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Leipheimer: 'The best place on earth to ride a bike'

Pro cycling champ Levi Leipheimer said Tuesday that "cycling has really come alive" in Sonoma County, but "there is a lot more opportunity for all of us."

Speaking to a Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Leipheimer extolled the virtues of the county's scenic backroads, saying Sonoma County should be ranked number one in the country for bicycling.

"I really believe in Sonoma County. I think it's the best place on earth to ride a bike," he said, citing redwoods, the ocean and relatively traffic-free roads.

Levi Leipheimer's Festa Del Fondo

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"I think we could be doing a lot more when it comes to promoting ourselves to the cycling industry and to the world in what we have here," he told the audience of about 75 people at the Villa Chanticleer.

"I don't want to see Boulder (Colo.) ranked above Sonoma County, because I've been there; it's not that great," he said to laughter from his audience of business people and cyclist enthusiasts.

Leipheimer said he wants to see "people scrambling to get here and check out what we have and I also want to see us lead the way when it comes to bike paths, events and hosting of events."

Leipheimer, a three-time winner of the Tour of California and a podium finisher in the Tour de France, has helped elevate the county's cycling profile, living in Santa Rosa and training throughout Sonoma County. He also has hosted Levi's Gran Fondo for the past three years, a recreational ride that has grown steadily and drew 7,500 cyclists on Oct. 1.

Modeled after popular recreational rides in Italy, the Fondo with its three different routes and degrees of difficulty begins and ends in Santa Rosa, wending through west Sonoma County.

Leipheimer said it was the first Gran Fondo in the United States and "none have come close to the success we had."

He sees it as a longterm event that could last "20, 30, or 50 years."


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