No better way to peddle cycling than going for a ride

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

He would never do so. It's not his style. In fact, he would be loathe to do it, would walk away if asked, would have no part in it, probably have even a scowl on his face. Oh well. Sorry, pal, you're not going to get with it. The next sentence needs to be written anyway.

Take a bow, Levi Leipheimer.

OK, sure, Levi, you had help. Those 600 volunteers. Those 24 CHP officers working the roads. Those 3,500 riders. And that countryside in West County, part Nova Scotia coast, part Oregon forest, the route huddled in trees one minute, exposed to sun and wind the next minute, not a ho-hum anywhere, yeah, the landscape helped. Still, it was Levi's GranFondo Saturday.

"If this was Greg's GranFondo," said Greg Fisher, editor of Bike Monkey magazine, "eight riders would enter, four would actually ride and one of them would be drunk."

Levi The Magnet. The force that attracts. How else does this happen in just four months, the largest recreational bike ride in America? Who else would pull in 2008 U.S. National Road Champion Tyler Hamilton and Scott Nydam, the King of the Mountains champion in the 2008 Tour of California? I mean, Mike Richter, the former goalie for the NHL's New York Rangers, was there Saturday. So was four-time World Mountain Bike champion Brian Lopes. And so was Axel Merckx, the Belgian National Champion and Bronze Medalist at the 2004 Olympic Games.

And those 3,500 riders moving like felled logs down a stream, close together but in rhythm. The throng left and returned to Santa Rosa in one piece, the masses yearning to be free of injury and they were.

"This exceeded my expectations and hopes," Leipheimer said. "I can't believe it. The support I received. It's overwhelming."

It's the power of one, that concept from the &‘60s which now feels like ancient literature. In a corporate world in which an individual is smothered by system after system, one man can make a difference. That one man, in this case, is Leipheimer. This wasn't someone approaching Leipheimer a year ago and asking that if he would lend his name to the event, he'd get a cool 100 large. No, this was Leipheimer and his good friend, Santa Rosa restaurateur Giampaolo Pesce, on bikes, in Occidental, approaching King Ridge, first discussing the idea. Just four months ago. With Leipheimer getting nothing out of it except the pleasure of showing off Sonoma County.

"Levi brings enormous credibility to this event," said Andrew Messick, president of AEG Sports, the organization that holds the Tour of California every year. "His impact is immense. Mass participation rides always have been difficult to pull off, but Levi hit a home run here."

Critics have claimed: What's the big deal? No one is keeping score and Americans love to keep score. So there are no winners. Um, correction, there are. Levi's King Ridge GranFondo further embeds Santa Rosa into the cycling universe, in particular the Tour of California universe.

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