This past weekend I had the good fortune to attend a day of the three-day food/wine/beer/bike festival CampoVelo. The event, in its second year, has grown and morphed from a bike ride with a food component into a real three-day weekend set in Calistoga, the least pretentious location in the sometimes intimidating Napa Valley.
Had circumstances been different relative to family requirements, I’d have attended the entire weekend. And I can tell you it would have kept me busy for the whole thing.
Clif’s Gary Erickson playing trumpet with Saturday evening’s band at the speedway.
What CampoVelo has put together is unlike anything I’ve seen elsewhere. There were four rides to choose from on Friday, seven rides to choose from on Saturday and another three rides on Sunday. The rides encompassed everything from fast group rides, to beginner group rides, women’s-only rides, mountain bike and even gravel rides. If you happened to arrive with a non-riding companion, they had hikes and yoga classes, too.
Chef Chris Cosentino of Cockscomb.
And these weren’t just rides where they hand you a route sheet and you head off sometimes between no-sun-yet and 9 o’clock. They had ride leaders. And those leaders? They weren’t just a bunch of locals who needed to prove they know the roads and trails better than you. They were bonafide stars.
They had Ted and Laura King, Carl Decker, Alison Tetrick, Yuri Hauswald, Janel Holcomb, chef Chris Cosentino, chef Lentine Alexis and plenty more. Not only did you have them leading rides, but depending on which ride you showed up to you could hobnob with framebuilders like Jeremy SyCip and Curtis Inglis.
I chose to do the Mountain Bikes, Burgers and Beers ride, which was two-ish hours of singletrack down the road from Calistoga in Skyline Park. The layout of Skyline is such that with all the intersecting trails it wasn’t hard to skip a particular climb and then re-intersect with the group a couple of miles later.
The park’s trails start at sea level and climb as high as 800 feet (a bit more) and while many of them are doable on a gravel bike, for the full measure of the park, I’d suggest a flat bar and some suspension, and in a few places, a dropper post as well.
There was a fair bit of food at the start/finish of the ride, though by the time SyCip and I finished talking to Cosentino, all the burgers were gone. No worries; I hopped in a van for the ride back to Calistoga. There, the afternoon festivities were already in swing. I got to taste a number of different wines (including an unbelievable Cabernet from Whitehall Lane), while listening in on a number of panel discussions that were held. I covered the lack of a burger earlier with some slices of cured meats from Capo and pizza from a local restaurant.
The talks, called the Speakeasy Sessions, included increasing your competitive edge, winemaking, tire pressure and what it’s like to try to act as a cycling coach to a high strung chef.
Those are chocolates.
In the evening, the Calistoga Speedway hosted a collection of Napa’s best food trucks (I had a Cuban pork sandwich with bacon mac and cheese), a number of wineries (Markham Vineyards was pouring a killer Zinfandel blend, and their president, David Flanary, is a rider), beers from Sierra Nevada and others, and, to top it off, a relay race around the grass track that made for some hilarious racing. There were times when I couldn’t decide whether to watch the bike handoffs or focus on my glass of wine.
After Saturday evening’s event, I possessed mixed feelings about missing out on Sunday’s events. I wasn’t sure that I was up for an 80-mile road ride (the ride most of my friends were planning to do) after all that wine, and was even less certain of my ability to summon the ability to gorge myself on yet another rich meal. That said, chef Cosentino served up a diverse meal of pizzas, roast pig, plenty of greens and decadent treats. Charles Krug Winery covered the grapes while Mad Fritz covered the grains.
The relay team names were pretty funny.
The entry fee ranged from as little as $25 for the Saturday evening at the speedway event all the way up to $615 for the VIP pass for the whole weekend, and it’s one big weekend. I’m honestly surprised there aren’t more events like this. As it is only in its second year, I won’t be surprised to see it add additional events. As perfect an excuse for cyclists to visit Napa County as there could be.
Images: Bob Cullinan (except first and last)
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