Considering Levi’s GranFondo

Considering Levi’s GranFondo

Since USADA released its Reasoned Decision in October of 2012, cycling fans have turned on riders it once revered. Most hardcore riders I know had tired of Lance Armstrong long before Travis Tygart served him like a calf, fatted, but George Hincapie, David Zabriskie, Christian Vande Velde and Levi Leipheimer had remained popular riders among the cognoscenti. Once their doping was a matter of public record, though, the public turned on them.

It’s a state of affairs fueled by emotions running higher than the audience at a Grateful Dead concert. At a certain level it’s easy to understand. There were a few events in my adolescence in which my father said, “Just tell me what happened and I won’t get mad.” Of course, when I told him, he got mad. The upshot was that I never wanted to level with him when I got into trouble. If he was going to get mad either way, I figured I might as well keep my misdeeds to myself.

Pros who have doped are in a similar no-win situation.

As a result of the revelations regarding Leipheimer’s doping, Levi’s GranFondo has come under fire to some degree. Given the event sold out last year, though more slowly than usual, whatever hits it will take don’t seem to be that bad. I’ve also taken a certain amount of criticism, mostly in social media, for my support of Levi’s GranFondo. I can write most of it off to trolls, but because I’ve encountered some misperceptions out there about the event, I figured a post to help set the record straight was warranted. The guys at Bike Monkey signed on as an advertiser here at RKP and while I don’t owe them anything more than the advertising space they purchased, because I respect the work they do, I want to do them a solid by helping correct any misunderstandings about the event.

I’ve never pandered to RKP’s readership; I won’t write something just to try to attract eyeballs, nor will I allow anyone to tell me what to write. There have always been people who don’t read this site, and maybe even don’t like this site. That’s fine. If people choose to turn their backs on this site because I ride Levi’s GranFondo, that seems silly, but lose sleep I will not.

The single most frequent criticism I’ve heard is that the GranFondo is how Levi makes his living. I’ve asked the guys at Bike Monkey the question, and while I knew the answer, I just wanted to hear the response. Levi doesn’t make a dime from the event. I heard one person suggest that Forget-Me-Not Farms, which is a recipient of some of the GranFondo’s charitable giving, employs Odessa Gunn, Levi’s wife. Not true. She’s a volunteer and recently undertook a drive to Redding to help rescue a bunch (61) of diseased dogs from the home of an animal hoarder. Her vehicle, her gas, no reimbursement. You might say that’s just how she, uh, rolls.

So why not just pull Levi’s name off the event? First and foremost, Greg Fisher, marketing director for Bike Monkey, told me that the ride is Levi’s. It’s his event in that it was his idea, so even though Bike Monkey makes the event happen, it’s not theirs to rename.

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Fisher put it this way: “Aside from the fact that he came up with the whole thing, we weren’t comfortable with renaming it. Our feeling was that we needed to stand by him, the history of the event to date, and his commitment to Sonoma County. We’ve taken hits for that, but long-term we think it’s the right thing to do. It’s different if you’re selling a widget; we’re trying to give people the best possible experience on a bike in our home county. We are tied to a place; we can’t just turn our backs on that part of it.”

Fisher’s larger point bears repeating: Levi is a local guy and this is a local event. It wouldn’t have happened without him.

Then he posed the question to me—what if they did rename it? “What’s the difference? (Levi’s vs. King Ridge). We would like see a short term gain on a semantic point. People are entitled to be angry about what happened with the doping scandal. We can’t control that. But we can remind people of the simple magic of a great day out on their bikes. For that reason alone, it’s probably not a good idea to be mad a long time.”

It’s fair to wonder just how long people will remain bitter about this generation of riders.

“These guys’ fame is very fleeting. Some kid in 10 years is gonna be on the line and turn to his dad and say, ‘Who’s Levi?’”

It occurred to me that could easily be me with my son Philip. I like that idea. A lot. It goes to the larger point I’ve tried to make to critics; this event is not just bigger than Levi’s sins; it’s bigger than Levi himself.

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That there’s curiosity surrounding what the event does with its proceeds is understandable. The event has revenues from rider registration and sponsorship that runs roughly $1 million. For the armchair critics, this can only mean that Levi continues to inject EPO daily at a rate that exceeds my consumption of Mountain Dew. The truth is, unfortunately far less sexy. It is, as is typical of most things in life, easier to criticize an event you’ve never attended. But as someone who has ridden each edition and as a former racer who has heard event promoters complain about the incredible expense of securing the California Highway Patrol for road closures, I knew that having controlled intersections over a 100-mile course was probably worth what a down payment on a nice home in Sonoma County runs. I’m not wrong on that.

Fisher told me how in order to have enough officers to cover their needs they have to recruit from as far as four hours away. He clarified the need thusly, “There would be dope, guns and fucking in the streets if we took it all from the Bay Area.”

He stressed how much larger the GranFondo is than the other events the company produces. Numbers-wise, it is larger than their other events combined.

