A look inside the love affair between a world-class athlete and the city he calls home

  • 10/4/2009:A1: Levi Leipheimer cruises past the finish line at the Finley Center after completing his King Ridge GranFondo on Saturday.

    PC: Levi Leipheimer finishes his King Ridge GranFondo, Saturday October 3, 2009 at the Finley Center in Santa Rosa. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2009

There's Pete Rose Way and Lombardi Avenue and 24 Willie Mays Plaza and so, I think, the time certainly has come for Levi Leipheimer Way in Santa Rosa.

Americans have had a long-standing tradition of naming small sections of roadway after athletes who have brought great acclaim to their cities. Santa Rosa's Leipheimer certainly qualifies, and not just for his three consecutive Tour of California victories, his U.S. National Time Trial championship in 1999, his U.S. National Road Racing champion in 2007 or his podium finish at the Tour de France in 2007.

Leipheimer was Santa Rosa's Businessman of the Year in 2009, his GranFondo event a bellwether moment for the </CL>community. Asking Leipheimer to talk about Santa Rosa and Sonoma County is like asking a politician if he would like to say a few words. Tony Soprano would grow tired talking about spaghetti before Leipheimer would go silent about Santa Rosa and Sonoma County. Rumors the city is paying Leipheimer by the word to tout Santa Rosa are completely untrue.

"That would be so cool," said Leipheimer of being so honored. "Yeah, sure, why not?"

He's not alone.

"Let's talk about it," said Susan Gorin, Santa Rosa's mayor. "It'll be fun. He is so generous with his time and words about Sonoma County. Of course Levi would have to be comfortable with the idea and a lot of people would have to be brought in on the discussion and of course we would have to find the appropriately challenging hill for him."

Leipheimer is not only comfortable with it, he even has a suggestion for Madam Mayor.

"Los Alamos Road, that's pretty much it," said Leipheimer of the road that leads to Hood Mountain in the eastern part of the city. "A couple of years ago I decided to test my fitness and went up Los Alamos as fast as I could. I posted on my website a time of 15:20 and someone wrote back, &‘Tell Levi that next time he should use his bicycle, not his motorcycle.' "

Too many times pro athletes remain anonymous and uninvolved in the area in which they reside. If they are seen, it's treated like a rumor. Like they are a UFO. "I heard ...Someone said ... Do you think it's true?" One gets the sense they are no more permanent than an orange traffic cone, that they will move the minute their athletic career there is over. Move back to their home town or at least their home state.

Leipheimer? He may have grown up in Montana but now he is Santa Rosa's son. He has grown roots. He has told me repeatedly he's here for the duration, that it isn't just the roads and the hills and the scenery that keep him here. It's the people, the friends he made .<TH>.<TH>. and the friend he just made.

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