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Levi leads historic 'big ride'

An immense, multi-colored ocean of 3,500 bicyclists joined hometown hero Levi Leipheimer Saturday in a historic communal Sonoma County ride, the King Ridge GranFondo.

"I want everyone to be safe but have fun," Leipheimer told the asssembled riders, crowded shoulder to shoulder as they readied to leave Finley Community Park for routes of up to 103 miles from Santa Rosa to the coast and back.

"Sometimes you go straight up and sometimes you go straight down," said the internationally renowned racer who lives in Santa Rosa and who organized the county's largest-ever group ride. "It's very organic."

Levi Leipheimer's King Ridge GranFondo 2009

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And, as many riders experienced it, a sweat-drenching, leg-cramping, ego-threatening confrontation with twisting coastal hillsides.

"Oh, God. I'm so blasted," Sebastopol cyclist Rick Pepper said, breathing hard, after six hours of pedaling that took him from Santa Rosa to the Sonoma coast via King's Ridge Road from Cazadero, up a total 6,500 vertical feet. "But it was good."

Pepper was one of the 1,500 bicyclists who signed up for the most grueling, 103-mile route that Leipheimer, a three-time Tour of California winner and third-place Tour de France contender, uses as a training run.

After taking riders into Occidental via Graton Road, the course included Cazadero and Bohemian Highways, King Ridge Road, Highway 1 and Coleman Valley Road.

Those choosing to ride shorter courses Saturday covering 65 miles - the MedioFondo - and 35 miles - the PiccoloFondo - faced their own challenges as they pushed their way up a long ascent into Occidental or rounded southbound Highway 1 from Jenner onto Coleman Valley Road north of Bodega Bay.

Police and event organizers said the ride went smoothly, especially given the thousands of riders along narrow country roads where riders even had to share space with farm tractors along busy city and rural roadways where law enforcement officers controlled key intersections.

Two riders were taken to the hospital for treatment and one was treated for abrasions, according to a spokesman for the ride. He would not give further details on the injuries.


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