To frame the size of the event he told me, “We need 15,000 gels. We go through five five-gallon buckets of peanut butter. We go through a wall of bread 100 feet wide and 800 feet tall. We spend thousands in tents—not the pop-ups. There are so many buckets of water to hold down tents that’s one whole water truck.”

They marshall 1000 volunteers. And while they are called volunteers, the greater truth is that the bulk of them come from the various charities that receive the GranFondo’s largesse. In 2011 and 2012 that was roughly $250k, while for 2013 it was closer to $263k.

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Fisher stressed that for Bike Monkey the sun rises and sets on the simple idea of Sonoma County as a great place to ride a bike. “This is the kind of event we would want to participate in. It doesn’t have an end date. It doesn’t leave Sonoma County. We’re here for the long haul.

Leipheimer himself expanded on the connection the event has to Sonoma County. “The strength of this event is in the connection it has to this community and how this community, in turn, supports the event. We wouldn’t be able to duplicate that by rolling into someone else’s town, taking up resources and trying to set up a business on the backs of a community in which we’re not deeply involved. This is about our home and wanting other people to know it and love it like we do.”

I’ve traditionally viewed the GranFondo as an outward-looking event, a way to showcase cycling in Sonoma County to the rest of the world. It’s a very real part of the mission of Levi’s GranFondo. Media about the event has often mentioned how the first edition was meant to help the City of Santa Rosa meet the financial obligation of bringing the Amgen Tour of California back to Santa Rosa. But Fisher clarified that the fundamental drive for Levi was simpler.

Perhaps the easiest way to clarify why the ride exists is to let Leipheimer himself say it. “Every bit of this was about putting on a truly spectacular bike ride, one that could only happen here.”

Toward the end of our conversation Fisher said something that completely surprised me. Bike Monkey had an additional motive for putting on the GranFondo. They wanted to show the City of Santa Rosa and the County of Sonoma the economic power of cycling. Because Bike Monkey is a local operation and needs as many friends in high places as possible to put on their events that showcase the incredible riding in Sonoma, they wanted to have an event that could swing a big bat, an event that would make the entire town wake up to cycling as a vehicle to drive tourism.

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The upshot imparts a surprising debt. Businesses in Sonoma County have proven to be exceedingly friendly to cyclists, based on my experience. Next time you go clickety-clack through a hotel lobby and the staff asks you how your ride was, you have Levi Leipheimer to thank for that. Even I didn’t see that coming.

People have a right to be upset about the Generation EPO. I am. Have any of these guys been punished sufficiently? It’s not a point I really want to devote my time to because there are no easy answers. Any reasonable person can have dozens of reasons for not traveling to Sonoma County in October for a bike ride. The distance, the expense and the time of year are all perfectly valid reasons for not going. Not leaving your sweetie alone in a hotel room for eight hours is another fine one. However, if you don’t go to Levi’s GranFondo in order to punish him—because you don’t want your actions to support the life of an ex-pro—your punishment will miss its mark. I’d understand a boycott if the event was his new paycheck, but he’s not going to make a dime off you and in the end, all you’d really do is punish yourself by missing out on what is arguably the best cycling event produced in North America. The people supported by the ride will never be famous. They’re just residents of Sonoma.

Rest assured, if I’m not on the start line on October 4, it’ll be because I or one of my family members is in the hospital.

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60 comments

  1. Eric

    I rode this event last year, and the though of EPO, Levi’s career, and the Reasoned Decision never came up once in my mind or in conversation. Simply put, this is one of the most spectacular rides in the world. I live and ride in the bay area and regularly travel around to ride, and have yet to experience anything that compares to the sight you see and the exhilaration of plunging away from Ritchey Ranch down Meyer’s Grade with the ocean on one side and the cliffs on the other.

    The volunteers and fellow riders were all gracious, polite, and passionate about cycling and putting on a great event. I don’t defend Levi or anyone who chose the path he did, but to paint a person and anything that associates with him in such a black or white way seems silly to me.

  2. MattC

    Nicely put, thanks for explaining! I’ve never (yet) done this ride for a variety of reasons (ie: excuses), none of which have anything to do with anti-Levi sentiments or doping. Mostly it’s due to time and/or money. But it’s on my list though…one of these years for SURE!

  3. Mitch

    Is there really only a concern riding this fondo if it’s Levi’s “new paycheck” … or is there also an issue of continuing to burnish the image of a rider who leapfrogged into fame and fortune ahead of others who would not cheat?

  4. Bill Webster

    Great story, as usual, Padraig. I”ve ridden Levi’s twice and will be back in October for another epic day out on the bike.

  5. jay

    I live in Greenville South Carolina and would not ride Hincapie’s “Gran Fondo”, or Leipheimer’s for the same reason I don’t shop at Walmart. And I know it doesn’t matter to anyone but me.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Everyone: Thanks for your comments.

