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It wasn't a crowd Saturday, those 6,059 people on bicycles. It was a jam session. It was a town the size of St. Helena (5,960) passing under a 40-foot wide inflatable arch. It was Stony Point Road turning into a Manhattan sidewalk during a lunch break. It was Levi's GranFondo, which carried the same idea behind it as stuffing 20 college kids into a Volkswagen. Could everyone fit?

They did. The rumor, however, was that they were pedaling. Not true. Not at the start. They were on a half-mile conveyor belt, everyone traveling the exact same speed. After all, one doesn't jockey for position with 6,058 people around you. The participants were quiet, respectful, non-combative, like they were holding a candlelight vigil without the candles.

"Boulder would never be able to pull off something like this," said Dave Towle, the event's public address announcer and a resident of that Colorado city. That is no small statement since Boulder likes to think of itself as the hub of American cycling, as well as the testing ground for anything with human-powered wheels.

That fact was never more obvious than when I asked Adam Asnes which of the three rides he was taking Saturday.

"I'm taking the long route," said the software company executive. "I'm from Boulder, you know."

I happened to mention that the Santa Rosa area likes to think of itself as the center of U.S. cycling. I just tossed up a softball for Asnes to hit.

"A lot of places think that way," Asnes said, "but Boulder really is it."

Asnes' opinion notwithstanding, Towle commands a load of respect. He has been public address announcer for all five Tours of California. He's been the voice for the last seven U.S. Nationals, the last seven Tours of Ireland. He is well-recognized and respected in the cycling community for his knowledge as well as enthusiasm for the sport. The enthusiasm shone through when Towle yelled to the crowd Saturday: "Welcome to Space Station Santa Rosa!"

Flowery verbiage aside, Towle feels that what sets Santa Rosa apart from Boulder is the sense of community behind the event.

"The level of the commitment from the community is off the charts," Towle said. "I mean, the skill set of the people running this belongs in a Fortune 500 company. Instead, they are holding a bike ride."

Other cities hold charity functions and that's all to the good. But Levi's GranFondo feels personal, like asking 6,059 people over for a barbecue. Only a big, small town could do that, achieve that level of intimacy while having the resources to manage 6,059 riders. Add another thousand to that number, said Carlos Perez of Bike Monkey, one of the event organizers. It takes another thousand of support personnel to pull this off, be they volunteers, medical, fire, police or logistical workers.

"We have no outside support," Perez said. "We didn't go somewhere else to hire someone to run this. We don't have a company working for is. We are it."

"It" being 15 paid workers. Fifteen people who are on salary. That's it. Fifteen people who took one idea from one man, and now look what's happened. It was 3,500 riders last year. It's 6,059 now. Mister Leipheimer would like to see 10,000 riders one day.

"I am overwhelmed," Leip-heimer said at the start of the ride. "I can't see the end of the line!"

After expenses, all the money goes to charity. That also is no small statement. In the Age of Cluelessness, in which Dallas Cowboy wide receiver Dez Bryant thought it was "fun" to spend $54,896 on steak dinners for his teammates, Leipheimer is asking for only one thing from those 6,000 people. Be safe on the roads. That's all.

"I think that says a lot about Levi's character and that of the community," said Marvin Lein, a health care administrator from Bend, Oregon.

Leipheimer is not in this for him. He's in it for sick kids, animals, disease research, money earmarked for local community projects and helping to pay the freight of Santa Rosa's involvement in the Tour of California. A fundraising dinner Thursday night made $49,000.

If Leipheimer was in it for money in his pocket, a global pat on the back, a free lunch, people would pick up on that. The antennae of sports fans have become highly sensitive and refined over the last 10 years. They can smell greed and entitlement a mile away. And if the GranFondo was about that, Saturday's turnout would have been much different.

"I don't think there would be hardly anybody here," said Steven Nielsen, a school teacher from Redding.

Phony shouldn't fly anymore but it does. Athletes travel in entourages that trap them, with all the perks and money anaesthetizing them, dulling perspective.

"I have set up foundations for about 15 pro athletes," said Dana Reid, an attorney from Seattle specializing in real estate planning, "and I could tell you some stories. So when I hear Levi say: &‘What can I do for the community?' — this is something that comes really close to my heart."

Word of mouth travels faster than text messages in the cycling community. Be they Boulder hedonists or casual recreational users, no event, personality or news incident stays secret for very long. That the little, big town of Santa Rosa has 6,000 riders in the GranFondo in only its second year of production has made more friends than one can imagine.

"Everyone knows about Santa Rosa," said Jim Loveless, a physician from Boise, Idaho.

The cycling pipeline soon will send out the numbers. Riders ages 9 to 84 rode Saturday. A 75-year-old did the 103-mile route. The average age was 44.5. Riders from Canada, Australia, Britain and Luxembourg made it. And the most impressive news of all, which shows just what kind of traction this event is having, is that only 2,192 riders were from California.

Almost two-thirds of the field came from out of state, from 45 states. The GranFondo may be homegrown but it's playing nationally.

No wonder Bike Monkey's Greg Fisher and Perez — the two hamsters that spin the GranFondo wheel to warp speed — were spinning just as fast after the event as before it.

"We already have started to plan for the 2011 GranFondo," Fisher said. "Have to. Absolutely have to."

Fisher and Perez know all too well the primal law of sports physics. If you don't keep moving, you go backward. And the pair have no intention of letting Santa Rosa slip away from America's consciousness. They would never say it but, bless his heart, Dave Towle said it for them.

The ride had just left the start line at 8 a.m. The first hundred or so riders had pedaled under the inflatable arch. Towle looked to his left, saw the line down Stony Point that didn't look to have an end, and gushed with enthusiasm and volume that could drown out the engine noise of a 747.

"This is why the Tour of California won't miss Santa Rosa again!" he said.

Yes, Saturday's GranFondo would be difficult to ignore for AEG, the people who run the event. After all, Andrew Messick, AEG's president, was there Saturday, pedaling with 6,058 of his closest friends.

For more on North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky's blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com