7,000 cyclists brave heat for Levi's GranFondo

Thousands of riders gather along Stony Point Rd. in Santa Rosa for the start of Levi's GranFondo bike ride through west Sonoma County on October 4, 2014.


With temperatures approaching 100 degrees, some 7,000 cyclists took to Sonoma County roads Saturday for Levi’s GranFondo, the popular 103-mile cycling event that features some of the county’s most challenging and scenic roads.

The hot weather brought additional challenges to riders, organizers said Saturday. Just before the start of the ride at 8 a.m., event organizer Carlos Perez warned riders that “it’s going to be one of the hottest days of the year.”

Perez, the founder of Bike Monkey, the event management company that produces the GranFondo, said riders should seriously consider choosing a shorter route if they were adversely affected by the heat.

Cyclists were allowed to choose one of three rides, the 32-mile piccolo, a 65-mile medio and the gran route that travels along 103 miles and climbs more than 9,000 feet. The gran route features the King Ridge Road climb.

Two North Bay cyclists were among the top finishers: Alison Tetrick of Mill Valley had the fastest time for women on the all-pavement version of the gran route. Some cyclists chose a slightly shorter version of the gran route that included a section on dirt. On that course, Santa Rosa resident Brian Finnerty finished first for men.

Riding his first GranFondo, Joel Wilson, 35, of Redwood City said he wasn’t too worried about the heat.

“I’m from New Mexico,” he said. “I’ve done racing down there where it gets 100 degrees.”

Wilson, a mechanical engineer who works for a Bay Area technical consulting firm, said he’s been eager to participate in the GranFondo for several years. Last year, he was out of town and couldn’t make the ride.

GranFondo spokesman Greg Fisher said after the race was over that the heat did not seem to cause many more riders than usual to suffer injuries or drop out.

“We were surprised,” he said. “The coast may have moderated it enough.”

Eleven people were taken to local hospitals, with three suffering injuries serious enough they required a helicopter lift or code 3 ambulance, the county’s emergency dispatch service said.

Fisher did not know the exact nature of the injuries but said he expected everyone to be discharged from the hospital by Sunday afternoon.

The ride, named after retired pro cyclist Levi Leipheimer of Santa Rosa, last year pumped about $3.15 million into the local economy and raised about $277,000 for local nonprofits, including its primary beneficiary Forget Me Not Farm, a working farm for at-risk children and abandoned animals.

U.S. Congressman Mike Thompson, on hand Saturday morning to kick off the ride, said the event has become a community asset. Thompson said that beyond the economic boost and the money raised for local nonprofits, the GranFondo showcases the importance of exercise at a time when so many young people struggle with obesity.

“It lets kids know that bike riding is not only cool but a healthy thing to do,” he said.

Thompson, who said he hopes to participate in the ride next year, joked that he wanted to do so last year, “but the government shutdown kept me in D.C.”

Daniel West, 28, of Ojai also was riding the GranFondo for the first time. West, vice president of a small outdoor technology company, said he heard about the local event while riding another century bike ride

“I have buddies who’ve done it and I figured I got to get in on it,” West said.

West, who is originally from Redding, said he wasn’t too bothered by the heat.

“It might be painful, but I’m not worried too much about it,” he said. “You just drink a lot of water.”

Aside from Leipheimer, celebrity participants included former baseball star Barry Bonds; Kristin Armstrong, professional road bicycle racer and two-time Olympic gold medalist; Lucas Euser, a member of the UnitedHealthcare pro-cycling team; Max Plaxton, Canadian cross-country mountain biker; and Alison Tetrick, a world class cyclist who races for the Astana BePink team.

Fisher said big changes are planned for next year’s race. The event has been held for the past six years.

“This is the last year that we rest on the original formula,” he said.

Fisher said organizers are trying to retool the ride to create an enduring and “fresh” event that will be known for more than the King Ridge challenge. That could include, among other things, changes to the routes and festival activities or adding more days to the event, he said.

Staff Writer Jamie Hansen contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemo On Twitter @renofish.