      Mitch: I think it’s hard to make a case that this ride burnishes Levi’s image unless you’re willing to concede that we are all complicated, complex people who sometimes do dynamite things and sometimes make shitty decisions. To the degree that it does burnish something, I think the statement it makes is that a guy who rose very high in the ranks of world cycling (through methods most of us don’t care for), took what connections he had to shine a spotlight on a place that already deserved it. And if we agree that’s what happened, then I can say I’m okay with that.

      Jay: As I said before, I get that people don’t care for Levi or George and may not want to support them, however, I think it’s obscene to compare the evil Walmart has done to the much more limited harm done by the doping of one cyclist. It’s a matter of scale, and the moment we allow someone to compare Levi to Walmart, we open the door to someone else comparing Armstrong to Hitler, and that’s just not acceptable. You don’t have to do their rides, but let’s keep their sins in perspective, please.

  6. BradleyX

    I wouldn’t say that I’ve “turned” on any of those cyclists. I don’t hate or despise them.

    What really disappoints me is that not one of these men stood up before they got caught to own up to what they had done. I understand that “everybody did it.” But it was selfish to ride out their careers while denying it and lying to their fans. It would have been better for the sport – and much more selfless – if they’d come out years earlier with the truth.

    Cyclists like David Millar have been able to resurrect their careers – and their reputations – by riding dope-free after being caught. These cyclists will never have that opportunity.

    It just makes me sad – losing heroes does that. I’m riding with Hincapie, Zabriskie and VandeVelde at the Bottega GranFondo in April. That would have been a highlight of my life prior to the Reasoned Decision. Now their participation is just another part of the experience.

    I don’t wish anybody bad things. I hope that Levi will continue to raise money for worthy organizations. I’ve ridden his Gran Fondo three times, but I’m done with it for now. There are lots of other worthy organized rides, and I’ll focus on those.

  7. Nancy

    I’ve done this ride every year since it’s inception. It was never about Levi, although it was cool to meet him. It was all about the community coming together and putting on an event so big its importance couldn’t be denied. It’s helped create an amazing level of awareness in Sonoma County for cyclists. So many places I ride now love to see riders roll up. They know we will be spending our money there and they happily cater to the shiny spandex hordes. And the charities that have benefitted from this ride will be forever thankful. Both Levi and Odessa have an unwavering commitment to supporting them. And finally, Bike Monkey is beyond awesome for hanging in there through any criticism and putting on such a spectacular event from the very beginning.

    People can say what they want about Levi, but if you aren’t doing this ride because of past transgression, which no one in his shoes can possibly understand (anyone can cast judgement), you are missing out on a truly wonderful experience.

  8. Stephen Lawton

    I have ridden every edition of Levi’s Gran Fondo, and of the (late) Big Sur Ride. I have ridden countless other organized rides, from centuries to multi-day tours on three continents.

    Watching the Levi’s Gran Fondo crowd grow and the support deepen, it’s obvious that this event draws its energy from sources far beyond the founder’s name. Many a town has thrived beyond the life or imagination of its founder. After a generation, he’s the statue in the park and the name on the sign. Would not have started without him, but success or failure depends on the current generation.

  9. Grego

    As a bike racer, Levi perpetrated the same pharmacological skulduggery as many of his contemporaries. We’ve all expressed our opinions on this by now, and the culture of pro cycling has changed. The rider’s choice no longer comes down to “do it or go home“, because now the best teams won’t look the other way anymore.

    The vast majority of racers who “did it” in the past are now either reformed or retired. (For a few remaining, perhaps they should be unceremoniously retired.) Yes, they doped. Yes, they lied. Now that’s over. The former racers, now just riders, are still alive; they still do things which affect others, so if you’re going to judge them, don’t stop judging on the day of their retirement from racing.

    Levi’s personal involvement is a boon to his community [video]. The Gran Fondo that he started, which donates its proceeds to charity after putting on a great event, is one demonstration of this. Bike around Sonoma for long and you’ll experience many others, from better attitudes to better roads.

    I’m already signed up for Levi’s Gran Fondo. If I get the chance to shake Levi’s hand, I’ll do so and thank him for putting on the event. I won’t bring up negative details about his former career, not only because it’s rude, but because I’ve already forgiven him. I don’t have to forget anything–I just had to move on.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Honestly, I figured the commentary on this would run far more negative than it has. While I respect those who don’t wish to do the event, I’m really heartened to hear from you who have found a way to make peace with the past and consider the event from what it offers you (and others). We’re lucky to have such a readership.


    2. Author
      Padraig

      Honestly, I figured the commentary on this would run far more negative than it has. While I respect those who don’t wish to do the event, I’m really heartened to hear from you who have found a way to make peace with the past and consider the event from what it offers you (and others). We’re lucky to have such a readership.

  10. Patrick O'Brien

    Thanks for the information on this ride. I doubt I will ever do it, but it has nothing to do with Levi, just time and distance. Would I have lunch with George Hincapie if he visited our little town. Yes. Would I stop on the street and talk to Levi about dogs and bikes? Yes, again. It seems to me there was a large number of guilty people in the background of pro cycling that got a walk.

