Monday, October 11, 2010

GranFondo - Thanks Levi!

Went up to Sonoma County this weekend to ride my bike, along with 5,999 other lucky riders, in Levi's King Ridge GranFondo. Levi in this case is none other than Levi Leipheimer, professional bike racer on the RadioShack team, 3 time winner of the Tour of California, podium placer at the Tour de France, Santa Rosa hometown hero and all around nice guy. The ride was a great success for Sonoma County, the sport of bike riding and my riding buddies and I had a blast. It was one of those weekends where you remember why you live in California. The incredible natural beauty, the weather, the food, the great people...and the fantastic riding.

The people of Sonoma County were really fantastic, out cheering and ringing cow bells for the riders all day. Lots of signs welcoming the riders. Some of the people living on King Ridge were not too happy about thousands of riders using and discovering their little hidden piece of paradise, but that's a whole 'nother story. I guess October isn't the best time to take a bunch of strangers up into the west Sonoma hills. The number one crop out there isn't grapes and it is harvest time. The Fondo organizers wisely put some of their charitable donations into the local schools and fire departments along the route, and everything went smoothly.

Bottom line:  If you are a bike rider in California, recommend you put this event on your calendar for 2011.

The one-day ride had courses of 103 miles and 8,000 feet climbing (Gran), 65 miles and 3,800 feet climbing (Medio) and 30 miles and pretty flat (Piccolo). Not feeling particularly masochistic nor having too many miles on the legs this season, I choose the Medio course.

The ride started and ended in Levi's hometown and road cycling hotbed, Santa Rosa. The night before the ride, the town was thronged with expensive carbon bikes and their uber-fit owners. My riding companions Tim and Georges wisely suggested we decamp for dinner in Petaluma and avoid the mayhem of 6,000 bike riders carbo-loading in downtown Santa Rosa.

Petaluma's Seed Bank is

The morning of the ride we set out at 630a for a pre-ride coffee at the Flying Goat, determined to get to the start early enough to ensure a good position at the front of the peloton crowd masses. Below is a shot of the crowd at about 720a, by 8a it was pretty packed with all the riders stretching farther than we could see, both in front of us and behind us. We hung out at the start for 40 minutes listening to the loud and annoying announcer talk about all the pros at the ride (Levi, Taylor Phinney, etc.)  and on and on about Patrick Dempsey. Yes, McDreamy was on the ride.

After a Hendrix-esque electric guitar star spangled banner from Cat 3. racer/ pro rock guitar dude, we were off.  Tim immediately set a fast pace as we made our way forward through the peloton, determined to get out front of the masses. The roads in west Sonoma County are narrow and rutted, it's better to be up front in the pack, riding fast with experienced riders. It's more dangerous to be stuck in the back of the pack.

Tim decided to tackle the Gran course, which features an additional 38 miles of riding and 4,000 feet of additional climbing, courtesy of the famed and feared King Ridge portion of the course. Georges and I rode with Tim the first 25 miles of the ride, before the courses split. Tim had his motor going. I can't remember ever seeing our speed dip much below 22 mph, except on a few climbs.

Georges and I kept the fast pace going, through Duncans Mill, Jenner, up to Highway One, past the amazing views of the seastacks and waves. It was a crystal clear day as we rode with a pack of other fast riders, including a 12 year old boy who was riding really well.

The bliss of the ride left at about mile 40 or so when we turned off Highway One onto Coleman Valley Rd. The much talked about, much dreaded climb of Coleman Valley Road. It was a hard climb, but not too bad. Some steep pitches, exposed to the sun, a bit of a grunt and grind at first followed by some ongoing rolling climbing. Kind of like West Alpine Road with a longer section at the top. Now if you had just climbed King Ridge and then Coleman Valley came up, it would really not be fun. Tim didn't think so later that day.

The last 20 miles after Coleman was some rolling riding on the ridge tops into Occidental, some rolling riding out of Occidental (some of the small climbs were starting to hurt by now) and finally the last, fast and flat 10 miles. Georges and I traded some pulls. We caught a train being lead by a strongman on a tandem and powered behind those guys, ready to be done.  It was just starting to get hot, the car traffic was increasing on the roads and most dangerous of all, we were starting to run into a lot of the Pico riders returning from their merry jaunt to Occidental.

We put our heads down and just pedaled hard, coming in to the finish on an really, really long Santa Rosa bike path. With a few miles left, I was digging so deep that I started hallucinating that my bike seat was coming loose. That couldn't be. We made a hairy U-turn off the bike path and got on Stony Point Road. We had 500 yards to the finish line. Georges started his sprint to the finish - it was a timed event. I forgot about that and focused on my seat which was definitely falling off. I got out of the saddle and pumped out the last yards. Done.  3.5 hours riding. 3.75 hours with 2 rest stops.

It was right before noon, and after getting my seat fixed we enjoyed the post ride festivities. We immediately scored our freebie fat tire beers and made for the line for our post ride meal, the legendary Gerard's Paella. It was delicious, although it was kind of like pouring 5 pounds of cement in my belly. So good, but uggghhhhh, I felt full. It made the ride back to the Hyatt interesting, although at least my seat was attached to my bike. The post-ride fog was slowly erased by a dip in the pool, and a shower.

As for Tim, he did the Gran course, conquered King Ridge and took the strong man prize for our little group. My only consolation was that I was laying on a lounge chair at the Hyatt pool while Tim muscled to the top of the Coleman climb, with another 20 miles to go. and your crew did a fantastic job. See you next year.


  1. Good recollection Des, although you forgot to mention the dude huffing on Coleman Valley climb wearing a motocross helmet!

  2. You captured the experience well Des. By the time you hit Occidental I was crossing the start line! I'm passing this blog post on to others that shouldn't miss this event next year. Thanks for sharing.