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Monday, September 28, 2009

Levi Leipheimer's King Ridge GranFondo

Levi Leipheimer's King Ridge GranFondo
Presented by Road ID sold out four weeks in advance of the ride's first edition on October 3. Yet over and above being a smash hit that has drawn a who's who in US cycling among the field of 3500 riders, Leipheimer's ride could be pointing to a new direction for senior US pro riders.

Here's the deal: In recent decades US riders and teams have risen to be among the finest in the world, and this nation is now a major international player in a truly global sport. Yet one of the lingering differences between the cycling cultures in Europe and the US is the relative lack of community involvement in the sport here. Communities in the USA have not traditionally got behind cycling events unless they are major stage races or have the name Armstrong attached.

That could be about to change. Leipheimer, a resident of Santa Rosa, California, has a groundbreaking plan that could generate in excess of $500,000 annually for his community, with a good chunk of that going as a cash donation to the City of Santa Rosa coffers.
You may well say that fundraising bicycle rides are nothing new here, and you'd be right. But thus far these worthy rides have always set out to benefit a cause, such as the Livestrong Challenge, which raises money to fight cancer. Levi's ride breaks from the past in that it is specifically intended to promote and raise funds for his local community and his region.

Leipheimer's event will be held on October 3, starting and finishing at the Finley Community Center - a beautiful municipal recreation facility in Santa Rosa - and is called the Levi Leipheimer's King Ridge GranFondo - after one of Levi's favorite training routes.
Leipheimer says. "The King Ridge GranFondo is the perfect way to show everyone what myself and many of the best cycling teams in the world know: Sonoma County is a cycling heaven."

A mass-participation ride, Levi Leipheimer's King Ridge Gran Fondo, with route choices ranging from 36 to 103 miles, is expected to attract up to 3500 riders. Money raised will be earmarked for cycling causes in Sonoma County. This year that cause is the return of the Amgen Tour of California to Santa Rosa. Leipheimer has won the Tour of California outright three times.

Santa Rosa's city manager, Jeff Kolin, has a clear opinion on the matter. "Levi's King Ridge Gran Fondo will be a tremendous economic engine for our community. Cycling allows us to showcase the cornucopia of assets that Santa Rosa and Sonoma County have to offer as a place to visit, live and do business in: the wine country and farmland, redwood forests and rivers, lakes and oceans. Levi's support and involvement has been invaluable."

The most ardent cycling nations in Europe, such as Italy, Switzerland and Belgium, are chock full of famous cyclists with their own namesake gran fondo, or 'cyclosportive' as they are called in France. These mass-participation rides are produced with the intention of benefiting the communities to which particular riders have ties.

Not surprisingly, then, these towns love cycling and embrace it--as the City of Santa Rosa has done. The large entry lists and associated tourist revenue are seen as opportunities for festivity and celebration. The sport of cycling is seen as an economic boon for cities and regions across the continent.

After starting slowly in the Eighties with names such as Boyer, LeMond, Hampsten, and Armstrong, cycling heroes are now occuring more frequetly across the USA. Should some of these stars of cycling follow Levi Leipheimer's shining example, the sport could start enjoying a bright new relationship with municipalities across the nation just as this clean, quiet two-wheel activity enters a new era of prosperity.

Levi Leipheimer and Lance Armstrong riding on King Ridge in Cazadero during the Team Astana training camp, February 2009.

Photo credit: Carl Burchfiel/Stillpoint Inc.

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