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A Fondo tribute to fans and volunteers who make it happen

Levi Leipheimer in 2012. (JOHN BURGESS/ PD FILE)

LEVI LEIPHEIMER, BY LEVI LEIPHEIMER

With the sixth running of the King Ridge GranFondo just around the corner, we’ve been busy making the final, key preparations for the ride. There’s a lot to do, from notifying residents along the route to folding T-shirts to making sure our rest stops can feed the thousands of people who come from all over the world to ride.

Of course, it’s not me and the small handful of others that work on the ride year-round doing all of this. It’s you, the residents of Santa Rosa and the broader Sonoma County area.

Since 2009, you’ve been the volunteer glue that has held this event together. More than 6,000 of you have given your time — most often on a precious weekend — to help us organize what has become known as the best mass participation cycling event in the United States. Most of the nearly 7,500 riders who take on the roads of Sonoma County with us each year have little idea of how much work goes into putting on this ride, and that’s how we like it.

Our army of volunteers has done it all, from stuffing registration packets to folding T-shirts; from providing assistance out on course to cutting bushels of fresh fruit at rest stops. These are the people who make nearly 10,000 PB&J sandwiches for our riders when they are in serious need of handmade calories.

When I started calling friends with the idea of doing a ride back in 2008, I just wanted to show off Sonoma County and all it has to offer. I had no idea that it’d grow to be counted as one of the best organized rides in the world.

There’s no question in my mind that this wouldn’t have happened without the dedication and support of so many of the people who read The Press Democrat every day.

In addition to shining a national spotlight on the beauty of our county, our goal with the King Ridge GranFondo is to raise money for a range of beneficiaries, most right in our backyard. Since 2009, we’ve provided nearly a half-million dollars to Forget Me Not Farm; a working farm for at-risk children and abandoned animals, we’ve donated just over $37,000 to help with pothole repair on the Sonoma County’s most well-ridden roads; we’ve pledged funding for the Santa Rosa’s first public mountain bike pump track, and we have helped guarantee access on California state park land through donations.

We’ve given thousands to foundations that support cancer victims, young and old. We’ve made a long-term commitment to support high school mountain biking in Northern California. Together, we’ve been able to give more than $100,000 to schools and volunteer fire departments throughout western Sonoma County.

When I stand at the start of the ride on Saturday morning, I’ll say thanks to the thousands who have paid to experience the best in cycling right here in Sonoma County. I’ll be grateful that they’ve decided to spend their weekend riding with me on the roads I proudly call home.

Yet I’ll be even more thankful for the thousands of volunteers who have decided to help us show our best face to riders from all over the United States and beyond. Thanks for making this event your own.

Levi Leipheimer is a professional road cyclist and a resident of Santa Rosa. He founded the King Ridge GranFondo in 2009.