In the Wake of: Levi’s GranFondo

In the Wake of: Levi’s GranFondo

When I lined up for Levi’s GranFondo this year, I was doing so for reasons that had more to do with community and budding tradition than for my own personal riding. I’d been traveling too much; I’d spent two of the previous four weeks out of town and my fitness wasn’t exactly burnished. Unlike the previous two editions, where I’d made sure I was fit enough to ride the double-metric-ish (when ridden from my home) Panzer route, I knew I’d be riding something shorter this year. But there was never any question about whether I’d show up.

Since USADA’s Reasoned Decision, I’ve taken heat for my support of the event. And I’ve taken additional heat for my refusal to back down in the face of said heat. I’m not interested in writing about doping any further, so I want to keep my remarks on this brief. I’ll say I assumed Leipheimer doped simply because he’d finished in the top 10 of the general classification of the Tour de France. To me, that’s nearly all the proof you need. Yes, Leipheimer was forced to confess and didn’t come forward of his own volition, but I can’t really criticize him for that; no one came forward willingly because to do so was a death sentence. What I can’t abide is our two-faced attitude of turning our backs on members of our community once they’ve been outed. Again, his doping wasn’t news, but worse, why is it Jens Voigt and so many other riders continue to get a pass? There’s no way Voigt didn’t dope, and given the way everyone turned on Leipheimer, Zabriskie, Hincapie and the others, why would he ever confess? A constant thread that runs through this discussion but remains largely unsaid is the concept of honesty and integrity. And for those who want to criticize me for riding the event because of the lack of integrity these riders displayed by doping, I have to point out that my own integrity would be lacking if I stepped away from my support now.

My own sense of my integrity demands that I stand up. It was a great event when it launched. Leipheimer wasn’t a clean rider when it was launched. If I back away now, that suggests I’ve got some Pollyanna attitude toward pro cycling. And my reasons for supporting the fondo have less to do with Leipheimer than they do with what has become my home.

Finally, to those who say, “Okay, then, if it’s such a great event, then change the name.” I’m going to point out that a change of name is unlikely to satisfy anyone who is still wringing their hands over these dopers. Still being upset about doping that took place more than 10 years ago says more about the upset people than it does the riders who doped.

In the years since it’s launch the fondo has continued to improve. The organization is world-class; the start-line festivities from the call-outs to celebrities as well as current and former pros to the free coffee and goose-bump-inducing performance of the National Anthem is an experience in its own right. And unlike many organized rides, the fondo draws out local riders like no other event I’ve ever seen; even the grasshoppers don’t get the locals out the way Levi’s GranFondo does. Most riders I know end up volunteering as marshals who help pace groups and fix flats as well as keep people from accidentally turning off the route. The routes? They are second to none and now there are a whopping eight different options that allow you to have exactly the day you wish.

One change to the event for this year was an effort by Bike Monkey to help riders line up by their anticipated finish times, giving faster riders the chance to line up closer to the front, rather than just the riders who arrived earliest. For those who truly want to race the fondo and achieve the fastest finish time they can, this was a pretty welcome change. For me, it resulted in what I saw as the fastest, most nervous start I can recall seeing in some years. But that’s just me.

In suburban Sebastopol (which is a pretty funny concept if you know Sebastopol), the course hits its first hill, a pretty minor bump, but that’s just as the road narrows and it’s the first real chance for the group to turn some riders into exhaust, and I took that as my opportunity to drop off and find a smaller group to ride with. Unlike my days in SoCal, I don’t ride in big packs much anymore and I’m more comfortable if I’m not surrounded by riders I don’t know.

Instead of taking in the signature road of the fondo, King Ridge, I chose to climb up Fort Ross. There I saw but a handful of other riders. Taking the more secluded route gave me a chance to spend more time staring at my surroundings. I spied Pinot Noir vineyards used by Kosta Browne and Flowers and saw some singletrack I needed to ask a friend about.

I hit the coast at a great time. Most gran riders still hadn’t reached the lunch stop, so I had the road to myself until the ride’s leader passed me, followed several minutes later by a quartet including a local 14 year old, Luke Lamperti, who will one day be a household name. Kid had the breath to turn and say hi. Sheesh.

Even though I was still ahead of most riders, I decided to turn off on Willow Creek Road, which hits Hay 1 right at the mouth of the Russian River. It’s a road frequently used the Grasshoppers and it features everything I love about Sonoma County riding. Down low the pavement is bad, with frequent potholes and including just enough turns and small rollers to leave only 50 meters or so visible at a time. Once the climb starts the dirt road passes through thick Redwood forest. I always hope to finally see one of the Ewoks.

The view at the top is all-time. I’ve begun to joke that I’m not sure what to do for vacation now that I can ride this terrain any time I want. I hung out at the top for a while, greeting other riders and talking to the members of the Gianni Club who were manning the sag stop.

