By Gabe Meline
This Saturday, thousands of cyclists take to the roads of west Sonoma County to ride in Levi Leipheimer's King Ridge GranFondo. Just in its second year, the GranFondo has been an instant success not only with cyclists but with tourism advocates as well, bringing nationwide awareness to roads previously known only to local diehards and turning Sonoma County into what's increasingly called a "cycling mecca."
Leipheimer is one of cycling's biggest stars: a three-time Tour of California champion, USA Road Race champion, Dauphiné Libéré champion and Santa Rosa resident with four Top 10 finishes in the Tour de France. In 2009, when he brought the Astana team to Sonoma County to train for the Tour of California, he led his teammates, including Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador, to his favorite ride, King Ridge Road. When funding to host the Tour of California ran dry in Santa Rosa's recession-battered budget plans, the prospects of the race returning appeared impossible.
But Leipheimer had a plan.
Leipheimer partnered with local magazine Bike Monkey to host the GranFondo, a 102-mile ride on the picturesque, challenging King Ridge, finishing along the Sonoma Coast and up over Coleman Valley Road to return to Santa Rosa. Two smaller rides were added for lesser ability levels. All three sold out and raised $100,000, with the majority of the proceeds donated to keep the Tour of California in Santa Rosa and a portion to Forget Me Not Farm in Santa Rosa.
This year, the three GranFondo routes are the same, but with 6,000 cyclists riding instead of last year's 3,500, the event's fundraising is expected to be even greater. Promoters have added to last year's beneficiaries the Lance Armstrong Foundation and VeloStreet's Community Initiatives program. Furthermore, money is being donated toward a proposed velodrome at Youth Community Park in Santa Rosa and greater signage for bicyclists within the city.
Leipheimer isn't just showing up and riding the route, either. He's traveling around the GranFondo route beforehand handing out checks to schools and volunteer fire departments; he's attending various auctions, dinners and fundraisers, and he even promises to show up in downtown Santa Rosa to promote the GranFondo's official pub crawl the night before the ride. Actor Patrick Dempsey from Grey's Anatomy is confirmed to be in town to ride the GranFondo, so, yes, chances are you could see Levi and McDreamy stumbling out of a downtown bar together.
Registration for the GranFondo is closed, but the ride's expansive festival with food, music and vendors is free and open to the public on Saturday, Oct. 9, at the Finley Center. College Avenue at Stony Point Road, Santa Rosa. 10am to 6pm. Free. 707.560.1122.
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