  11. Champs

    Padraig, YMMV but the loved ones of the Dutch cyclists who “mysteriously” died in their sleep probably have more sympathy for Walmart than for dopers. I’d rather turn the page on doping, though.

    Also, in the name of disclosure, are you a full fare customer? I don’t disagree with your defense, but not everyone can muster the same enthusiasm as someone getting comped. Most people won’t even get your tax write off.

    To me, Levi’s Gran Fondo comes down to the branding and the event. There’s milquetoast Leipheimer, master of the weeklong tour, with the grand tour attack strategy code named “Godot”. Then there’s the event: I’d love to ride Sonoma County (all the way from Lagunitas to Bear Republic) but on my own time, much more casually, in a smaller group, with a very long nightcap at Russian River.

    I very much understand that I’m not everyone, though. If this is your thing, enjoy it.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Champs: I’d enjoy doing the Lagunitas/Bear Republic/Russian River circuit with you. And FWIW, a few of our friends at Bike Monkey could help warm our reception at each of those spots.

      Regarding disclosure: I do not pay the entry for the ride. I pay for all of my travel and accommodations—which are many multiplicatives of the entry because I usually take my whole family for several days—but my rule now is the same as it has been for every publication I’ve ever worked for: if you want coverage, give me access. If I have to pay to enter your event, then I’m on my time and don’t expect any coverage. That’s not to say it hasn’t happened (Mulholland Challenge is a noteworthy exception), but when I get all the warmth from the organizer of an Igloo cooler (Catalina Gran Fondo comes to mind), don’t count on me killing myself for you. Covering a ride is considerably more work than just doing the ride, and in my mind, I don’t pay for the chance to do my job, and like I wrote earlier, that’s a rule that’s been in place for every publication I’ve worked for, so it’s not unique to me. But to your more insidious point, my enthusiasm can’t be purchased. If I like an event, I like an event.

      As to my tax write-off, it does nothing to ease the expense of making that trip, but it’s an expense I happily bear because I love that area.

  12. Matt

    Padraig,
    These pro cyclists’ sins, in your and your commenters’ comparisons to Walmart, can be considered minor when viewed on the grand scale, but if we look at everything based on the scale of where it matters in the grand scheme of humanity, then your blog would be written for an audience of zero readers, as the entirety of us would be better served gnashing our teeth or feeding the homeless rather than riding bikes.

    It’s not the rationalization of supporting an “Evil Empire” versus supporting a doping pro. It’s a choice between supporting a doping pro’s image/ego versus going out and finding a great road route yourself, or choosing to spend your time and money on a more homegrown event versus one that may have been launched from an ill-gotten springboard of fame.

  13. vlad

    Levi is a serial doper, with multiple suspensions on his resume. But when I signed up for his fondo I did so to participate in an epic ride, without consideration of his drug-taking. The ride is great, though not without problems. In the future, I’d just as soon save the money, park in Occidental and do the King Ridge-Coleman Valley loop with friends, enjoy the views and the roads and avoid the crowds.

  14. Gary

    I liked the article. It’s still a challenging topic and you faced it in balanced fashion. I don’t like the doping (and related drama) anymore than anyone else but at some point, all that needs to go in the rear view. The topic seems to be how long is that?

    Particularly for Levi and the other “second tier to Lance” group, they’re out of pro cycling so do we keep boycotting until their 70yo? Seems a bit extreme.

    Cycling is about experiences on your bike and this Gran Fondo seems to have it in spades. Best to all that attend.

  15. Devin

    I personally do not understand the Gran Fondo. As it’s not a race, feel free to go out and ride the same roads any other day of the year- for free. If you’re inclined, donate money to worthy local recipients, and shop at local stores while you’re there.

    Also, I have a great dislike for anyone in any industry that lies and cheats their way to prominence, gets caught and stays in the industry post-punishment, reaping continuing benefits from their ill-gotten stature. This goes for bankers to bikers; I feel like if you’ve cheated your way into money and get caught out, get out. This is especially true for multiple strike offenders- you’ve made it clear you’re incapable of operating in this environment while playing by the rules- maybe try residential construction as your new income stream?

  16. Joe

    Padraig,
    I’m one of those in the “not participating in events with those from the reasoned decision” camp. It’s one of the big reasons I have no desire to go do the Hincapie Gran Fondo, or a desire to do Levi’s despite the great reputation for both.

    I struggle with the point you make in the column that within 10 years people won’t remember who Levi is. If that’s the case, why not rename it? Clearly a great event has been built that can stand the test of a renaming and truly showcases Sonoma County for the fantasticness that it is. (We’ll just roll with fantasticness being a word…) Particularly if no one’s going to think about who Levi is a decade from now. If the event is truly bigger than Levi than it can survive and thrive with a new name, despite his integral part in getting it off the ground.

