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Pandemic forces cancellation of Levi’s GranFondo cycling event until 2022

The 12-year-old race already had undergone notable changes going into this year. Instead of starting and finishing in Santa Rosa, cyclists were to stage at the Town Green in Windsor.|

Uncertainty created by the coronavirus pandemic has caused the cancellation of the 2021 edition of Levi’s GranFondo, one of the country’s most popular mass participation cycling events.

The ride will return in the spring of 2022, its founder, ex-pro cyclist Levi Leipheimer said Friday.

The 12-year-old event, which has drawn upward of 5,000 participants in the past, already had undergone notable changes going into this year. Instead of starting and finishing in Santa Rosa, cyclists were to stage at the Town Green in Windsor. Long a fixture on the fall calendar for cycling buffs, the GranFondo was switched this year to late May, a concession to the wildfires that have plagued Sonoma County in recent years.

“Most of our events require more than six months of clear runway” to plan, said Carlos Perez, founder of Bike Monkey, the management company that runs the GranFondo, in a Friday email announcing the scratch. “We presently have fewer than four months of murky swamp separating us” from his company’s flagship event.

Many of the public agencies who work with Bike Monkey to organize the event “are not in a position, or even authorized to begin the process of engaging with us,” said Perez, who noted he had little choice other than to “hit pause,” and cancel this year’s GranFondo.

“I would hope everyone understands,” said Leipheimer, who divides his time between Sonoma County and the Lake Tahoe area. “If it were up to us, we’d have an event. But it’s just not safe. It’s not possible.”

Bike Monkey also postponed until 2022 three other events it puts on, including the Truckee Dirt Fondo, a Tahoe mass-start ride that had attracted a wide following in recent years. Perez asked those registered for his company’s events to accept event credit, rather than request a refund, acknowledging that “if we refund everyone their entry fees, we’ll go under.”

“We need to be honest with people about the situation we’re in,” he said. “We need to have enough money to do the work of producing the next event. So yeah, we are appealing to the loyalty and the desire of our community.”

Prior to the pandemic, Perez employed half a dozen staffers, with that number ballooning before each GranFondo. This fall, he was forced to impose almost a total layoff. The company’s revenue is down 93% from a year ago, he said.

Help could be on the way, in the form of grants that he has applied for, “which are a critical lifeline for us,” Perez said. In the meantime, “we’ve got enough to keep the lights on. That’s about it.”

Leipheimer isn’t certain what his namesake ride will look like when it returns in the spring of 2022. Much of that, he said, “comes down to the participants. Are they going to weather the storm with us?”

In addition to switching from Santa Rosa to Windsor, and from autumn to spring, the GranFondo will cover some new and different roads next year. While riders of some routes can still tackle the spectacular but punishing King Ridge Road, they’ll have the option of climbing the county’s highest pass, on Geysers Road in the Mayacamas Mountains range.

True, King Ridge is “a 10, a marquee route,” Leipheimer said. “But we’ve got a hundred 9.9s out there, waiting in the wings.”

The 2022 Levi’s Granfondo could be “smaller and more intimate,” he allowed. “It will be great, but maybe a different kind of great.”

You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at 707-521-5214 or austin.murphy@pressdemocrat.com or on Twitter @ausmurph88.

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