Levi’s GranFondo, ’14

Levi’s GranFondo, ’14

I took up cycling so that I could go places, see things. Even without having thought through my urge, I had an instinctive understanding that seeing the world from the saddle of the bike was a better perspective. It is a fundamental truth of cycling, perhaps cycling’s most obvious truth, but we each arrive at it on our own, an epiphany that arrives with the same pleasant shock as our first kiss.

Cycling introduced me to Sonoma County in the truest sense possible. I’d never have visited were it not for the bike.

Levi’s GranFondo has given me the opportunity—nay, the excuse—to return at least once per year and ride on the roads west of Santa Rosa. King Ridge is the sort of road that even if I lived in Sonoma County I probably wouldn’t ride more than a couple of times per year—it’s that hard and remote. I’d probably upsize my jersey just to be able to carry enough food if I did the ride on my own. IMG_4413

This part of Sonoma County reminds me of parts of rural Western Massachusetts and Vermont, where the chain stores give way to local businesses, trees outnumber driveways and the views can take an hour to soak in. You can feel the pace of life slow like a record player spinning to a stop. IMG_4416

I’m not a person who relies on tradition as a road map to the future. Just because I rode Solvang three years running, I didn’t feel compelled to return for a fourth. I didn’t have the feeling that I was going to miss out on an indispensable part of my year. But my feeling is that if I missed Levi’s GranFondo, I’d have missed the prettiest, most exciting and best-organized event of the entire year. I’d have skipped prom.


In my previous posts about this event, I’ve detailed the roads, the views of the Sonoma Coast, the plenitude of food, the fact that you can choose between water and properly mixed sports drinks, that with the exception of one intersection (at a major highway) the entire course is controlled, that the mass start ensures that everyone around you has ridden just as hard as you to get to that point of the course, that the course is difficult enough to challenge any rider, that the promoter, Bike Monkey, is filling potholes (like the ones above) on their own dime. Doing that can mean creating a Sinclair Lewis-like shopping list of details, a catalog of items that may or may not paint a picture.  IMG_4424

This would be an example of why flat places give me the hives. The scene doesn’t change. The early morning’s farm fields become thick Redwood forest, which gives way to the ridge lines of the Sonoma mountains before finally opening the rocky coast 1000 feet below.  IMG_4426

The hay spread on the ground was a new touch and kept people from grinding dirt and gravel into their cleats.


Due to the higher-than-usual heat, volunteers were scooping ice into riders’ water bottles and, occasionally, the volunteers were impossibly cute. IMG_4435

I’ve ridden Myers Grade seven times and this was by far the clearest and prettiest I’ve ever seen this stretch of coast appear. That conclusion was no small surprise because even in fog it has been as breathtaking as Grace Kelly’s entrance in “To Catch a Thief.” IMG_4440

Those who like to take in the less trodden path have been turning off on Willow Creek with increasing frequency. I elected to do this climb for the second time this year and was grateful for the shade it offered. IMG_4443

At left is Menso de Jong, a 2007 graduate of the NorCal league who now rides for Team CLIF Bar, seated next to National Interscholastic Cycling Association executive director Austin McInerny. These days he’s a Ph.D. candidate in geohydrology at the University of California Santa Barbara. Rumor has it the quartet he rode with crossed the line first. He’s giving tips to current members of the NorCal League on how to connect boot to hind quarters. They took notes. 
IMG_4451I met Robin Farina of the Women’s Cycling Association a few weeks ago at the Best Buddies Challenge Hearst Castle. She came out with boyfriend Kurt Stockton, and while neither of them is wild about Levi’s doping, they’ve got an interest in those events that serve the culture of cycling and have a positive impact on a community. When I told Robin about Willow Creek her eyes brightened with that flash that comes with a new challenge. She won the climb and was handed this gorgeous bathtub of Patron Tequila. Word is that is seriously top-shelf tequila. All I know is that it was worth sipping. Alison Tetrick took the QOM on Coleman Valley. Somehow I missed which men delivered the KOMs, which I’m okay with, mostly because it usually works out the other way around.

