Studio Velo rides Levi's Gran Fondo

Monday morning and my legs still feel like somebody hit them with a stick.  The cause?  Another great ride with 7,499 of my close friends on Saturday.  Levi's Gran Fondo is a great event that raises a lot of money for local Sonoma County charities and offers up some awesome roads for participants.

This year the weather was a bit iffy, though only for those doing the full 100 mile route.

I have done all 3 of Levi's events.  They get a lot bigger every year, but without becoming a complete cluster.  The first year had 3,000 riders.  Last year, 5,000.  And this year?  7,500 riders.

The SV crew rolled up to partake in the fun.  We all arrived too early.  They have the registration so well sorted that there were no lines despite the number of riders.  Parking was a breeze.  The critical time seems to be 630am, when all of a sudden lots of cars show up simultaneously and things get a bit crazy.  Next year, I will sleep another 30 minutes.  The upside of being early was extra time to hang out and chat with the many SV riders in attendance, some of home I had never met.

Justin "Jens" Curtis was on fine form in the pre-ride, as always.  He was sounding pretty raspy.  I thought it was attempt to be sexy for the ladies, but it turns out he was merely deathly ill.

Thanks to the guy driving the Clif Bar truck, who went beyond letting us pillage the assemblage of nutritional goodness and actually helped us loot the truck.  You need lots of calories for the Fondo.

Lots of cycling celebrities show up.  Pros, former pros, has-beens and never-weres (that's me). 

Here is one for the ladies...Dr. McDreamy shows a little podium bulge (courtesy of @podiuminsight).

Special thanks to Capo who allowed many of us staged in the VIP area at the front of the melee.  Not intentionally, mind you--I just name dropped my way in.

There are two stressful segments of the ride.  The first 10 miles and the last 10.  In the opening 10 miles, riders jostle for position and try to move up to the front.  The pack takes up the whole road as terrified motorists seek shelter on the shoulder.  It is like Critical Mass, but without angry slackers.  Slight miscues are magnified radically and panicked braking occurs.  Further back in the group, it is probably a complete sh*tshow.  There are no pics from this part of the ride because I dared not remove a hand from the bars.

Around mile 10, we hit the first significant hill on Graton Road and the pack sorted itself out in a hurry.  All of the hairy-legged hangers-on attacked backwards as the front group took shape.  Of course, "this is not a race".  It just happens to have a start line, finish line, timing chips, and lots of strong riders attacking frequently.  It waddles, it quacks, but it is not a duck.

I was determined to make it into the front group this year, but I was already sitting too far back as we hit the Graton Road hill.  Despite cranking 391 watts for over 7 mins, I only made the second group, which chased hard (with JD from Capo driving the train like a madman) but could not regain contact and we eventually just settled into a fast rhythm to prepare for the fun of King Ridge.

At King Ridge the weather started to go wonky on us.  A heavy cloud system meant a nice warm start, so I had left my vest in the car.  Thankfully, at the last minute, I had put some embrocation on my old, creaky knees.  More for the style of it than any perceived need, of course.  Smell fast, go fast.

For extra speed, apply to chamois.

As we climbed the ridge, it started to rain.  Not a problem on a long uphill slog, but a big issue for the screaming descents ahead.  The first rains of the season lift the oil up out of the crevices on the road, creating incredibly slick conditions.  And, of course, it gets cold.  And my vest was in the car, where it was safe and dry.  I did not want to carry an extra 150g of vest on the course, because, well, you know, "it is not a race".  At least I had some arm warmers.  Getting wet and dirty is why you don't wear white shoes after Labor Day, no matter how much faster they are. 

My Fondo plan was to ride super hard to the rest stop at Tin Barn, after King Ridge.  Then I would regroup with the rest of the SV crew and have a more relaxed pace to the finish line.  Part 1 of the plan went decently well--I thrashed myself on King Ridge, including descending with a couple of locals who were seemingly oblivious to the fact we were riding on an ice rink.  I gave them enough room that if they went down, I could adjust my trajectory to fall on top of soft flesh instead of hard pavement.

The Tin Barn rest stop was the first opportunity I took to sample the awesome fare that Levi et al provide.  PB&Js, roasted potatoes, fig bars, chips, EFS, Coke...basically all the stuff you need.  Did I mention you need lots of calories?

I got my obligatory pic with Levi.  No, I am not 8 feet most mountain goats, Levi is a small dude.

I hung out to await my friends and the onset of hypothermia, while decimating the PB&J supply, until Levi himself advised me to wait for the next stop, where even greater deliciousness awaited.  Sometimes it seems like the Fondo is an excuse to consume mass quantities. 

Rest stops are like a netherworld of time suck.  As soon as you are getting ready to roll, another friend shows up and you wait again.  This process will actually repeat itself ad infinitum until you just say screw it and roll.  The cooler temps this year meant less patience.

Karen's run of bad luck continued.  Remind me not to stand near her during lightning storms.  She had been given some "better" wheels by a friend.  Her rear hub started tearing itself apart on King Ridge and by Tin Barn expert mechanic Chris Reed diagnosed the howling sound as an imminent hub explosion.  They have mechanical support at the rest stops, but are not equipped to defuse a ticking hub bomb, so Karen SAGed it back to Santa Rosa.

