Imagine a ride over the rolling hills of California, nestled between the vineyards of Sonoma County and along steep cliffs, as you ride your way towards the waves of the Pacific Ocean. On the first weekend of October, avid cyclists did just that, as over 7,500 riders descended on the town of Santa Rosa, California (just north of that mythic city of San Francisco) for the third annual Levi’s GranFondo Ride. Along with Levi Leipheimer and these thousands of cyclists, many other professional cyclists and celebrities gathered to ride and have a great time with all the proceeds going to charity.
The charity is Forget Me Not Farm, promoted by Levi’s wife, former Timex/Cannondale rider Odessa Gunn. Her involvement with animal rescue and rehabilitation has been instrumental in getting awareness and funding for the ranch & foster programs, but it is more than a shelter for abandon critters. The facility acts as a therapeutic refuge for at-risk children, pairing them with animals around the farm and charging the children with their care.
The ride itself incorporates three varied routes, a bit of “something for everyone”, each with a different profile, degree of difficulty and length. All three traverse incredibly scenic terrain, down the Russian River Valley toward the town of Jenner at the Pacific Ocean. The Kings Ridge route takes the GranFondo riders over the hills toward Ritchey Ranch (yes, that Ritchey) where the bike legend himself was reported to be serving sandwiches at the lunch stop.
A very organized ride, the mass start–all the groups at once and at the sensible hour of 8AM–was well managed and the numbers of volunteers and CHPs officers (California Highway Patrol) controlling intersections along the route was impressive. Rest stops were plentiful and well stocked, as were comfort stations. Of course, the scenery was beautiful, as if one had expected anything less. And in typical California coastal fashion, there was some fog along the ocean. Some of the vistas and hill tops were cool and obscured, and a few areas along the ride were reported to have some visibility issues, but aside from that, the ride and post ride weather was excellent.
Naturally, one of the rewards of a great ride is in the post-ride lunch and festival. The post-ride food offerings ran the gamut from specialities like the very popular Paella stand, to Mexican and Indian food to BBQ beef and plenty of regular post ride cuisine. And, of course, providing the much needed post ride refreshment: an assortment of New Belgium beers to quench the thirst. Along with food and a continuous array of entertainment, there were dozens of Exhibitors at the finish line festivities, including Camelbak, Chris King, HED, Nissan & SRAM, just to name a very few.
All in all, it was a great event.
The pre-ride organization was just that, organised, as was the smooth start with its 7,500 cyclists. The course was well policed and marked and the post ride entertainment andfestival was fun and entertaining.
So what makes a great ride–just that! Levi’s GranFondo 2011 was a ride where you could challenge yourself, have fun, and know that it is all was going to run smoothly. And it is definitely a ride we won’t hesitate to sign up for when entries open for next year’s event.