Yesterday was the day of Levi’s big ride and it was incredible. After a few cups of coffee this morning I finally feel equipped to review the day, share some pics, and enjoy memories.
First, a little background on the ride. This was the first year of the Gran Fondo, an event that pro rider Levi Leipheimer put together to both showcase the gorgeous riding country in Northern California and also to get the Santa Rosa stage back into the Tour of California. Although one goal clearly takes precedence, both were achieved. The fondo was available to riders of all levels with three separate courses to choose from. However, of the 3,500 pro and amateur riders that registered for the event, the skill level was clearly higher than we’ve seen at any of the century rides that we’ve ridden.
Advertised as Northern California’s biggest ride, the fondo welcomed participants from all over the country. Our group sent 4 riders in total: 3 riders through the “Gran” course (103 miles) and 1 rider through the “medio” course (65 miles).
The Gran was an amazing ride. It lived up to its reputation as an extremely challenging course, packed with steep climbs and technical descents through some of the most beautiful country in Northern California. True to its word, it left a lasting impact on our team.
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From the lineup this ride had the makings of something special. The staging area was immense. It was packed with riders bending around the block, waiting to charge through the starting gate. Once on the road, we were treated to avenues completely blocked off from traffic and crowds cheering us on as if we were all professional riders. I know this sounds like such a small part of the experience, it is such a far cry from hugging the right side of road and looking over your shoulder. It really made an impact.
Within a few miles, we had made it to the outskirts of town and were on our way toward the foothills. The road was packed with a seemingly endless pelaton, and the oversized slipstream made the rolling hills feel almost effortless. At about 10 to 15 miles in we would get a relatively tame taste of climbing that transported us from the vineyards of the foothills to the tall evergreens of the mountain country. From there a long, fast descent through the shadows of these giants took us to where we parted ways from the riders choosing the medio and piccolo courses.
The following 20 miles or so took us through a gradual incline of varying terrain of forest and grassy foothills eventually delivering us to the brutal climbs of king ridge rd. Within a few miles of the turn, a 15 mile section of intense climbs and teasing switchbacks stared us in the face as we slowly crawled our way to the top. Constantly looking for the top of the ridge and finding only more road, we finally made it to the peak of the climb. Finally the reward of the climb presented itself. A quick glance forward revealed the ridgetop pathway that showcased breathtaking views in every direction. I took the time to snap a few photos, mike grabbed a fresh lemonade from the stand at the top and then we continued on to lunch.
Lunch was excellent. Bike Monkey organized the event and they did a top notch job. We’ve been on rides that were understaffed, lacked supplies & selection, and were poorly marked. These guys avoided every single one of those pitfalls. We wolfed down a few sandwiches, some fresh fruit, seasoned potatoes, and any other calories we could find. Before long, we were on our way.
Greeted with a quick descent that felt more like a drop off, we were on to more climbing with hopes of seeing the ocean soon. Although logic told us it wasn’t far, the grinding pace of the climbs made it feel more like a fleeting mirage than a destination. And so we trudged on until we finally got a peak at the pacific over the top of the hills. It was worth it!
From the first site of the ocean, the coastal portion of the trip took on an entirely different feel. We flew at a screaming pace down the mountain, toward the coastline. Hitting a near 20% downhill grade at times, riders brakes were nearly on fire and apparently some were even hot enough on the rim to pop the tire. Scary. Soon we were escorted on to Hwy 1 by the CHP and were flying down the coastline, greeted by intense winds. Taking advantage of the wind at our back and bracing for when it would come across, we cruised the highway for a few miles, enjoying the views and the beautiful weather.
Eventually, it was time to head inland and toward the finish, but with another 30 miles left, we certainly had plenty of journey ahead of us. Immediately after departing the hwy we found the coastal mountains and began another painstaking climb, fighting the winds that had helped us earlier. After a great deal more grinding we had scaled the top. All that was left was another 20 miles, a mild climb and some flatlands along the homecoming. Thankfully it passed quickly because it had been a long day.
Upon our return it was time for a cold beer, and a tired drive home. Thankfully I wasn’t at the wheel. In all, the ride was incredible, as evidenced by my uber-long post. Thanks for reading and don’t worry. Posts should be a lot shorter from here on out.