Registration got off to a strong start Monday for the Levi Leipheimer King Ridge GranFondo, a benefit ride that is retaining its popularity despite the doping scandal that has swept professional cycling.

"We didn't know what to expect," said Greg Fisher, marketing director for the ride. "We feel we have a solid event that stands on its own, but we weren't quite sure what we would see today."

Within the first two hours of registration, 2,000 of the 4,000slots in the signature 103-mile route had sold. The remaining 2,000 are expected to be sold within the next two to three days.

By late afternoon Monday, there were a total of 2,950 riders signed up for the Oct. 5 ride, which allows a maximum of 7,500 riders for the 103-mile, 65-mile and 32-mile routes. The ride has sold out all of the previous four years.

Leipheimer is the ride's founder, namesake, star attraction and a major reason it sells out each year, drawing riders from throughout the United States, Canada and overseas.

The Santa Rosa resident was also among the elite U.S. riders who admitted to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency last year to being part of a complex doping strategy involving Lance Armstrong, the seven-time winner of the Tour de France.

Leipheimer did not return a telephone call seeking comment Monday, but made note of the controversy in a letter posted on the GranFondo website.

"I've learned over and over that this ride is far bigger than me and it will outlast the recent scandals in cycling," Leiphei-mer wrote. "If we do this right, it may even outlast me."

Fisher said taking Leiphei-mer's name off the ride was never considered.

"That was never even discussed," Fisher said. "He is not leaving Santa Rosa. The good work that he has done is still good wor,and he wants to be part of it."

Last year, the ride raised $248,000 that went toward Forget Me Not Farms, the city of Santa Rosa's cost of hosting the Amgen Tour of California and fire departments, schools and nonprofits in west Sonoma County, which is most impacted by the routes.

The race has 4,000 spots for the 103-mile gran route, 2,000 spots for the 65-mile medio route and 1,500 slots for the 32-mile piccolo route.

The ride begins and ends at the Finley Center in Santa Rosa, where an all-day festival is also held.

Registration, at, is $150 for the gran, $130 for the medio and $75 for the piccolo.

You can reach Staff WriterBob Norberg at 521-5206 or