I’ve lauded this event as the best thing going in the U.S. But it’s true I haven’t done every event out there. I’d love nothing more than to find other events as great as this one. This is the most fun I have each year. Here’s to hoping I can find this much fun in a different Zip Code.


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  1. Jason Lee

    I’m curious how you justify supporting this event, and still be a strong opponent to doping?
    Not trying to be argumentative, it’s just that I struggle to justify going to events in ex dopers names. Anything to do with them, it’s tough for me to justify spending money or time on.

    No longer buy Hincapie clothes, for example. I know it’s a slippery slope when choosing who you vote for with dollars but… well, curious on your thoughts.

    1. John

      This one’s easy for me: Levi doesn’t get a cent personally from this, but great charities do. It is also a fabulous day on the bike and well worth it.

  2. Jim

    Nearly all professional cyclists were doping to some extent during that period. It’s not like Levi was pulling in the kind of money Lance was or anything. Why can’t we just put it all behind at this point, water under the bridge?

    Cycling in the US is still a relatively fringe sport, so, as stated in the second to last paragraph, why shouldn’t we support “events that serve the culture of cycling and have a positive impact on a community”?

  3. Pat O'Brien

    Jason, your question was raised many times, in many different ways, on the post Padraig did last year on this event. Levi makes no money from this event, unlike Hincapie Sportswear sales which directly benefit George HIncapie. Spend your money as you see fit. People change and move on. Even people who cheat at in sports.

  4. Rocket

    So in the past few weeks you have made multiple posts about a person who used your work without permission and instead of compensating you they were going to make a charitable donation to an organization of their choice. But you still support this event?

    What did Levi do? He lied, cheated, and stole from all the other riders in the peloton. I have never heard him say he was sorry, never heard him promise to give his winnings and salary back to to the people he screwed. Even the money generated by this ride is not from him, but from the ride participants. Seems like he stole the whole Livestrong page from his good buddy Lance.

    It appears you are fine with people cheating and stealing for economic gain just as long as it doesn’t impact you financially.

  5. Margaret

    Such an awesome area to ride in and I keep trying to talk some of my cycling friends into either doing this ride or if they’re not into that sort of thing, for various reasons, to at least doing a trip up there. Perhaps if I show them your post and photos they will consider it.
    Just looked at the results and it looks like Alison Tetrick came in fourth overall. So it appears she is also of the boot to hind quarters school.

  6. bigwagon

    Sounds like a great event that would be even better without the negatives associated with Levi, just like Livestrong goes on without Lance. Whether or not he profits personally from it is irrelevant. Levi is an unrepentant doper. How can you support an event with his name on it? For someone who has been so outspoken about Lance, I can’t wrap my head around the double-standard.

  7. MarkP

    I want to thank you for the encouragement you gave me at NorCal Bikesport the evening before the ride. I was signed up for the Gran, but because of the heat wave, was instead considering riding the Medio. Everything you predicted was spot on. The temperature in the early part of the day was perfect. Heat was no problem during the Willow Creek climb because of all the shade. I wasn’t very fast, so the roasty high temps reached in Santa Rosa were already dissipating by the time I got back. What a great ride!

  8. Author

    Jason Lee: It’s a fair question. My answer is a simple one: We need to find a way to move beyond anger and punishment. If all we do when we find out someone doped is completely blackball them from cycling for life, then no one will ever confess again. Punishment is tricky. So is finding a way forward. There are no perfect answers. I have a friend who, in a conversation on this very topic said, “I’m a Jew, but I drive a Mercedes.” It points to the complexity of the problem. This event adds a layer of complexity in that Levi doesn’t directly benefit from it. It’s fair to say the only benefit he derives is in rehabilitating his image and in that regard, I’d say he’s making progress. This event does an enormous amount of good for a place he cares about.

