Now matter how you feel about Levi Leipheimer or his professional past, it’s hard not to be impressed by the event that bears his name. Since the inception of Levi’s Gran Fondo in 2009, the mass-start ride that circles its way around Northern California’s supremely scenic Sonoma County has raised over $265,000 for charities like Forget Me Not Farm, the NorCal High School Mountain Bike League, the Dempsey Center, and the Pablove Foundation.
Now the annual October event that attracts upwards of 7,500 participants each summer has turned its attention to the roads its riders ply — and even the roads nearby. In an effort to help out cash-strapped Sonoma County, Levi’s Gran Fondo has hired outside paving contractors to assist with improving and maintaining area roads, both on and off the event’s route.
“We depend on these roads, not just for the Gran Fondo, but to keep Sonoma County as the global cycling destination it is,” said Leipheimer, who has lived in Santa Rosa since 1998. “Obviously, we want our event’s cyclists to have as smooth a ride as possible. But we also want to go above and beyond as citizens to help our county maintain other routes whenever possible.”
Indeed, all that maintenance is a big job. Sonoma County has over 1,300 miles of roadway, most of it narrow, rural, scenic, steep — and remote. It’s ideal terrain for cycling, but can be a nightmare for the county, which faces road mileage on par with San Francisco, but with a fraction of the tax base to maintain it. Since 2010, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has reduced ongoing maintenance to approximately 150 miles of those roads, or about 11 percent. That’s led to steady degradation in the form of cracks, seams and potholes.
In an attempt to fill that maintenance void, Levi’s Gran Fondo, with oversight from the county, has provided funds to hire outside contractors to patch potholes on several roads throughout Sonoma County, including Geysers Road, Cavedale Road, River Road, Arnold Drive, and Petaluma Hill Road. While it’s not comprehensive repaving, the effort has slowed road surface degradation, preventing damage to automobiles and bicycles, and creating a safer environment for all road users by allowing for a more predictable and safe path, rather than dodging unexpectedly to avoid small craters in the road. For that effort, Leipheimer and his team should be applauded.
Here’s a closer look at what a day at the event is all about.
Levi’s Gran Fondo is a timed, mass start cycling event with three route options of 32, 65, and 103 miles. The routes are scenic and challenging, with the long route option including 9000 feet of climbing in the rolling Sonoma countryside. Participants who raise over $1,000 for charity receive free entry. The event also includes a free to the public FondoSonoma Festival with live music and farm fresh, locally grown, organic food options from a variety of local vendors. For more info check out www.levisgranfondo.com/