing soccer. I tell him cycling helps him with his endurance on the soccer field. In a couple years, if he doesn’t want to do it any more, we’ll stop, and I’ll be happy with the memories of riding with him when we did.”

That, for Jacob, will be the hardest part.

Not going farther and farther, but stopping altogether.

“We have good talks while we laugh and sometimes the most ridiculous things you can think of,” Jacob Price said. “There’s some really fun moments and some serious moments. But you go for a 60-mile ride with your kid, that’s what I love the most. We’re just hanging out.”

The 38th annual El Tour de Tucson had nearly 6,500 participants, with two international cyclists winning top spots.

Mexico’s Gerardo Ulloa was the first to cross the finish line following Saturday’s 102-mile bicycle race and Cuba’s Marlies Mejías had the fastest time among female cyclists. Video by Jesse Tellez/Arizona Daily Star.


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