CITRUS PARK - More than 70 cyclists gathered as the sun was rising Saturday to ride in honor of Andy Baxter.
The co-owner of Citrus Park Cyclery died last week of melanoma. Andy owned the store for two years with his son, A.J. During that time he earned the admiration and affection of local cyclists.
On Saturday, many of those people pedaled more than 40 miles in his honor.
"He was a good person and I am grateful I had years to get to know him," said Rosel Polacelli, a family friend. "I am going to miss him terribly."
Baxter, 66, fell in love with the sport of bicycling in the 1980s and would do everything from watch the Tour de France, participate in centuries (bicycle rides of at least 100 miles), and repair and maintain bicycles. It was his passion for bicycling, friends say, that led him to set up shop in Citrus Park with the goal of creating a casual, welcoming atmosphere for all types of bicycling enthusiasts.
When father and son opened their store in this northwest Hillsborough County community they decided to sell bicycle brands such as Jamis, BMC and Look. Cyclists came for essentials such as tires, tubes, seats and water bottles. Andy and A.J. Baxter also began hosting twice-weekly group rides. Over time the rides began to average 30 to 40 riders.
"I want to carry on what he started - a friendly, fun atmosphere where people can come spend hours hanging out," A.J. Baxter said.
It was Andy Baxter's second fight against cancer that took his life. Six years ago he was diagnosed with melanoma and beat it, his son said.
About six months ago he learned the disease had returned. After the diagnosis, things progressed quickly. Too weak to work, he stopped putting in regular hours at the store in March. He died June 19.
Since then, A.J. Baxter says, friends and bicycling acquaintances have called, sent cards and posted condolences on Facebook.
"He was a great dad and the impact he had on so many people is awesome," his son said.
A memorial service is scheduled at 11 a.m. on Saturday at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz. Baxter is survived by his wife, Linda; sons, Andy and Rob; and four grandchildren.