Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge Gran Fondo


Rather than beat around the bush and try to build a case for why I think Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge Gran Fondo was incredible, I’ll just tell you straight out: This was the prettiest organized ride I’ve done in the United States.

I’ve done organized rides all over the country. My barometer for beauty demands one basic feature—elevation change. Without it, you don’t get many thrilling vistas. As a result, most of my top 10 prettiest events are held in California.

Previously, my top three were the Tour of the Unknown Coast in Humboldt County, the Tour of the California Alps (also known as the Markleeville Death Ride) outside of Lake Tahoe, and the Mulholland Challenge in Malibu, in that order. They’ve been bumped down a notch now.

More than 20 years ago, the increasingly ambitious Coor’s Classic expanded to California. One of the roads it used was King Ridge Road in western Sonoma County. It’s a road that has been consistently cited as one of California’s gems, but talk of Sonoma County cycling usually fails to mention just how challenging the road is.

King Ridge Road may have been the crown jewel in a stunning ride, but it was only one road. The descent into Jenner was the most beautiful seaside descent I’ve done.

I had a succession of flats that day (something I’ll address in another post) and so any hope I had of turning a fast time got dashed. As a result, I gave myself permission to stop for photos from time to time, rather than just shooting from the saddle.

With 3500 riders on the road at once, there were riders in view at all times, and despite getting in to the last two rest stops on the later side, they were still well stocked. Nearly as impressive as the ride itself was the number of volunteers who turned out to help. Police manned each and every intersection, ensuring everyone turned the correct direction and allowing safe passage to the riders free of traffic.

The concept of a timed century has been slow to catch on in the United States, despite its incredible popularity in Europe. Its time has come. If Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge Gran Fondo is any indication, racers are beginning to see the value in a timed century as opposed to yet another industrial park crit.

This is one ride I’ll definitely be back for.

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  1. Doug

    Ahh! All that is old becomes new again…
    I remember when the Davis Double was timed, also the Death ride….this practice was stopped (by the CHP?) because they were deemed races.
    Yes, timed centuries are a great idea. Not a new one, though.
    And it is true, King Ridge rules!

  2. blacksocks

    A superb day, perfectly organized and supported! I would recommend this ride to anyone looking for a good ride adventure.

    Thanks for the photos Padraig, and sorry I missed you out there.

  3. Chris Kostman

    AdventureCORPS has always timed its centuries (and double centuries) in Death Valley and elsewhere. It amuses me that the Gran Fondo is perceived as having created some new style of event. It’s a century that’s timed, a concept that has been around since I first rode one in Riverside in 1982. Nothing new there, but I’m glad the event was a success and well received.

    1. Author

      Chris: I’m glad to hear you’ve been doing this. While I don’t think timing events is a “new” idea, it is one that has a level of attraction for many current and former racers and I suspect that events that have already been run this way simply needed better marketing. The only other century I’ve done in the last 10 years that featured a mass start (complete with gun) didn’t attempt to place faster riders near the front; that was the Palm Springs Century. Negotiating the traffic without many cops was something other than fun. A curious experiment for you might be to try calling one of your events a Gran Fondo and see if the simple-minded name change netted you more participants.

      And while timing isn’t a new idea, I think it is one that is so out of use that most organizers don’t understand how going to this trouble could make the event more interesting to thousands of cyclists, rather than a few hundred.

      Similarly, I don’t think too many cities or police departments understand how this one feature combined with road closures has the power to make an event much more memorable and bring in many more cyclists, boosting the tourism value dramatically.

  4. Dan O

    Looks like it was an awesome ride – wish I was there.

    I’ve always though the concept of a “Gran Fondo” was a mass start event that was timed. Some riders will treat it as a race, others more of a tour. Your choice. Having never ridden one, that’s my understanding. I could be wrong. It’s happened before….

    I think the timed aspect will change the demographics a bit from the usual century rider. It’s the perfect fit between a “real” road race and a typical century ride. If that’s the case, it should prove popular. That kind of gig would be right up my alley – along with quite a few other riders I know.

    I hope the concept grows here in the US.

  5. Marco Placero

    Although I’d signed up for the event– the Mediofondo, only because the Granfondo was filled– I decided not to ride because I had wanted to ride King’s Ridge, the coast, and Coleman Valley Road. But since those roads weren’t included in the Medio distance I felt I would be poaching a classy ride (not just another century) if I rode the Gran distance anyway. The Medio distance was a dull ride along roadways I can beat riding out my door. Yes I knew what I was signed up for but my moral sense took over and prevented me from cheating.

    The bitch is that from my understanding, many who signed up for the Medio poached the Gran distance anyway. Boy am I a dumbshit for being honest.

    My point? The organizers should at least double the number of people allowed to ride the Gran distance. Leave the Medio distance as a bailout option but give everyone the ability to ride the Gran distance, especially since the fee was the same.

    Also, next year they should reverse the direction– it’s a much better ride going clockwise through Occidental and down Coleman Valley Road because you end up riding northward along the coast, with a tailwind instead of a stiff headwind (duh). The climbs up from the coast into the mountains are brutal going that way, just as difficult as Coleman Valley Road.

    P.S. Will the organizers ever stop spamming me with advertisements?

    1. Author

      Jim: I’ve heard great things about it, and given that it was enough to get Richard Sachs to relocate to Western Mass. I grant it must really be something. I miss Don Podulski’s River Ride and as pretty as that was, not to mention the ‘Round Quabbin, what I saw at LLKRGF was just stunning.

  6. jim

    Please come out for it! I certainly wasn’t dismissing Levi’s ride… but as you know, Western Mass. has a distinct flavor of roads and byways and amidst the climbing and pain, you are transported back in time.

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