    Bigwagon: I see Levi and Lance as significantly different actors on that stage. I’m against all doping, period, and while Levi hasn’t apologized publicly in the way many people want, I believe his work with the gran fondo is a kind of apology at this point. Not everyone will see things this way, and I accept that. I really believe in what this event does. How Levi conducts himself, his life, going forward will continue to be a complex issue in part because he’s not the colossal ass Armstrong is.

    Rocket: You raise an interesting question. I’d say they are different in that what Bike Rumor is doing has been an ongoing problem for which the standard remedies haven’t worked well, or at least haven’t been thoroughly pursued and it seems up to me to pursue them. Levi, on the other hand, is no longer racing and has been punished to a significant degree. He’s not in a position to continue doing what he did, which is very unlike Tyler Benedict and Bike Rumor. You can suppose that I only care because this has hit me economically, but that is an overly simplistic view. Bike Rumor will continue to steal from other publishers if someone doesn’t stand up, whereas Levi isn’t still harming the racing community.

    MarkP: It was great to meet you. Thanks for stopping by NorCal Bike Sport. I’m glad to hear you had such a good ride. In the end nothing really matters other than having a great ride and I’m glad you did.

  9. Sophrosune

    Honest questions and sincere and measured answers. It seems to me everyone wants to stand on pedestal of self-righteous indignation nowadays. It’s good to see that the issues of our lives are not always so black and white and can be discussed without it. If only this kind of measured and thoughtful dialogue could go on in the heads of cyclists, pedestrians and motorists as they find a way to share the road.

    1. Pat O'Brien

      Thanks for observing what I sometimes take for granted. RKP, and the comment portion of it, is a breath of fresh air on the internet. I need to periodically remind myself how special and different it is.

  10. Tom in Albany

    Padraig, Thanks for the write-up. This fondo has been on my list since you and FatCyclist have been writing about it. I missed my local fondo thanks to a work trip (Rensselaerville cycling festival p/b Jamis…. and organized by local pro, Tyler Wren – yes. that was a plug!)

    I want to give you kudos for taking a breath before answering the questions regarding supporting a doper. My first reaction was, can’t they just drop it?!? But, that’s not fair of me because we each move on at our own speed, if we move on at all.

    As Pat O’Brien said above, this is a special place on the internet. We have discourse. We don’t flame and flaming isn’t tolerated. We live with each other in this community, side-by-side, and peacefully co-exist. We are Rs and Ds and Greens, and libs and cons and all of those other pigeon-holing type-casting. But we all love the bike. It’s our glue that allows us to tolerate, nay, accept! the differences and still throw a leg over…

    Cheers, Padraig. And thanks for nirvana on the internet!

    1. kurti_sc

      “Nirvana on the Internet!” Perhaps that could be a subtitle for RKP.
      Others have said it, but I want to chime in, too. This is good quality discussion about some grey areas. I feel respected here at RKP.
      Last year, they eyebrows were raised with review of this event and people were a little more polarized. This year, I think the comments show that we can at least agree to disagree – and then get on with some riding.

  11. Francis Specker

    No matter whose name is on the ride, it is so well organized and beautiful that it is worth doing. This was my first time participating in the event, and even though dopers like Barry Bonds were also riding (he didn’t get much if any applause when introduced) it was about celebrating cycling, not about Levi or bike racers.

    PS – I rode along side with you Padraig and your sharp kit, hope to do so in the future, cheers!

  12. Full Monte

    Word is correct. Patron is a seriously top shelf tequila. It is my elixir of choice. Put a healthy slug in a martini shaker with ice. Shake vigorously for 20 seconds, pour into an oversized shot glass. Leave the salt in the cupboard and the lime in the fridge. Enjoy it straight, in one gulp, as it slides down like velvet ice, then follows with the soothing warmth of a soft winter blanket. Some people manage to contain themselves and enjoy it in small sips. How they exert such self control, I have no idea.