The run into the finish from Occidental includes one good hill and a couple of false flats before billiard table run on the bike path to the finish. I found a couple of quicker century riders who were leading some medio riders and three of us provided a good draft to the rest. It was nice to feel fresh, rather than spent as we rolled in.

Levi’s continues to offer the best post-ride meal I’ve encountered at an organized ride. Fork’s paella is so authentic when you get an occasional grain of sand in a muscle, it tastes of the Mediterranean.

The friends I saw at the finish were grins and high fives. There hasn’t been much of that since.

 

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24 comments

  1. Miles Archer

    Sorry to be a editor, but minor errors bug the crap out of me. It’s Hwy 1, not Hay 1 and it’s a mussel not a muscle. “used the Grasshoppers” probably should be “used in the Grasshoppers”.

    Otherwise nice write up and sounds like a great day. Suburban Sebastapol. very funny.

    1. amomigigante

      If you choose to be a troll, who considers himself an “editor”; at least be correct. Notice I used “an” rather than “a” as an article for editor. Additionally, you neglected adding a comma after “mussel”. Arrogant trolls bug the crap out of me.
      Padraig, I appreciate your thoughts on old dopers and Levi’s as well.
      Blessings to you both.

  2. Grego

    Nobody who knows the kind of good Levi Leipheimer does for Sonoma County would consider asking him to change the name of the ride.

    “We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” – Mahatma Gandhi

  3. Bill Webster

    I rode the Fort Ross Road and Willow Creek route at Levi’s gran Fondo this year too. Afterward I checked the description of the Willow Creek segment and read that it was “occasionally cratered”. All the hard work getting ready paid off, but the highlight of the day was riding with my brother. Thanks for a nice story Padraig.

  4. Jason Lee

    This is such a b.s. response and justification. Of course it would help if they changed the name. “Laundering” his name with this fondo is a total slap in the face of anti-doping.
    Don’t go defending dopers and making justifications because it’s in your best interests. That is really disgusting and all part of the same line of thinking that keep the dopers in the sport and succeeding outside of it.
    Instead of dismissing integrity and honest racing and conduct, why don’t you espouse change for the better and doing something that supports positive role models.
    You’re on the doper apology tour bandwagon because you want to justify having fun in your backyard.
    That’s sad.
    You want to support clean, former pro events? Then have them do a Phil’s cookie fondo in your area.
    There is a cost to cheating. Unless there isn’t. That’s why dopers continue to dope. People don’t care about integrity anymore. They are all on the backside of justifying cheating so deeply that they don’t even know what it means to stand for what’s right.

  5. Curtis Neal

    So Levi testing positive and being stripped of a USCF amateur crit national title isn’t enough to overcome your “assumptions”?

  6. Shawn

    You shouldn’t need to apologize or feel guilty or be shamed by others for choosing to attend a good event.

    Levi is a doper, so don’t ever let him race a sanctioned event again. Lance too. I disliked those guys and became disillusioned with all of the pros (who suddenly became immune to cracking on climbs around the mid-90s and still seem resistant 🤔) back when you cyclo-press types were still ignoring the obvious.

    But Mellow Johnny’s is a great bike shop around here, and Levi’s ride sounds fantastic by your accounts. Why is it that our overly activist social structure demands that one perceived wrong seemingly leads to an ideologically-motivated, permanent boycott? Fund Planned Parenthood and people stop buying your q-tips. Admit you want your staff to go to church on Sunday and other people stop buying your delicious chicken sandwiches. Would these people pass up a cure for pancreatic cancer if they found out if it had roots in fetal stem cell research? Or involuntary prisoner studies?

    So many good things missed. Baby, bathwater, & such. … Glad you enjoyed the ride.

  7. TomInAlbany

    Padraig,

    The fact that you felt compelled to address it, again, speaks to how much noise you hear about it. The comment above is likely fairly typical.

    I’m a live and let live kind of guy. If you can live in your own skin with your beliefs, so be it. They don’t hurt me. I was dreadfully disappointed to learn everyone was doping. I’m disappionted to think many of them may still be doping, albeit less obviously.

    The event sounds great. I believe people are allowed to redeem themselves. Go Levi!

  8. Jeff Dieffenbach

    A few years back, Sports Illustrated has an article about 4 minor league baseball players. Two doped and made it to the majors; the other two didn’t and didn’t.

    Faced with such a decision, I don’t know what I would have done. Sure, I’d love to be able to claim the integrity path, but being that close to a long-time goal and knowing that almost-everyone-else-is-doing-it doping might make the fame-and-fortune difference would certainly have been enticing at the least.

    I’m of a forgive-but-don’t forget mind. (Exception: the bully from Austin.) I’d probably even support some kinds of doping if of the recuperative HGH variety under a doctor’s care.

    The stories that I like the most are those of Gaimon and Myerson and countless, too often nameless others. I just finished the former’s excellent “Draft Animals” and am disappointed only in that he claims that it will be the last of his books. What a great ride!