    Conversely, keeping his name on the event, to me, keeps a former pro with a rather complicated past in the spotlight — much the same as Big George around these parts. If we clearly want a break from the sport’s dirty doping past and truly want a new start, then why should we continue to celebrate those who were elbow deep in that which we’ve all said was unacceptable? I worry the kind of message this sends to the junior, the neo pro, or even those outside the sport. Again, to your point, the perception is this is how Levi makes his living. How does that not weigh into the complex calculus of a racer debating whether or not to cross that line? “Well, X and Y doped, and they’re still around making money at A or B event even after retiring…”

    I’d love to come out for the ride. Sonoma County is easily one of my favorite places on Earth. Eight hours on the bike out there with a lot of like-minded folks sounds like a grand time. But I can’t. For my money, we have to draw a line somewhere. It’s time to turn the page on the Reasoned Decision generation.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Devin: The selling points I can gives for doing a proper gran fondo, of which I think this event is a fine example, are these: you get controlled intersections, so no stopping a stop signs or lights. You get plenty of food and trying to do this loop on your own wouldn’t be easy, given how remote some of the areas are and then there’s the fact that having families cheer you on over a significant portion of the course is just plain fun. But riding any other day rocks, too.

      Joe: At the risk of repeating myself, the name hasn’t been changed because it’s HIS ride. If he doesn’t want to change the name, that’s kinda his choice. Avoiding Sonoma County just because of Levi punishes no one so much as yourself. If you don’t visit, he doesn’t suffer and you miss out on a good time. Given that he’s not benefitting in any material way, not doing a ride just because it’s named for him seems like opposition at a semantic level. I respect that I’m unlike to sway you; that’s okay; I just think the alternative view needs to be stated.

  17. Mark Germanos

    Critics forget that Levi wrote an op ed piece for the New York Times in which he was open and honest. Honesty and proactive disclosure helped Levi build a closer bond with his fans. His admission to doping was news for some.

    Why are critics still going after Levi and the other cyclists for doing what the pros did back in those days? They were either exposed (Lance Armstrong) or they disclosed their poor judgement.

    The cycling community is recovering. Pros and amateurs are more conscious about doping and more importantly, not worshiping Lance any more. Lance lied. We believed him. The critics were justified with the information available to them at the time. We have to move forward.

    Maybe I am biased because I will be doing my fourth Levi Leipheimer Gran Fondo this year. Maybe I am just looking for a sport I enjoy where I have access to folks who are far better and faster than I am.

    The critics should turn their attention elsewhere. May I suggest Justin Bieber?

  18. Jay

    One can choose to not participate in this event because of Levi’s past doping, or can just move on and participate because of what it is. My own view is that I don’t really believe that any of it matters in the big picture, so I wouldn’t hesitate to ride Levi’s Grand Fondo were it not 3000 miles away. It’s more of a logistical thing for me.
    Quite frankly, I don’t fully expect pro cyclists, or pro athletes in general, to not try some sorts of “enhancements”. Seriously, if there is money on the table, the rules will be broken. It is no longer about pure competition. I don’t necessarily like it, but that is just reality. And the more money that there is, the greater the temptation.

  19. Aar

    It’s about branding. Levi is a brand because he’s a cheater. Some other rider, who didn’t cheat, doesn’t have a brand because Levi cheated. The same is true of all other cheaters.

    It’s also about milk in water. No matter the ratio of milk to water it’s still polluted water. Cheaters are pollution.

    I understand the event, the cause, the volunteers, the organizers, et cetera are all wonderful. Because a cheater is associated with it and their name is on it, Levi’s Gran Fondo is a tainted event and no amount of wordsmithing will ever change that.

    I was drawn to RKP, in part due to the hard line on doping vis-a-vis Lance Armstrong. I stay due to the excellent content and would like to see more from Mr Pelkey, The Explainer.

  20. Jim Flip

    For the TL/DR crowd – ride the damn thing once, regardless of the name on the bill, it’s a fantastic ride. Oh, and for $&@#’s sake, can we just move on already ?

    Full waffle below:
    —-##—-
    Ridden the Gran Fondo twice. Great rides in a beautiful part of the world. I appreciate the volunteers and the co-ordination, which on that scale is a MASSIVE undertaking.

    I’m not awed by ex-pro cyclists and struggle to understand the need to “punish” a group of now middle-aged men. Yes, what they did was wrong, and so are all of the “cheats” in sport, but really folks, how exactly did these people harm you ? So you idolized someone in the ’90s and put them on a pedestal and they turned out to be flawed and human after all. Sure, it stings, but get over it already. It’s spilt milk, let’s learn from it and move on. If you’re concerned that there’s any unprosecuted criminality, then rest assured that this is the most litigious country in the world and that the lawyers will not rest until every last opportunity has been settled.

    So back to the Fondo, on the down-side, it is a massive, crowded Fred-fest, but that pales into insignificance when you’re out on those roads. The community really comes out in support, and it feels good to give something back. It’s well worth the entrance fee to at least ride it once – regardless of whose name headlines the ride.

