Cyclist killed in Levi’s GranFondo

A bicyclist from Fresno participating in Levi’s GranFondo charity ride was killed Saturday morning when he lost control on a curve on a stretch of winding mountain road north of Cazadero, the first fatal accident in the popular event’s seven-year history.

A visibly shaken Levi Leipheimer, the retired Santa Rosa professional cyclist who founded the event, took the stage at the post-ride festival at the Finley Community Center to inform gathered riders of the crash.

“I’m incredibly sad to announce that there was an accident on the road,” Leipheimer said, adding that the cycling community had “lost one of our own.”

The announcement cast a pall over what had been a celebratory mood in the park, where riders returning from courses ranging from 32 to 116 miles rested in the shade, ate paella, drank beer and listened to live music.

The rider was Edward Lund, 54, CHP Sgt. Robert Boyer said.

The crash happened on a steep downhill section of narrow Hauser Bridge Road at 10:35 a.m. before Hauser Bridge, which spans the south fork of the Gualala River, near the northwest corner of the GranFondo course.

Lund was traveling about 35 mph when he missed the left-hand curve and flew off the road, striking a sign and landing in a dry creekbed, according to the CHP.

Rescue personnel from the Timber Cove Fire Department were on scene within seconds, but Lund, who was wearing his helmet, died of a head injury.

Michael Muhney, 40, said the rider was just ahead of him and was “just barreling” down the hill despite numerous course marshals cautioning riders to be careful on the descent.

“He was hauling,” he said.

Muhney, an actor from Los Angeles, said the rider just disappeared off road and down an embankment of at least 25 feet.

“I can’t believe I was just a few feet away from him,” Muhney said.

They were near the front of the pack of riders on the ride’s 102-mile course. For the rider who died to have been able to get to that far along the course in 2½ hours meant he must have been experienced, Muhney said.

Muhney heeded the advice of a course marshal who had warned him to be extra careful on that stretch of the course, and he was “a little harder on the brakes” because of it, he said.

One of the challenges of that stretch is that alternating strong sunlight and dark shade made it difficult at times to see the shady curves, he said. But he added that organizers appeared to have tried to compensate for that with a number of road flares.

Carlos Perez, owner of Bike Monkey, the ride’s producer, said more than 28,000 riders have completed that section of the course over the event’s history, and organizers make an extra effort to warn riders about its perils.

“That’s why it’s blowing my mind that someone could crash like that,” Perez said

Perez said he’s spoken to riders who witnessed the crash and told him they thought the warnings were more than sufficient.

“They essentially said that we couldn’t have done a better job of warning people about the hazards of that descent,” Perez said. “We implore people to ride safely. It’s a challenging and technical course.”

Nevertheless, Perez said organizers would look at the accident, as well as others that took place Saturday, as part of its post-race review to see if anything could be done differently on future rides.

“It casts a shadow over the whole day,” Perez said.

After the wreck, marshals on motorcycles took riders in packs down that stretch as an extra precaution, Perez said.

There seemed to be an unusually high number of accidents this year, Sgt. Boyer said.

“There was slew of them all over the place,” Boyer said. “It was worse than normal.”

There were 16 total emergency calls related to the ride, with five people transported by ground ambulance to local hospitals and one by REACH helicopter, Sonoma County Fire Capt. Gina Petersen said.

All but the one involving Lund were broken bones or other non-life-threatening injuries, she said.

The sea of cyclists took to the scenic, windy roads of west Sonoma County around 8 a.m. with enthusiasm. Led by cycling luminaries such as Leipheimer and German cycling legend Jan Ullrich, just over 6,000 riders from all over the world took part in this year’s event.

“That guy’s a rock star, and I get to ride with him!” Matthew Mendonsa, a 49-year-old Santa Rosa resident said of Ullrich as they both waited on their bikes for the start on Stony Point Road. “It’s like getting to play basketball with Michael Jordan.”

His brother Thomas Mendonsa, a 32-year-old high school teacher from Red Bluff, got a friend to take his photo with Barry Bonds, who also rode in the event.

As they passed the start line, riders, enthusiastically prompted by Leipheimer’s wife, Odessa Gunn, shouted out their hometowns, revealing the event’s tremendous reach. In addition to numerous Bay Area cities, participants hailed from Arcata, San Diego, Seattle, West Virgina, New York, New Zealand and Italy.

It took more than 20 minutes for cyclists in the challenging but non-competitive ride - it’s a timed ride, not a race - to cross the start line. Sacramento residents Bob and Sharon Ruffner planned to take a more leisurely pace on their tandem bike. It was the second year riding the Medio, the 62-mile version of the event.

The ride took them out through Occidental, Monte Rio, Duncans Mills, and down the coast to just north of Bodega Bay, where the returned via the super-steep Coleman Valley Road.

“The scenery, the other riders, and the support on this ride are just unbeatable,” said Bob Ruffner, who expected the ride to take them about five hours.

Organizers capped participation at 6,000 this year, hoping to make the ride safer and more enjoyable for riders, Perez said before the ride.

In preparation for the event, crews from Ghilotti Construction Co. on Thursday completed pothole repairs along the ?130-plus miles of roads the riders will use, Perez said.

This year riders were able to choose from 10 different routes through the west county. The shortest is 32 miles; the longest, 116 miles.

The event was expected to raise more than $200,000 for various charities, including $60,000 for survivors of the Valley fire, Perez said.

Even before the fatality was announced, riders had heard about it.

“It’s horrible,” said Bob Nisbet, a 51-year-old park project manager from Oakland.

His friend Brendon Bolin, a systems engineer from Santa Barbara, said it was a cautionary tale.

“You have to have some restraint and not ride beyond your ability,” Bolin said.

Tom Wierzbe of Castro Valley said he’s done the ride in years when the curves were damp and slippery. That wasn’t the case this year, but he nevertheless had some close calls himself.

“I almost wiped out a couple times,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or On Twitter @srcitybeat.

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