By Neal Rogers
An expected 3,500 cyclists will take to the streets of Santa Rosa, California, at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning for the start of the inaugural King Ridge Gran Fondo, a mass-participation ride promoted by local cycling star Levi Leipheimer.
Something between a race and a century ride, Gran Fondos are celebrated traditions in Italian cycling culture, often attracting more than 10,000 riders, including retired pros, amateur racers and recreational cyclists. While not strictly competitive, Gran Fondos are usually timed, both to ensure participants complete the entire course and to provide some scoring for quick completion of unique sections of the route.
Leipheimer, who rode for Astana in 2009 but has signed with Lance Armstrong’s Radio Shack team for 2010, lives in Santa Rosa and trains on many of the roads that will be used for the event.
Racing fans should be familiar with the town of Santa Rosa, host to finishes of the Amgen Tour of California four years running. The climb over Coleman Valley Road has traditionally been used to bring the peloton from the Pacific Coast back into Santa Rosa. Leipheimer has twice stood atop the podium in his hometown wearing the race leader’s jersey.
“The King Ridge Gran Fondo is the perfect way to show everyone what myself, and many of the best cycling teams in the world know — Sonoma County is a cycling heaven,” Leipheimer said.
Leipheimer’s King Ridge event consists of three rides of varying distances — a 36-mile ride (the Piccolo Fondo, offering 1,100 feet of elevation gain), a 65-mile ride (the Medio Fondo, offering 3,000 feet of elevation gain) and a 103-mile ride (the Gran Fondo, offering 6,500 feet of elevation gain.)
All riders start and finish at the Finley Center in Santa Rosa, however only the Gran Fondo route features the event’s namesake, King Ridge Road. Riders can expect to pass Sonoma County’s vineyards, redwood trees and grassy meadows.
Though the course will not be closed to traffic, the California Highway Patrol will monitor busy intersections. Rest stops with food and beverages are located approximately every 12 miles, and mechanical support is available to all participants. While not a race, riders will be fitted with a timing chip that will measure their time over certain sections of the course. All riders will be treated to meals upon completion.
Leipheimer will address the entire field at 7:55 a.m. before embarking to ride the 103-route. Other names from the pro racing circuit include Bissell riders Burke Swindlehurst, Paul Mach and Jeremy Vennell, Garmin-Slipstream’s Lucas Euser, BMC’s Scott Nydam and BMC directors Mike Sayers and Gavin Chilcott.
The first-year event, which was capped at 3,500 participants, reached capacity last month.