  21. MarkP

    Three years ago, my wife and her brother rode Levi’s Medio Fondo. She got me to go the next year. I ended up riding the Medio route solo on the day before the Fondo so I could watch our dog while she rode the official course the day of. And then last year, we both rode the Gran Fondo (her brother was able to watch our dog).

    Levi’s Fondo is a lot of fun. The Gran route is really challenging and very rewarding – except that I didn’t eat & drink properly and spent too much time recovering at some of the rest stops, which means I’m not happy with my overall time…I probably shouldn’t bother you with all of the reasons why I signed up to ride the Gran again this year. But I will say that the weather and scenery were fantastic. The traffic control, support, and rest stops were top notch. They even patched the roads in a few places – I do seem to recall one minor bicycle traffic jam – I think on Mill Station Road where the road narrows and the gradient increases.

    There is no doubt that Levi’s Fondo is a big deal in Sonoma County.

    That Levi was involved with pro sports doping isn’t lost on me. Mostly I wonder how it is for him still dealing with the negative notoriety. I don’t think it’s fair to punish someone forever for that kind of bad judgement. I don’t presume to really understand the pro sports culture and the blowback from the scandals on that culture and how it affects each die-hard fan. I personally don’t feel his name detracts at all from this event. His idea for this Fondo, and the way it has been pulled together year after year is something I am very thankful for.

    We will be riding the Fondo again this year – we just need to find someone to watch our dog…

  22. JP

    Trust is a hard thing to earn in my book. I don’t give it freely and once it’s lost I would never give it back. I also believe in living a life of integrity. I believe RKP has shown to be trustworthy and have no reason to doubt their integrity. Good work on this article which I am sure wasn’t easy to write.

    As for dopers/ex-dopers I don’t really care for them but I don’t loose sleep over them either. Shot I am far from perfect and have done things I am not proud of and that should make me more angry than these dopers.

  23. Rocket

    Jay, I completely agree with you. The careers of Levi and George were built on lies. With thousands of charity rides / fondos and numerous clothing producers, why on earth would I want to support those two? And I also don’t shop at Walmart!

    Padraig, I am surprised at your criticism of Jay. He is not saying you should not ride the fondo, nor did he compare Walmart to them. You did. He is just doing what he believes is right. Good for him.

  24. SusanJane

    I go for this on a much simpler level. Levi is a damn nice guy with a good heart. I place a whole lot more importance in that then his doping past. What he did was wrong. What he’s part of with the fondo is much more interesting.

  25. Fatty

    Of all the pro cyclists I have met who doped and then were caught (and there have been several), only one has actually contacted me to apologize for what he’d done and offer an explanation: Levi Leipheimer. I furthermore know that he’s spending his time, quietly, making amends for the doping.

    I’m disappointed in what Levi did during his career, but I’m impressed by what he’s done since.

    Plus, Levi’s GranFondo is the best road ride with the best festival afterward I have ever been to.

  26. g-dub

    Jim “Dolphin” Flip[per] writes:
    “but really folks, how exactly did these people harm you?”

    Not at all. You are spot on. There is no tort to me or people like me. I have heard some shrieking, mostly from amateur racers(!), about how “they [cheaters] are destroying our sport.” That makes no sense—no one owns riding a bicycle competitively, these complainers are rarely pro material, and the cheating is even further removed from non-racing cycling like the GranFondo. (A real pro may well have a legitimate claim.)

    The only piece that makes sense is a *general* concern of criminal, fraudulent, or immoral behavior. For an extreme example, the murder of some person I don’t know doesn’t hurt me in any clear way. Yet I can still say I don’t want that kind of thing to happen, and that I am willing to contribute to prevention of, trial of, and punishment for, that kind of behavior. So how does pro cycling rate for me? Maybe it is a tic above j-walking. Way way down—that is how it rates. Shouldn’t happen, but it does. Yes, of course, people should follow the rules they promise to follow.

    In my opinion, anyone getting into pro cycling has constructive notice of its nature. One should know what they are getting into. Bicycle racing is not an entitlement.

    Dub.

    PS: Just saw a train of pro-looking cyclists (all the same kit) on 3rd St (Santa Rosa) this morning. I wasn’t close enough to see writing. Wannabes? Dunno.

  27. Maria

    There are people whose careers were ruined by cheaters like (and including) Levi. What kind of message do we send to the young, when the truth in this matter is shuffled under the rug? Although I love the route and many of the people involved in this event, I will not be among those that support this ride neither as a rider, nor as a volunteer. I agree with those that rightly state that it contributes to the positive image branding of a cheater.

  28. Rodrigo

    Great article Padraig. I literally “stumbled” on Levi’s Grand Fondo last year during a business trip to Silicon Valley and looking for a nice ride for the weekend, given I had brought my Ritchey Break-Away travel bike. Lucky me, the Fondo was exactly on the weekend I would be there. Secured an entry at Facebook from somebody who gave up, and had the chance to ride one of th best cycling events I have been to in a while.

