Levi’s Gran Fondo: the Festivities

The weekend was a whirlwind. Driving, fueling (both me and the car), riding, shooting, writing, more writing and talking. Talking, talking and more talking; after all, that’s what happens, even to an introvert, when he bumps into scores of terrific people. I feel as if much of the weekend went by too quickly to properly record it all on my gray matter memory stick, but I did what I could to let it all soak in.

But wait a sec. I should point out that the weekend of Levi’s Gran Fondo, okay more properly, Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge Gran Fondo (a name like some pure-bred dog’s) is the most unlikely of events. Unlikely not because it is a cycling event that takes place in a smaller community (at roughly 170,000 you can’t really call Santa Rosa a small town), but because the town’s population swells by a good six or seven percent—enough to be fill every hotel and motel for 20 miles—cycling takes center stage and it’s a rare occasion when cycling becomes cool. Cool by any measure. It feels like what high school would have been like had I been cool back then. Of course, that’s purely conjecture on my part as I was as far from cool as Boise is from Miami.

Friday night was the premiere of the documentary about Leipheimer called “The Levi Effect.” The event saw a crowd lined up down the street for a good city block. Inside it took over several of the theaters, at least three by my count. Before the movie started Leipheimer spoke for a few moments and told the assembled crowd (and there was a video feed to stream his comments into the other theaters) how the only way he had been willing to agree to a documentary was that if it didn’t focus exclusively on him. Everyone laughed; clearly the notion that you could have a documentary titled “The Levi Effect”  and not focus it on Levi Leipheimer seemed funny, but he was serious. He talked about how he wanted the documentary to focus on the way the cycling gave him Santa Rosa and how the gran fondo was his way to say thank you to Santa Rosa.

The documentary itself was a delight. I doubt there’s another film in existence that can sell Santa Rosa or even Sonoma County the was this film does, but I’ll save the review for another occasion. Following the film there was a panel discussion with Leipheimer, Tom Danielson and the filmmakers. Danielson stole the show with some incredibly funny remarks: “What’s it like to race with Levi?”

“He kind of a dick.” Danielson has a great command of irony.

If there’s one thing that Levi’s Gran Fondo lacks, it’s a Jumbotron. They need to position one about 100 yards from the start for the many riders who, once queued up, can’t see the stars being interviewed. Patrick Dempsey, above, was the only genuine A-lister I saw this year, though last year I did bump into Erika Christensen in the VIP tent. Danielson made a stop by Dave Towle, also known as the voice of the Amgen Tour of California, as did Olympic Gold Medalist Kristin Armstrong and, of course, Levi.

The man behind the scenes who never gets enough credit: Carlos Perez. This is Carlos with his wife Cheryce and their daughter Zoie. Carlos is the CEO of Bike Monkey and the man who is really the force behind Levi’s Gran Fondo and a great many other terrific events that happen in and around Santa Rosa. He was also the executive producer of “The Levi Effect.” If you ever want to say thank you to someone, this is the guy.

I met Shane Bresnyan on the Specialized Ride to Vegas last year. On our opening ride I’d gotten concerned about a gap that had opened and decided I should jump across to what I thought were the fast guys. I was half way across a 10 second gap on a false flat when he and NorCal BikeSport owner Glenn Fant came by me as if I was getting dropped.

Oh. Huh? Wow.

Shane is one of Levi’s training buds when he’s home. I think that covers it. Oh, wait, he’s also stunningly nice.

Levi took a lot of time to wander through the VIP area at the start and personally say hi to as many riders as possible. This is Levi with Glenn Fant. Fant has served as Levi’s personal mechanic at the Amgen Tour of California, the Criterium du Dauphiné and even the Tour de France. He’s also, perhaps, the only rider in Sonoma County who speaks even less than Levi does.

Specialized honch Mike Sinyard. Mike loves a good, hard ride.

Elden, Fatty, Nelson with Bike Monkey Brand Ambassador (and scribe) Yuri Hauswald.

So what happens when bloggers meet? Pictures, of course.

I’ve been to a lot of bike events in the last 25 years. Races, rides, charity events, you name it, I’ve gone. I can say that the electricity at the start of Levi’s Gran Fondo was unlike anything I’ve experienced anywhere, save last year at … Levi’s Gran Fondo.

This is the Church Marching Band performing the National Anthem. They are a 13-piece street band (though they were only eight or nine on this morning) I bumped into this spring at the opening stage of the Tour of California in Santa Rosa. They do everything from Dixieland to Klezmer and I dare say all points between. I’ll say that their rendition of the National Anthem was played with enough love that I got choked up. Hell of a way to start my favorite ride.

