Part of being a pro cyclist is spending the off season meeting with sponsors and glad-handing fans. I’ve attended a number of “get to ride with Rider X” events over the years. It’s a great idea in theory: give a bunch of riders a chance to meet a prominent pro and then have a chance to actually ride with them. In practice, it is rarely as satisfying as it appears on paper.
So when Bike Monkey announced that they would host Peter Sagan for a ride to benefit victims of the fires here in Sonoma County, and would charge for the opportunity to ride with the reigning three-time World Champion, I knew they must have something different up their sleeves, otherwise people would go away disappointed.
The thing is, if 300 people show up for a ride, there’s no way to make sure everyone gets a chance to ride with the star for 50 feet, even on a flat, 60-mile ride. It’s just too chaotic. Nevermind the reality that letting an unvetted rider near a pro—even in the off season—could result in a season-ending crash. With 400 people present for the Sagan ride, I was curious how things would play out. I knew Sagan would be safe enough thanks to the presence of Leipheimer, Ted King, Peter Stetina and Andrew Talansky, but would everyone drive away satisfied?
Levi Leipheimer introduced Sagan and a cheer went up as he told the assembled crowd how he pleased he was to be able to help support the community. The braggadocio common to so many top athletes wasn’t present in the rainbow-stripe-wearing pro. He was casual, yet confident and warm. I looked down to clip into a pedal and by the time I looked back up we were rolling. I figured we’d roll gently through town, but I was wrong. With more than a half dozen motorcycle marshals present, officers stopped traffic for us as we sped north through Santa Rosa before finally turning off on a common training route. Even before we were out of town we were doing well more than 20 mph; the pace only increased from there. I found myself moving up through traffic to stay ahead of riders who were getting dropped by the second until, finally, on the flat roads that ring vineyards northeast of Santa Rosa we settled into a roughly 25-mph pace.
With so many riders having driven in from out of town—I saw friends from Marin County and San Francisco, as well as from Sacramento and even Auburn—the first half of the ride was a terrific reminder of what makes riding in Sonoma County so great. This time of year the vineyards are covered in foliage; the leaves have turned yellows, oranges, reds and browns, and even some green lingers here and there. The ordered rows show you the contours of the hillsides. Every now and then there would be a faint hint of crushed grapes as we passed a winery.
After looping around the Sonoma County Airport, we turned southeast and back into Santa Rosa. Coffey Park marks the northwest corner of the city and as we rolled into the neighborhood silence replaced jovial conversations, and then whispers of “Oh my God,” and “All that’s left is the chimney!”
I have friends who wanted to attend the ride but told me they simply couldn’t. After too many days of sifting through ash, of driving into their neighborhood from their new, if temporary, homes, they couldn’t handle riding through it. Before the ride started, Leipheimer asked the assembled riders to be respectful as we passed through, to avoid taking photos, to keep voices low, and the group, for the most part, respected that.
Homeowners still sorting through the detritus looked up and we waived back. Removal crews paused, some even walked to the edge of the road to look back at us. All the while the police officers kept us rolling at a spirited clip, moving too fast to (hopefully) feel intrusive to anyone standing in what used to be their home.
Out of Coffey Park, we made our way over the 101 and to the foot of Fountaingrove Hill. The opening of Fountaingrove Parkway reaches 12 percent and that finally shattered the 100-strong group. Our route took us up the hill and then northeast toward Mark West Springs and Riebli Road, areas that were utterly decimated in the firestorm. I’ve seen many areas of my county and the devastation the fire brought, and I can’t help but be shocked each time I pass yet another leveled neighborhood. I heard people draw comparisons to Syria and Dresden. We’re fortunate that we haven’t suffered that level of death.
In the last week the only time I’d encountered the smell of a campfire had been up in Trione-Annadel State Park, but once on Riebli Road I breathed it in once again. I’m one of the fortunate residents and my reaction now to that redolence is visceral. It conjures fear, a concern for my sons and a desire to turn around for my own well-being. I suspect building a fire will never be the same for me.
We returned to Trail House, the bike shop/tap room by the owners of NorCal Bike Sport. It was the perfect way to bring spirits up after what was an utterly shocking experience for so many riders.
We walked into a large spread of paper-thin prosciutto fresh of the slicer, salamis and other sausages, cheese, local breads and of course a dozen different local brews. The keg of Pliny the Elder ran dry shortly after sundown, but with brews from Henhouse, Bear Republic and more, we had little to fear.
What really separated this event from others I’ve attended, so far as attendee satisfaction is concerned, was how Bike Monkey brought their handmade podium they use at races to Trail House and Sagan stood their for more than two hours, with one short break, taking photos with the assembled crowd. He remained upbeat and friendly throughout.
The stoke level was pegged at 11.
The event, would never have happened without a phone call to Bike Monkey owner Carlos Perez from Osmo’s CEO Ben Capron. Osmo sponsors Sagan, and Capron is based in nearby Marin County. The event also enjoyed support from Sagan’s bike sponsor, Specialized.
It’s fair to wonder what one ride and 400 people can do for an area brought to its knees by a conflagration befitting the bible. The answer is $60,000. That’s what was raised in a single event. That money will be funneled out to victims of the fire with absolutely zero taken off the top in administrative expenses. And the King Ridge Foundation, like the Redwood Credit Union is adamant that the organizations they work with can’t take cut; if they do, they get blacklisted.
My buddy Ben and his brother Jimmy with the man of the day.
As of this writing, the Sonoma Pride campaign led by the King Ridge Foundation and kickstarted with help from Russian River Brewing Co. is supported by 62 different breweries and has raised more than $400,000.
On a more personal note, I saw friends of mine on the ride wearing kits sent by you readers. They wouldn’t have been able to attend without your generosity. Thank you.
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