    The atmosphere, the dedication and involvement of tons of local people and volunteers, the real attention on the local businesses and charities are what give meaning to the fond, much more than just Levi’s name. And if there is one thing everybody has to agree, is that Levi’s faced the truth and apologized, knowing what he did was wrong. I believe comparing Levi to Lance is an aberration, as MR. LA has NEVER truly believed what he did was wrong, and denied and lied even while admitting what he was doing.

    To those who believe the Fondo keeps enhancing Levi’s image which was created at the expense of doping, I offer an alternative view: probably Levi’s image is now constructed because of the Fondo and despite of the doping, and not the reverse!

    So please, if you love cycling, do yourself a favor, and go experience this incredible ride, with like minded people, in a wonderful place with outstanding support (and food and fun).

    Rodrigo (from Rio, Brazil)

  29. Kurti_sc

    The first jay and joe caught my opinion completely.
    We can’t always do what is right and I’m not casting stones (cause surely I have my own faults) but I’m not going to be willingly supportive of bad, even criminal behavior. That doesn’t mean I won’t say hi to them or whatever (I have to George). And I’ll lend them a tube, take a pull, whatever but I’m not going to knowingly promote them. Hmmmm. Those are some dang good shorts though. I suppose I can’t buy any more of those either. Bummer.

  30. Joe

    Padraig: Nothing wrong with agreeing to disagree. Not doing the Fondo hardly keeps me away from Sonoma County, which is as close to heaven on Earth as I’ve found — specifically the Lagunitas Beer Garden or the Dry Creek General Store and the amazing roads that are out there, but that’s a whole different conversation. I go whenever I can and wish I could ride there more. So I hope I’m supporting the community with my dollars in my own way.

  31. Paul

    Levi needs to start celebrating the riders who did not dope by inviting them to the Gran Fondo and celebrating their non-dope-driven accomplishments. Riders like Greg Lemond and George Mount. Instead, he invites individuals associated with doping, like Barry Bonds.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Paul: I can’t speak to how Barry Bonds wound up at the event, but I can ask; I have my doubts that Levi knows Bonds personally. What I can attest to, which might interest you, is the fact that Levi does invite numerous clean pros to come to the ride. Andrew Talansky, Lucas Euser, Julian Kyer and Peter Stetina are but a few of the pros who do the ride specifically at his invitation. Honestly, I was rather surprised at the number of pros (with squeaky clean reputations) at this year’s ride. His former colleagues have proven to be more supportive than many cycling fans. The wonders never cease, huh?

  32. nuovorecord

    I rode Levi’s GF back in 2011. It was a great ride, best organized ride I’ve done to that point or since.

    I happened to run into Levi after the ride and he was gracious enough to thank me for participating and he posed for a couple of pictures with me. I made the comment – in passing – that this was a better ride than Lance’s 2006 Livestrong ride I had done in Portland.

    Levi and the guy he was with (whom I assume was one of the main ride organizers) got real quiet and looked at each other for a long second. Then the other guy broke into a wry smile and said, “You don’t know how happy it makes me to hear that.”

    This was before LA’s empire had crumbled and all of the truth had come to light. I’ve thought of that moment often since then, and realized how much Levi knew at the time and what a weight it must have been on him. Sure, he made his own decisions and I’m sure he regrets them. But I’m glad to see that he’s moving forward in a positive direction and putting something good back into the cycling world and the community.

  33. Champs

    Padraig: I wouldn’t imply anything so insidious as shilling.

    What you do with that discount is up to you. It is notable that this is a unique position not afforded to your readers. This colors perceptions on both sides of the relationship.

  34. Asphalt Jungle

    I’m sure it’s a great event. If you raced him as a top amateur, or any of the others, which many of us did, and you were scraping by going from race to race, there will never be forgiveness. Acceptance, yes. But, he cheated. There is no excuse. Better riders left the sport because they had the morals not to be a part of the BS!

    It’s like having a Lyndsey Lohan Library.

  35. PedalRon

    An interesting read and some good information.

    I’d never ride with Levi though; he looks terrible on a bike! Kidding aside, I don’t think I want to have anything to do with someone who has done things like Levi.

  36. kent37

    I think Leipheimer is like Armstrong, in that they both lied about doping after they allegedly stopped. Imagine if you’re in your mid-30′s, you’ve been doping most of your professional life, you’ve won the Amgen Tour of California the previous two years (2007 & 2008), you’re past your prime, but you’re seen the light and you’re committed to racing clean?? I don’t think so.

    So, yeah Leipheimer is a charitable guy — good for him. He’s also a serial doper, and he’s lied about it — more than once. NO RESPECT…!!!

  37. Adam

    I would hope that those people who do not wish to do this even or others similar due to not wanting to associate with cheaters also back ground & character check everyone that they interact with from the man at the petrol station (and indeed the petrol company) to their children’s school teacher, just in case they may also have cheated along the way.

    To continue the milk in water analogy, it could be said that American cycling is tainted from the cheats (& almost every other nation). The exponential growth of cycling in America is clearly off the back of such pros.
    Perhaps people should only cycle in Mongolia, they haven’t had any positive tests, right?