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14 comments

  1. dstan58

    In the midst of WADA, USADA, LA & the Smug Thug, UCI, Tyler & Travis, RS-N and the all the rest of the “sport of professional cycling’s” machinations, who knew that riding a bike could be, you know, fun? Nice piece. We need another piece on Levi’s ride.

  2. tinytim

    Padriag, Nice write up. If you want to do some cool rides look up the grasshoppers. The first one is the last weekend of Jan. These things are way more fun that the ‘race’ I saw you at last Jan. You’ll really see Glen/Shane light it up at these things. Let me know if you want to carpool (Ilive in so cal).

  3. Les Borean

    Friday I was head up I-5 from LA to Crockett to attend my 50th (!) high school reunion. I noticed a lot of vehicles were toting road bikes, so I knew something was up, up-north.
    At a gas stop I noticed one of said vehicles, and approached the occupants. This young woman told me of this event up in Santa Rosa. She told me about another event she attended in which the route was “nice and level”. Which is why I was surprised when she took interested notice of my Mulholland Challenge tee, which boasts the 116 miles and 13,650 feet ascent. I told her it was a part of Planet Ultra’s King of the Mountains series. She got a pad and eagerly took down the info.

    I told her, “Ah, you might want to do the Solvang in March as a training exercise.” She got exactly what I was talking about.

    It’s a great feeling to mentor a fledgling avid cyclist. I resisted the urge to wish her “happy suffering” since it would be so easy to interpret that as a negative comment.

  4. MrOrange299

    Padraig,thanks for bringing back the warm and fuzzy feelings I had before the start of this years Fondo. Nice call on the jumbotron. Aren’t you possibly moving up here to Sonoma County in the near future? Great local group rides all over the area. Your welcome to tag along with my riding buddies anytime.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Hi All, thanks for your comments. Man, I don’t really know where to start. I guess I’ll do the thing that makes sense: go to the beginning.

      Dstan58: Thanks much; the write-up of the ride will be up tomorrow.

      TinyTim: I’ve been hearing great stuff about the Grasshoppers. They sound like HUGE fun, but heck, the gentleman’s race last January was terrific fun. Yeah, we might need to do some carpooling if I haven’t moved by then.

      Les Borean: You’re spot on; the Mulholland Challenge has, course-wise, a similar appeal to Levi’s. They are my two favorite courses to ride, period. Congrats on the reunion; good stuff.

      MrOrange: Thanks much for the kind words. Wasn’t that really something? And really, the Jumbotron is literally the only thing I can think of that Bike Monkey hasn’t already done. And yes, the plan is to relocate to Santa Rosa. I’ll need lots of new riding friends, so expect to hear from me.

  5. Howard

    Padraig, you can ride with me anytime. Sonoma County is great. I am a recent transplant from the far east (NC) but know the area well. The mayor should appoint me ad an ambassador. This IS Gods country!

  6. nuovorecord

    I did this ride last year. It was truly amazing. Our group had a rider who was struggling a bit, so we finished in 7+ hours. Guess who was still there at the finish, greeting the stragglers? The host himself. He was kind and gracious enough to pose for pics with us and thanked us for taking part in his ride. If you get the chance to do this ride, you should.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Fatty: Your mug is much too handsome to be covered up with a gadget, even one as good-looking as an iPhone. I’ll do better on the shot next time. ;-)

      Harold: Congrats on finishing. It’s a hard ride by any measure.

  7. Harold

    I finished maybe 10 minutes ahead of the broom wagon and as close to going into shock as I have ever been and ever hope to be but it was still one of my favorite cycling events ever.

  8. totally biased

    huh. no mention of the event director, who also handled sponsors, marketing, PR and editorial duties? huzzah, huzzah, greg fisher.

  9. Robert

    Padraig; welcome back (albeit short lived) to Sonoma County. We met last June at SoNoMas. Jennifer works at Bike Monkey.
    Loved your two articles, thank you for capturing the escense of the event. We are very fortunate to have this area to ride our steads and for people like Carlos and Levi to help us point out the obvious. Lots of dirt and road to explore. Drop me a line next time you are in Santa Rosa and I’ll give you a personal tour of some of our better spots.

  10. John

    If it didn’t take me 23 hours to drive there, and another 23 back, I would do this event every year. Great time, good course, wonderfully organized. Though the self-loving vanity in me would like results a little sooner. I briefly rode beside you on Kings Ridge, and I was on you wheel briefly on the decent to the bridge, but was too punched to communicate.

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