Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge GranFondo

On Saturday, October 9, 6000 cyclists will converge on Santa Rosa, California. This year is the second edition of Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge GranFondo and, for one day, cyclists from all over will have the opportunity to ride rural Sonoma County roads with professional cyclist Levi Leipheimer.

In preparation for the ride I fired off a few questions to Greg Fisher, the press guy for the GranFondo and editor of Bike Monkey Magazine. Greg also tweets as @levisgranfondo (at least sometimes) and may spend his leisure time using spray-on-tan to cover up his jersey tan.

TT: How did you first get involved with Levi’s Gran Fondo?

GF: I got sucked into Bike Monkey magazine after their first issue came out as “an editor,” which quickly became “the editor.” As things continued to swirl for Bike Monkey, I was able to continue to contribute and, with the success of the 2009 GranFondo, was able to come aboard full-time, leaving behind a 10 year career in salmonid fisheries restoration.

TT: What was the biggest challenge for the team last year?

GF: Where to start? Levi approached us with this thing not quite 6 months before the event day last year. It was a massive undertaking and we were making it up as we went along. We knew how to put on an event for a couple of hundred people and we just scaled it out, which I think ended up giving the ride such a good feel. Even though there were 3500 people out there in 2009, everyone felt like they were attended to as if they were on a small, high-end ride. I hope that we’re always able to make people feel like they’re just out on a ride with Levi and a bunch of friends that just so happens to have first class treatment for everyone. Even if that bunch of friends is 6000 people from all over the world.

TT: Last year, the event almost felt like it was a last minute thing – I’m not talking about the day of the event, it was the best supported ride I’ve ever been on, but the ramp-up (that’s corporate lingo) time seemed short. Do you feel like you’re everybody’s more prepared this time around?

GF: Yeah, see above for that. It was certainly down to the wire, but this time around, there’s no shortage of sweat and late nights. We’re doing so much more with the event this year, from the sheer scale of hosting 6000 people, to quintupling the size our auction fundraiser, from creating a program for individuals to fundraise, to adding a whole new host of community beneficiaries to the ride, including the creation of a competitive grant program for new cycling initiatives. The FondoSonoma Festival has grown and is even more friendly to cyclists and non-riders and their families. We even created an entirely separate social event in Santa Rosa, RadioShack Downtown, for all 6000 people on the night before the ride.

So yeah, we’re more prepared, but we’ve taken on so much more to build the event into a comprehensive experience for everyone, that it’s still a mountain of work.

TT: This year there’s going to be more riders, obviously this is a good thing for the event, but what are you doing to ensure everything goes as well as it did last year? Or, what, if anything, is going to be different because of the larger size?

GF: Well, safety is always the most important consideration any bike event. After 2009, we worked closely with the California Highway Patrol, emergency responders, volunteer fire departments, local government, and our on-course personnel to assess to what level we could grow the event in 2010. We arrived at the 6000 number after a lot of deliberation and planning with a lot of important partners. So, we’ve done a lot to make sure things go as well as they did last year. If we do it right, the only thing different in the feel of the event and the execution of the ride from last year to this year will be that there’s simply more people partaking in the fun this time around.

TT: I’ll be posting this on a cycling blog, so, what kind of bike(s) do you ride?

GF: The big three are my ’96 Salsa A La Carte MTB hardtail, my go anywhere, do anything, ’98 Bruce Gordon “bad judgement” cross/touring rig, and my ’96 Ibis, which was built off production by one of their welders back in the day. All Sonoma County steel and boy oh boy do I catch shit for riding a bunch of bikes from the last millennium.

TT: You just announced next year’s GranFondo will be on 10/1, a return to the first weekend in October, why did you guys go with the holiday weekend this year?

GF: We had to work with Levi’s schedule, of course, but there always seems to be a bit of weather in mid-October before the real rain comes on in December. The further away we are from that, the happier we are. On a weekend in California, you’re always up against some other big event, and most people are turning down one thing to do something else from May to early October. As a transplant to the Cal Republic, It’s a nice problem to have, really.

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