October 3, 2009

We lined up in Santa Rosa and took off en-masse after a talk by Bob Roll and Levi Leipheimer and began the first ever, Levi's Gran Fondo. These events (Gran Fondo means “Big Ride” in Italian), are popular all over Europe and are just now gaining traction in the US. It’s not a race, but a ride, where 3500 friends and strangers attempt to complete a long group ride (there were three options: 103, 65 and 36 miles) which is fully supported with rest stops, Sag assistance and an outpouring of volunteer support on the narrow roads that allowed us to just focus on the climbing and the amazing scenery.  Levi’s Gran Fondo exists as well to help fund the town of Santa Rosa’s bid to get the Tour of California back for 2010 and beyond and also to help fund Forget Me Not Farm in Sonoma County—a great program that helps at-risk children with animal-assisted therapy.

Levi waves to the crowd at the start.
(Photo: Michael Romo.

Once we got through town, the course became almost indescribable—small country roads, shadowed sections of rolling hills, a chill in the air and a positive vibe. It was tough not to smile as I grinded up the early climbs as we headed to the coast. Yeah, I got passed by a guy wearing board shorts, but once we hit the coast, I saw him on the side of the road stretching, so I let it go.

Dave Letierre of FasTrack Bicyles in Santa Barbara on a coastal descent.
(Photo: Michael Romo.

The stretch of northern California coast that we rode with steep, craggy cliffs, whitecaps, untouched farms and public land with views that went on forever. I spoke with Scot Nicol of Ibis at dinner the night before and he told me this ride (and he has ridden and guided trips all over the world) is one of the most beautiful rides he has ever done. It’s true.

The narrow and steep climbs were pain-cave material.
(Photo: Michael Romo.

We left the coast and climbed over Coleman Valley Road. This was a steep climb and a gut-check for sure, but once over the top, the view made all the suffering worth it. The wind was blowing, the scenery was unforgettable and the cheers as riders crested the long climb set the tone for the final 20-miles into Santa Rosa. Windy roads, some kicker climbs and fun descents completed the day.  

For those who chose the challenging 103-mile loop (Scott Nydam of BMC crossed the line first)  they experienced the Kings Ridge climb with ancient forests and vistas on their way to the coast and back to Santa Rosa over Coleman Valley road.

3500 riders on the course. The organization was great and the volunteers made it a safe and memorable day.
(Photo: Michael Romo.

The day continued after the ride with the FondoSonoma with bands, local cuisine, kids bike races, raffles and a large selection of local and national bike vendors at Finley Park. A great addition.  

Bob Roll relaxes at the FondoSonoma after a long day in the saddle.
(Photo: Michael Romo.

We will be back next year and actually after this ride, we plan to come back to Santa Rosa to experience more of the riding here. Consider this area for your next cycling adventure with friends as well. We have heard all the rumors about the riding here, but it is truly worth the trip. We stayed at the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country, which has a complete bike-friendly setup including road ride maps, a bike washing station, breakfast and lunch to-go boxes for longer rides and a bike-friendly staff that understands cyclist needs. Check them out at

No need to travel to Europe. It's all here.
(Photo: Michael Romo.

Stay tuned for the March issue of Road Bike Action where we will publish a feature on Levi's Gran Fondo. And, bookmark this site: and make sure to sign up for next year.


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