  38. John Sullivan

    I have ridden in all the Gran Fondos but the first and love it every time. The ride is really not about Levi, its about a fantastic scenic and challenging ride. I don’t understand the hypocrisy of people who lionize football and baseball stars despite their widespread doping, yet are so critical of cyclists like Levi.
    In California we have a convicted felon in our legislature and few are calling for that cheater to be booted.
    So, I’ll keep Levi’s sins in perspective and say a cheery hello whenever I see him and enjoy the Fondo because its one of the best rides in the world, no matter who’s with me.

  39. John in Miami

    The difference between Armstrong and the Leipheimers/Hincapies/Van de Veldes et. al. in my mind is defined by the level of their arrogance. I understand that this Gran Fondo or Hincapie’s in South Carolina is their way to celebrate where they live, where they ride and the communities they support and that have supported them. I did the Gran Fondo in Miami a few years ago, a route I normally do most weekends and the draw wasn’t the same roads I ride on; the draw was riding up to Jan Ulrich and patting him on the back and saying, “Its great to see you”. It was the experience of riding back home and seeing the Acua e Sapone team (all lost trying to figure out how to get back to the starting point) and having them ask me and my group for directions and then riding with us through traffic to get there.

    That’s the beauty of cycling. It is the aura of the baseball world of the 40s, 50s and 60s when the players took cabs home from the ball park after games and interacted with the kids and other older fans who waited around for them. They cheated, I get that but move on. Cycling is the only sport where you as a recreational cyclist will have a real chance to bump into a pro or former pro while enjoying the very same thing they’re doing.

  40. Asphalt Jungle

    Unless you played D1 or AAA ball, you have no idea what it is to compete with dopers. And, we competed for a living.

  41. Marlina

    This event got me to ride a bike and it changed my life. Period. I attended the first event to watch my husband ride, got inspired, got a bike, started riding, signed up for the Piccalo the next year and have ridden the Medio the last 3 years in addition to various other rides and, of course, all of the training rides in between. I am fitter than ever before. I thank Levi every time I see him. His doping isn’t my business. But his event changed my life and I support it fully. I’ll see you all on the road this year. THANKS LEVI!!!!!

  42. Greg FIsher

    Just wanted to wade in here and say how much I, as one of the folks on the team organizing the GranFondo and as a guy who’s seen more than chat boards, appreciate the discourse found in this comment section. Often these things degrade into an open sewer of vitriol and trolling, but the discussion here is rich, constructive, and populated by people who seem to want to listen more than they want to talk.

    It’s a complicated world in which we live and I’m heartened that people here embrace that rather than degrade it. Thank you to RKP and its readers. I’d ride with you cats anytime.

  43. hoshie99

    I’ll go counter, without vitriol, and say I did the Gran Fondo twice prior to the reasoned decision) but will not do it again for 2 reasons:

    1) I do these types of things for adventure and the King’s Ridge route was worth it. I have done it, so onward for me.

    2) I do not choose to contribute to the aforementioned athlete’s causes or enrichment going forward for reasons that should be clear enough. Regardless of the economics you may cite Padraig, the ride contributes to and is entwined w/ his personal brand.

    No larger moral judgments, simply voting with my paycheck.

    J

  44. Jay

    To clarify my position: I would not hesitate to ride Levi’s Grand Fondo if I were able to. To be frank, there is no direct effect to me from his or any of the other’s past activities, so I don’t really care. I also believe that given the era no one’s results should have been vacated because no one truly knows yet how pervasive the problem was. We may never know. And there is always that issue in the background of there being money on the table…

  45. Max

    I have much less of a problem with your support of Levi’s Gran Fondo than with your sponsored plug for Skratch Labs. Allen Lim worked with all of these dopers and expects us to believe that he’s simultaneously smart enough to revolutionize hydration and dumb enough not to have any idea what was going on with his athletes.

    1. kurti_sc

      Hey Max. Good point on Lim. I give him some credibility on his approach to drinking and refeuling, but I keep him at arm’s length because I just don’t trust him. I also get the impression he is much much more about marketing than he is science. Even his science stuff is shortcut and incomplete.

  46. Kathryn

    Great article. I follow pro cycling and I get out on a bicycle because it brings joy — it gets my mind off the stresses and pressures in my life. If I were to maintain a level of hate for pro riders, it would sap the joy out. When you reach a certain point in adulthood, we all have regrets and missteps. These riders are no different. It’s for others to reconcile, not me. I’m here for a little bit of enjoyment, thinking of the beauty of a ride along the Sonoma Coast on a sunny day, while I sit in the office, on a 10 degree day in Chicago.

  47. Troy

    How would we all fare if judged and punished for our failures? Some failures depart so far from the social norm we cannot forgive and move on. This isn’t one of those. Better we all come together and enjoy a good ride and that perhaps motivates us to think a bit about how good we would like to be . . . . and then how much we’re looking forward to this ride again next year!

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