Sonoma County bicycle events called assets with or without Leipheimer

Two bicycling events that draw thousands of people and millions of dollars to Sonoma County will continue regardless of pro cyclist Levi Leipheimer's doping case, two people involved with the events said Thursday.

Leipheimer, a professional racer who lives in Santa Rosa, created the King Ridge GranFondo in 2009 and helps promote the Amgen Tour of California, which has visited the city six times since 2006.

The area's best-known professional athlete, Leipheimer, 38, declined to comment to reporters in France on Thursday about published reports that he and four other racers had been banned for six months after admitting to doping and agreeing to testify against former teammate Lance Armstrong.

Raissa de la Rosa, an economic development specialist for Santa Rosa, said she was confident the GranFondo and the Amgen Tour would continue to burnish the county's reputation as a great setting for cyclists, both amateur and professional.

"They have enhanced our destination brand," said de la Rosa, who coordinates the Tour, a professional race that brought about 40,000 people to downtown Santa Rosa on this year's opening day May 13.

By "conservative estimate," the Tour injected $6.8 million into the local economy, primarily to hotels, restaurants and retailers, she said.

The GranFondo, a fundraiser conceived by Leipheimer, draws 7,500 riders from around the world, with its next running set for Sept. 29.

Last year's GranFondo raised $266,000 for charity and made a $120,000 contribution toward Santa Rosa's costs for staging the Tour of California.

De la Rosa said the GranFondo, now in its fourth year, will continue to be "a world-class event with or without Levi."

The event "stands on its own," she said, propelled by Sonoma County's scenic rural roads, food and hospitality.

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