CAZADERO -- Nestled in a steep, wooded canyon in west Sonoma County, Cazadero has about 500 residents and two dozen buildings that line Cazadero Highway as its Main Street.
But this scenic, bucolic setting also is home to simmering tension between the people who drive its narrow, hilly roads, often in pickups, only to encounter a growing number of cyclists who come from afar for the daunting rides.
"There is a clash between the cyclists and the local people, especially when they ride as a peloton, as a big group, which is necessary for the way they train," said Charlotte Berry, a 25-year Cazadero resident and co-owner of Cazadero Hardware. "It is difficult to pass them on the local winding roads that are covered with brush and a lot of blind curves. There is a lot of friction because it slows people down."
Resident John Zimmerman said he has seen a dozen cars lined up behind slow-moving cyclists.
"I don't want to spoil their fun, but it's a safety issue," he said. "All it takes is one hot-head to pass when they shouldn't, and someone will get killed."
The issue exploded several months ago when the county roads department removed two cattle guards, the last straw for ranchers who loudly accused the county of bowing to cyclists at the expense of agriculture.
What followed was several community meetings to clear the air and set the stage to reach a middle ground, Berry said.
"Cazadero is ahead of the game working this out," Berry said. "The GranFondo that is named for our road is the largest cycling event in the United States. Whether we like it or not, we will have cyclists. So we have evolved, we are not just hillbillies."
Berry said crews of local residents are cutting back the brush from roads while asking Cal Fire and PG&E Co. to do the same, and are seeking grants to enable the county to fix potholes and pave gravel turnouts to allow for passing.
Greg Fisher, an organizer of Levi Leipheimer's King Ridge GranFondo, which could have 6,000 participants and gross $300,000 at its October event, is considering erecting signs promoting cycling etiquette and warning of the tight turns and steep descents.
"We don't have the capacity or the interest to police people's behavior across the board, but the Fondo does bring a popularity to these roads, even though they have been famous for years," Fisher said. "We have been working with county to see what resources we can divert to this area."
King Ridge, Seaview, Fort Ross, Old Cazadero and Skaggs Springs roads are steep, thin, twisting ribbons of asphalt that are pinched by Scotch broom, manzanita, oaks, bay laurels and redwoods.
Unlike other areas of Sonoma County where cycling and motorists compete for road space, Cazadero is only for the serious cyclist and has become a training ground for professional racing teams.
"They call it the King Ridge Alps," Berry said. "It is in the international cycling magazines as one of the top 10 professional training runs in the whole world. We get the Lance Armstrongs and those famous guys coming right by our shop."
The most popular is a 36-mile loop starting and ending in Cazadero with 4,800 feet of climbs and harrowing descents that are only for the most skilled rider.