  13. peter lin

    I plan to do the ride one day. The area is lovely and the climb sounds like wicked fun. On my list of bucket list climbs, king’s ridge and the hawaii climb are high on the list. Thanks to RKP for writing and sharing about these places.

  14. Dave King

    I share many readers distaste for Levi and also believe he has been neither sufficiently explanatory of the extent of his doping nor truly remorseful about it. While I will never ride his Gran Fondo, I can understand why others will. It cover fantastic terrain on remote country roads with fantastic views with (apparently) great support. I respect that the ride benefits many of the outlying communities through which it rides, which hopefully strikes a positive chord with the residents and creates goodwill and respect for cyclists.

    To those who won’t do the Levi Gran Fondo and to those who “want to do it next year”, don’t forget that the roads are open 365 days a year. You don’t have to pay a fee to ride those roads and you can ride them any day of the year. With a little planning you can experience the ride in a totally different way: solo or with a small group of friends making the ride both more intimate and expansive at the same time.

  15. Stephen Lawton

    Kudos on a good, thoughtful post.

    I have ridden every edition of LGF. In the first year, 2009, when there were (I think) just 600 riders, I slept in my tent at Finley Park, woke up and showered at the poolhouse before the start. Now it’s Friday night at a motel reserved in February. So I’ve watched the event bloom along with the growth in the demographic of serious recreational cyclists.

    Americans are bad at a lot of things, but they’re the very best at organizing mass public events either in emergencies or with adequate resources and talent. BikeMonkey is a world-class example of organizational talent. An asset of national importance. Let the earthquakes roll… we can organize to feed everybody for a few days!

    LGF is so darned buttoned up and squeaky, it’s hard not to gush about it. But this year felt a little like, maybe, it’s jumping the shark. A little. At the start, this was the first year we heard from an elected official (Mike Thompson, running again for Congress). Well, fine, but I didn’t feel like being at a Rotary breakfast right there and then. Then, the crashes. On the Ridge, the sight of a man down, in a pool of blood on the pavement. Then, course closed for a half hour for the helicopter evacuation from another crash at Hauser Bridge. Modulo the squirrel incident south of Monte Rio, the nearly-constant ambulance sirens were the sounds of too many high-T weekend warriors with entitlement issues and lack of respect for the road and other riders. Yes, with 6500+ riders, the percentage of jerks and idiots adds up to a real number, and it only takes one. BikeMonkey pleads with us in their written material, particularly about Hauser Bridge, but really, there really are not enough good social norms out there.

    Anyway, as the day wears on, the field grows sparser, and there’s more time to chat on the rollers and at the stops with people you’ll never meet again, but with whom you’ve shared a substantial effort. So it’s a good war. I’ll be back at LGF; it’s the Final Exam for me every year.

    And, about the Levi comments from those who type: let he who is without sin… enough said.

    1. kurti_sc

      Hey Stephen. Beware of relativism. No one is saying they don’t have their own faults. We all do. We all fall short of some mark on occasion; we all sin, we all whatever. Owning up to those faults or correcting our behavior matters more. Taking your approach seems not to allow for forgiveness of poor choices or bad behavior, but rather invites it.
      ‘hey, we all got issues, so i’m gonna screw over this bunch of people over here…and it’s okay, b/c we all have issues.”
      Perhaps you meant something else.
      And the best place to talk about this is when we are all in O2 debt on some 14% grade!

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  17. bigwagon

    An excellent point about the roads being open 365 days. I think most riders are either a fondo-type rider or not, regardless of the ethical issues associated with the founder. I’m not. As coincidence would have it, I was out in Sonoma last weekend on a business trip and was lucky enough to actually find a road bike available for rental at Wine Country bikes on Saturday. I purposely steered clear of the LGF, expecting that such a ride would be a giant nuisance, and instead enjoyed a tough and hot solo ride over the Cavedale/Mt. Veeder route to Napa.

    1. Dave King

      Bigwagon – congrats on creating your own ride. I know those roads well and doing Cavedale and Mt Veeder are epics unto themselves.

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