    1. Shawn

      I’d probably even support some kinds of doping if of the recuperative HGH variety under a doctor’s care.

      Well, if you look at how HGH and testosterone are actually and most frequently used in contemporary “medicine,” then what you are arguing is that doping is bad for people who want to be stronger and make human powered things go faster and win races but perfectly fine for treating men — mostly past their peak fitness, but not always — with High-V (that’s a high serum level of vanityligascorbin compounds) who want to flex at young women in bikinis around the pool at the Bellagio. ‘Merica, baby!

    2. Jeff Dieffenbach

      I’m not arguing for that at all. Rather, I’m arguing for making extreme sports–a category in which I’ll include stage racing–less damaging to the athlete, male or female. I put substances that help the body recover in a different category than substances that directly enhance performance. I’m in favor of the former (if safe), not the latter.


    3. Author
      Padraig

      That’s a pretty slippery slope. By one version of thinking anabolic steroids are recovery agents that allow you to recover quicker so that you can do another hard workout sooner than you would without the aid. To me it’s a semantic argument, but it’s one that those who’d like to use every method at their disposal for maximum performance would use the moment any rule was ratified allowing the use of recovery agents. And though even more tenuous, some would make the argument that oxygen-vector doping helps you recover more quickly by limiting the amount of time in the red zone, thereby decreasing muscle damage. Less damage means faster recovery. I don’t agree with any of this, but I’m aware that these arguments would be made.

  9. Quentin

    I tell my kids they are going to make mistakes, and that the important part is whether they are going to learn from them. Observing from a distance, it appears many (including Levi) who were caught up in the USADA investigation have learned from their mistakes, and that’s good enough for me. There’s still one rider who, while having fessed up to his doping, still hasn’t fessed up to the awful way he treated some of his former colleagues, so I question whether he has learned anything at all.

  10. Trey

    Gran Fondos and Cookie Rides and raising charity $$ via cycling events etc. are one thing, but when LL showed up not once, but twice at Crusher in the Tushar to take the win with, as Phil G. coined it, and engine bored out by years of doping, I was none too pleased. I heckled him during the race and at the awards. I seem to be confused about where I draw my line. I still ride the Crusher every year (six years now). And I haven’t booed DZ at Crusher (though he didn’t win it either time). I will probably go back even if T-Bird lets them in again. That makes me pretty suspect in the integrity department, I reckon. Lots to think about here. And there.

  11. Gabe

    “Again, his doping wasn’t news, but worse, why is it Jens Voigt and so many other riders continue to get a pass? There’s no way Voigt didn’t dope”. source?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      I’ll leave out what knowledgeable people within the peloton told me as that is far less conclusive than his race results.

      2000 Tour of Germany
      2001 Tour of Germany, plus stage 2
      2001 Tour de France: stages 4 and 16, plus a day in yellow
      2002 Criterium International, plus stage 3 and points competition
      2004 Criterium International, plus stages 2 &3

      I could go on, but he was on CSC during that time, a team known for its doping and no one won a stage race during the early 2000s without EPO.

  12. James Laudolff

    Ha! The world isn’t black and white, but shades of grey. Sounds like a great ride for good causes. Can’t that be enough?
    I like what Phil G. said recently. You can always buy your CBD from someone else.

  13. John Kopp

    Padraig, Christophe Bassons was sanctioned for a doping offense. This tells me that doping is all political and has nothing to do with medicine! So it’s time to forget about all this nonsense.

  14. Hoshie99

    I liked the ride on its own merits – well organized and beautiful scenery in an area I don’t usually ride in. Haven’t done it since 2011 because I had done it twice and that was enough. I’d generally recommend it from a pure event standpoint. Great course, great food, very well organized.

    Not any more to tell: cycling means a ton to me so am not diminishing people’s strong opinion here. I am not in a place where I want to focus on others’ life choices.

  15. gabe

    I don’t really get the full-on “Levi hate”, but what is more, I just cannot understand the consistent adulation from others.

    Regarding statements that someone for sure doped because they raced in a certain era, or in certain teams, I also cannot understand. Is there a line we can draw on this? Should we say that Lauren Ten Dam probably doped? Should we start saying the same thing about medical professionals who just happen to be exceptionally strong cyclists? Where do we start to consider innuendo to be fact?

    And then of course, there are the people who never doped and retired when faced with making that decision. Aaron Olson for example. Most people will say “Aaron who?”

    I suspect the feelings of most people regarding the doping era (if it ever ended) are more complicated and cannot simply be distilled by any one article. If the love of cycling and cycling events is strong enough, then criticism should not deter anyone from participating or supporting whichever rider they choose.

  16. George

    It’s cycling, not life or death. People make mistakes… all people. If you learn from them and do better, then that’s what counts. Before you point a finger, turn it around back at yourself and ask if you are doing something positive or not. It sounds like a good ride and a good effort for raising money for charity. End of story. Thanks for the write-up.

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