Finally, Chris Reed, Bryce R, Justin C, honored guest Brian from LA and I got going.  The next stretch of road, Meyers Grade, is the hardest of the ride for several reasons.  It starts with a very steep descent--so steep that you cannot slow down once you realize you are going too fast.  Add the first rain of the season and a metal bridge roadway into the mix and you have guaranteed carnage.  Sure enough, a rider just in front of me hit the deck hard on the dodgiest corner.  We were going the same speed, but I had a couple of elements in my favor.  First, I was running low pressure in my tires, so I had a bigger contact patch.  Second, I was riding in the tire tracks, not in the middle of the lane.  The middle is where the oil is--don't go there.

Once you cross the slick metal bridge, you are faced with a nasty climb.  It is the hardest climb of the route, but gets little publicity, overshadowed by King Ridge and Coleman Valley.  It is only 1.6 miles at an average grade of 8.2%, but you hit it when your legs are stone cold.  The result is an immediate flooding of lactic acid into the muscles.  Awesome.

It was around this time that "Jens" began to feel poorly.  He had not puked on himself yet, so I knew he had at least another 80 miles in him.  At the top of the Meyers Grade climb is the Ratna Ling Buddhist retreat.  At this point you had better hope that your legs reincarnate in a hurry, because the next 10 miles is "rolling".  And by rolling, I mean uphill.

We stopped at Tom Ritchey's ranch for lunch.  They had a full deli set up there, but I did not make it past the volunteers offering up pre-made sandwiches right at the entrance.

Jaguar print is PRO. Matching the frame to the shorts is superPRO.

Paul gets a sandwich.
Excuse me, miss, your seat tube is missing.

As with all the rest stops, it goes uphill from Ritchey's place to put the zap in your cold legs.  It was here that my carefully laid ride plan started to unravel.  Bryce was feeling frisky, and Reed was not helping matters.  Jens decided at this point that he had suffered enough, and dropped off to hang out with Mrs. Jaguar Print Shorts.

We passed a sign warning of an 18% downgrade for the next 2 miles.  Of course, the next 2 miles were mostly uphill....apparently they put the sign in the wrong place; or, maybe, they have a sick sense of humour.  Finally we started the very fast descent down to the coast.  47 mph is a bit more interesting in low visibility.  This is a good time to point out that on Friday night, I cleaned my brake tracks and pads to make sure that when I grabbed a fistful of brakes, something was going to happen.

Reed, Bryce, Brian and I formed up into a solid paceline and motored down the coast.  Brian is basically Dolph Lundgren's twin (except Dolph is Swedish).  While he suffered quietly on the climbs, he dropped a big Norwegian hammer on Hwy 1.    Along the way, we picked up (and usually dropped off) a few passengers.

"I will break you!"


This year Levi added the option of doing the dirt climb up Willow Creek instead of Coleman Valley.  I am all about riding dirty, so we made the left turn after Jenner for 7 miles of big fun.
This is where the real fun starts.

L to R: Chris Reed, Brian, Bryce.  Not pictured: the bear.

The surface was mostly really good, except for some interesting gravel pits where they were doing some road construction.

This was the most fun part of the ride for me.  Dirt just makes it more interesting, and we took it at a gentlemen's pace.  Dolph was going to drop off the back, until I mentioned that there are bears.  Big ones.  That seemed to give him a few more watts.

Yeah, I rode right through the bear poop.  Yuck.

The crux of the Willow Creek climb is a steep bit that hits 20%.  You have to keep your weight perfectly balanced--too far forward and you spin the rear tire and fall over.  Too far back and you wheelie and fall over.  Bryce stood up (nooo!) and managed two complete revolutions of the rear tire without actually moving, and somehow managed to stay upright and get going again. 

Back on to the pavement and off to Occidental.  We made a last stop for water, as Brian was dry.  Apparently being a giant Norwegian is thirsty work.  Oh, and he had lost both his bottles on a rough patch of King Ridge.

I don't have any pictures of the final 10 miles.  It was all I could do to hang on as we motored in at ludicrous speed.  We picked up Justin again (the dirt option is slower than Coleman), who did not seem excited to see us, and probably wished we would just leave him alone instead of demanding that he hop on the train.

The final stretch in on the bike path is always a bit sketchy as you mix in with the riders from the shorter routes.  "Passing on your left!"  "Passing on your left!"  "Uhm, no, your left!"  "Your other left!"  You get the idea.

A final burst of wattage, and we are done.  98.6 miles and 7,657 feet of vertical, using 5,363 calories (more than made up for by copious eating along the way).

Now it is time to continue the eating.  Gerard's Paella is the hot option for the post ride refuel, but the line was really long, so I hit the Fork Catering truck.
There is lots to see at the post-ride festival.  Carbon bikes, cool steel bikes, wood bikes.

I had not expected to see a donkey and miniature horse that ride in a minivan.  They are part of Forget Me Not Farm, one of the charities that Fondo supports.

And with that, I am spent.


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