It was a day of cycling fun, excitement and a few injuries, as some 7,500 cyclists — both amateur and professional — took to the streets of Sonoma County on Saturday for the fifth annual Levi's GranFondo.
The top male and female finishers were three-peaters, having both finished with the top times the past two years as well.
Neil Shirley of Valencia finished first overall, in 4 hours 37 minutes and 14 seconds, a new record for the event. Alison Tetrick of Mill Valley was the first female finisher at 5:25:12.
Shirley is formerly a pro racer and is editor of Road Bike Action magazine, while Tetrick rides professionally for Exergy Twenty12 Professional Cycling.
The event, now it its fifth year, drew riders from all 50 states and six continents, said organizer Greg Fisher.
Riders were asked to call out their homes at the start of the race. Kazakhstan, the Czech Republic, Taiwain and Singapore were represented, as were American cities throughout the country, many in California.
"Someone even called out Narnia," Fisher said.
Before the event, organizers and the event's namesake, Levi Leipheimer himself, encouraged participants to ride safely, a practice that is made all the more difficult because of the volume of riders.
Two of those riders formed a union during their race.
Mike Reid and Michelle Young of Redding tied the knot on the cliffs at Portuguese Beach, all decked out in their finest cycling wedding attire.
He wore a silver bow-tie skin suit and she a white outfit with a frilly skirt resembling a tutu.
Leipheimer became certified to perform wedding ceremonies for the event and officiated the pair's nuptials.
About 30 friends attended the affair, which Leipheimer called "an authentic and original wedding."
The starting point, as usual, was near the Finley Center at Stony Point Road, just south of College Avenue. A sea of cyclists packed the roadway all the way back to West Ninth Street.
Walter Clarke, 50, of Phoenix was happy to be at the front of the line for general riders — just behind VIPs and professional riders. Clarke, who works in real estate, said it was his first GranFondo, but he knew enough to try to get in the front.
"It's a lot safer; you're with riders who know what they're doing," Clarke said. "You have so many different levels and you get pilot error ... there's a lot of crashes"
Throughout the day, emergency radio dispatchers rattled off a slew of injuries that occurred at various points of the GranFondo route. They included collarbone injuries, chest pains and one man who passed out after the race. No serious injuries or major crashes were reported, Fisher said.
Peter Nelson, a 28-year-old hardware engineer who works in Silicon Valley but lives in San Francisco, was among the VIP riders, which included those who worked for companies that were event sponsors. Nelson said it was his second GranFondo and he was looking forward to riding King Ridge northwest of Cazadero, a segment that involves more than 9,000 feet of climbing.
"It's the longest ride I'm doing this year," he said. "Some of the co-workers that I'm riding with are a lot faster than me, so I'll see if I can keep up."
The hill was a challenge for eight cyclists from the Sacramento area who entered together.