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Thousands of cyclists roll on Sonoma County roads for Levi’s GranFondo

Riders heading down Stony Point Road in Santa Rosa, California at the start of Levi's GranFondo bicycle ride which makes is way through Sonoma County Saturday morning. September 30, 2017. (Photo: Erik Castro/for The Press Democrat)

MARTIN ESPINOZA,

Nearly 4,000 people pedaled, sweated and willed their way Saturday through Levi’s GranFondo, the popular group ride that for nine years has treated both experienced and novice cyclists from all over the United States and the world, to some of the most challenging and scenic roads in Sonoma County.

The turnout didn’t match the crowds in previous years, but it was still impressive at the start, near the Finley Community Center in west Santa Rosa, where a long queue of riders, about 20-abreast, extended south on Stony Point Road, shrouded in the morning fog.

There, shortly before 8 a.m., Judy Sambrailo, 59, of Santa Cruz, eagerly awaited her daylong outing with a couple of cycling friends. It was the first GranFondo for Sambrailo, who started riding again two years ago after taking an extended break.

In August, the nonprofit event coordinator went on a 10-day ride in France with an Irish cycling group.

“I figured if I can do that, I can do this for one day,” Sambrailo said.

The event featured 11 different routes that ranged from the grueling 116-mile il Regno, formerly known as the Panzer, to the 8-mile Family Route, a mild, flat ride.

The morning fog quickly dissipated and gave way to weather in the low 80s in Santa Rosa and low 60s along the coast.

Near the starting gate, Jacob Benning, who sings with the Sonoma County band Viva La Rêve, kicked off the ride with a well-received vocal solo of the national anthem.

Carlos Perez, the GranFondo’s principal organizer, then welcomed the thousands of cyclists, including the event’s namesake, retired pro cyclist Levi Leipheimer of Santa Rosa, and former cycling pro Floyd Landis.

“We’re walking forward into 10 years next year,” Perez told the crowd.

Once riders completed their routes, their accomplishments were celebrated with a festival at Finley Park, featuring food, beer and entertainment. Tired riders relaxed under tents and trees, many drinking craft beer or eating plates of paella and pizza.

Ted Theocheung, 52, of San Jose, who participated in the 62-mile Medio route with his wife and two young sons, sipped on a pint of Lagunitas Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale.

“The event was really well-planned out,” he said. “The breaks were perfectly located and it was just beautiful scenery.”

Margaret Brumsted, 61, of Rhode Island, came to Sonoma County to visit her mother-in-law and ride the GranFondo for the first time.

The scenery, she said, was “awesome.”

“The coast was beautiful,” Brumsted said. “Going through the redwoods — the smell, it’s piney, almost like its been cooking.”

The event raised close to $2.5 million for nonprofit groups supporting at-risk youth and other causes. Beneficiaries include Forget Me Not Farm, Social Advocates for Youth and the B-Rad Foundation.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @renofish.