Monday, October 22, 2012

Ride Report: Levi's GranFondo

Ever since I did this ride for the first time in 2010 I have looked forward to it every year.  Between the beautiful course, the swag, the atmosphere and the energy it really is my favorite ride of the year.

This year was no exception and on September 29 we enjoyed another great day on two wheels.  While the ride is only one day, there are a few events leading up to the main event every year.  Two years ago we attended the Fiesta del Fondo funderaiser dinner and while we missed that this year we did make it to the premiere of the "The Levi Effect" which chronicles Levi's career from growing up in Montana to his rise as a professional cyclist, what it is like to compete in such a grueling sport and his work to bring the Fondo to Sonoma County.   It is in theaters nationwide Tuesday, 10/23 for one night only and I highly recommend it if you have any interest in professional cycling, especially with everything that has come out in the cycling world the last few weeks.  I even read they have edited the version we saw to address the recent doping scandals.  

After the film we were treated to a panel discussion that will appear in the film.  Panelists include Patrick Dempsy, Tom Danielson, the filmakers and Carlos Perez who is the owner of Bike Monkey who organizes the Fondo.

After the movie we headed to dinner at Franco's Ristorante where we have eaten dinner every year for the past three years before the Fondo.  I had the "Domonique" pizza - which is a prosciutto and argula pizza - which I have had every year for the past three years and has also become my standard pre-ride and pre-triathlon meal.  Hey, if it ain't broke don't fix it right?  From there we headed over to pick up our numbers and swag and then to our hotel (where we have stayed every year for the past three years) to check in.  It was late by this point so after putting our numbers on our bikes and laying out my clothes for the next day it was lights out.

Everyone was doing the "medio" route again this year (I WILL do the Gran someday - hopefully next year!!)  There are three routes - the "piccolo," a 30 mile ride, the "medio," a 60 mile ride and the "gran," a very challenging 103 mile ride.  Samantha was actually asked to be a course marshal this year and help people along the medio ride.

It was foggy at the start which made me excited we were going to be treated to cool weather.  In years past there were signs helping people seed themselves but this year there didn't seem to be any so we just filed ourselves in the middle with other riders that "looked" like our ability doing our route.  With most cycling events in the area the course opens at a certain time and you just leave when you are ready.  A fondo has a mass start so everyone lines up and starts together like a race.  All 7500 of us!!

The energy at the start is always fun.  People are chatting and there is a buzz of excitement.  First timers might be nervous, veterans are looking forward to what they know is to come.

Patrick sighting and getting ready to cross the start line.
In years past it has taken us almost 30 minutes to cross the start line but we were across in less than 15 minutes.  Samantha got some pictures of me heading out.

Side note - after wanting an official event jersey the past two years I finally got one this year and while it would be fun to have them from all the years I think this is the best one yet.  I also LOVE the fit.  Most event jerseys are unisex and so boxy.  They actually had a flattering ladies fit.

The first few miles were spent enjoying the crowd support and I was able to stay with my parents for the first 10 miles or so before we all got separated.  From that point on I was alone which was kinda weird at first since I usually have Samantha or Kevin with me but ended up being just fine and actually had a lot of fun chatting with other riders along way.

The first climb of the day comes around mile 11/12 up Graton Road which I have now had the opportunity to ride multiple times at different events and is one of my favorite climbs.  It is about 3 miles and slightly challenging but very manageable.  The road is shaded by beautiful trees.  In years past it has been pretty crowded going up but it didn't seem as bad this year.  It must have had something to do with getting across the start line earlier.  

Right after the climb the small town of Occidental is the turn around point for the Piccolo and where the medio and gran riders press on.  

The descent following Graton Road is one of the reasons I love climbing.  It is about 5 miles twisty turny screamin' downhill.  In fact, that is one thing I love about this ride in general.  Every hard uphill is followed by a rewarding downhill.

Not long after that the medio turns left while the gran riders keep going straight up.  Across a little bridge and I rolled into rest stop one.  

I immediately scanned for Patrick Dempsy as last year I was lucky to score my picture with him at rest stop one.  In fact, as I was parking my bike I heard another woman say she had her eye out for him as well.  I told her I had gotten a picture last year here and she said she had too.  

From 2011
With no Patrick Dempsy in sight I headed over to grab some roasted potatoes.  Levi's 2010 was the first time I had ever had roasted potatoes during an event and they are far and away one of my favorite mid-right snacks.

Then it was back on the bike to head to the coast and only 9 miles til the next rest stop.  There is small climb before you are greeted by the salty air.  Although this year there was so much fog the viability wasn't as clear, there is still nothing like riding along the ocean.  It never gets old. 

I made a quick stop at the second rest stop to grab a M&Ms (I needed to balance out my salty potatoes with something sweet) and stretch the legs before Coleman Valley.

Oh Coleman Valley.  The grade is what makes this climb so difficult.  In 2010 I walked a small section.  In 2011 I rode the whole thing but stopped a few times to catch my breathe.  I was determined to ride the entire thing this year without stopping. 

Up up up we went.  I think there might have been times I was only going 4 mph and I'll admit I still stopped one time to catch my breath but I can confidently say it is getting easier with every year. 

I stopped at the top to check out the views.

Continuing with the theme of "what goes up must come down" I enjoyed the scream'n decent down the backside of Coleman Valley.

From the bottom there was another 6 miles or so to the next rest stop and the last good climb of the day.  Last year I was passed by Levi on this climb and even scored my picture with him at the rest stop.

After the rest stop all that was left to do was retrace our steps (pedals?) back to Santa Rosa.  One of my favorite things these last few miles was passing a dad and his daughter on their way back from doing the piccolo route.  The dad was in a tutu and they were both just laughing together.  The last few miles have you on a bike path and with about 3 miles left to go my dad caught up to me so we got to finish together!

61.4 miles/4125 feet of climbing/4:29:01 ride time
My BEST Fondo yet!

We parked our bikes in the bike valet and grabbed or bags we checked that morning and headed over to the finish to watch my mom and Samantha finish.   We passed the Clif bar tent and saw that at 2:30 Levi was going to be autographing posters.  In 2010 when we went to the Festa del Fondo my parents won an autographed poster at the auction and ever since I have wanted something similar for my office.  As I was pursuing the online store before the ride I found this poster and thought it would be the perfect thing to get autographed for the office.  Knowing we were going to the "Levi Effect" premiere I thought there might be a very small chance I might score an autograph there so I bought the poster and brought it to the movie.  While the opportunity didn't prevent itself to get an autograph I knew the poster would still be perfect for my office (and the money went to charity).  When I saw Levi would be autographing them I was all set to buy another poster but when I asked they said they were free!  Even better!!

Can't wait to hang this in my office!

After that it was off to enjoy the food at the Festival and chat about the day.  It was definitely the strongest I have every felt on this ride and that seemed to be the consensus of the group as well.  

Multiple times throughout the weekend whether at the movie, at the start line or at the finish line I repeatedly heard them say, "where else can you get 7500 people together and just ride your bikes?"  It really couldn't be more true.  You see cyclists of all shapes and sizes - racers, recreational riders, families.  As I was sitting at the finish line I was in awe of a 14 year old who finished all 103 miles of the gran route.  It truly is an event for everyone.

Next year I plan to try and volunteer with the event in one way or another and give a little back to such an amazing event.  Two years ago we had such a great time hanging out in Santa Rosa the day before I would really enjoy doing it again.

See you next year on October 5 {hopefully for the gran}!
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  1. What I should say is congratulations on a fantastic ride, it looks amazing.


    Calm again.

  2. McDreamy!!

    Awesome job! That poster is a sweet souvenir.


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