The truth is, every time I ride up Coleman Valley Road, I leave a piece of my soul there. It’s steep and curvy, and the pavement is littered with potholes and cattle guards, all conspiring to bring one down. This year I once again participated in Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge Gran Fondo ride, a epic and beautiful cycle through Sonoma County. Coleman Valley Road is the centerpiece of the “Medio” and “Gran” routes of the Fondo, and with some grades in excess of 10%, a challenge for any cyclist.
So last Friday, I packed up the car and the Red Baron, and headed to Santa Rosa for the fourth annual Levi’s Gran Fondo. This time, instead of camping outside, I was camping inside the relative civility of the social hall at the local Episcopal church with my friends Chris “Velopriest” and Patrick Layne. After arriving at the church, I hopped onto The Red Baron, and pedaled on down to Fondo headquarters (aka the Finley Community Center), to check-in for the ride and pick up my swag bag. I arrived just in time to see the infamous “doughnut race.”
The doughnut race was the result of a challenge from the well-known blogger “The Fat Cyclist” to El Patron (aka Levi Leipheimer). It was a race involving tiny kids bikes and the eating of doughnuts. Team Fatty was bolstered by the presence of two time Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong, and Garmin-Sharp cyclist Tom Danielson, while team Levi included pro mountain bike champion Rebecca “The Queen of Pain” Rusch, and Patrick Dempsey (yeah, Dr McDreamy himself). Odds makers were leaning heavily towards Team Fatty, the feeling being that Levi has probably never eaten a doughnut in his life, while Fatty lives a “doughnut lifestyle.” Hilarity ensued, with Team Fatty handily taking the yellow jersey. However, I would like to remind Mr Fatty, that raised doughnuts are about 80% air, and that cake doughnuts and apple fritters would be much more of a challenge. Amateurs.
Later that afternoon, we got to attend the world premiere of a new documentary movie “The Levi Effect,” a biopic of Levi’s outstanding career, his life in Santa Rosa, and the founding of the Gran Fondo. It’s really quite outstanding, and it will be showing in theaters nationwide on October 23rd only, and then will be available on iTunes after that. You should see it. Following the showing, there was a panel with Levi, Dr McDreamy, Mr Danielson, and the filmmakers, hosted by Dave Towle. Early in the proceedings, Levi was asked to comment about the issues around doping in cycling which are currently making the rounds. He danced around it a little bit, and the bottom line was that he thinks that better testing and the biological passport have made it so that today’s young riders don’t have to make the kinds of decisions that riders from previous generations have had to make. I was a little surprised that this got brought up, but am pleased that it was. Back to the church campground for the evening, for something resembling sleep…
But who sleeps the night before these things?? 5:30 am came pretty quickly, and dragged myself out to the kitchen to make coffee and get ready for the ride. Jersey, shorts, helmet, gloves, shoes, Road ID, bike… I think I’m ready! The three of us rode our bikes to Finley Center to line up for the start on a chilly, foggy, Sonoma County morning. It’s a truly amazing sight, with seven-thousand riders lined-up for a bike ride. People come from all over the world to do this ride, which really blows me away. At just about 8:00 we were off and running.
Dang it’s cold. Should’ve worn those knickers. Just keep moving… you’ll warm up. Hopefully. Oh man… I can’t see anything, because my shades have completely fogged up. Stop and dry them off. Now wait for a break in the peloton to get back in. There’s a lot of riders out here. What’s this passing on the right thing?? Who does that?? Rule #1… never pass by a porta-potty without using it. First hill… ok, that’s wasn’t bad.
I need to stop the narrative for a minute. Hills are hard for me. I’m a big guy, and have been overweight for a few decades. Put me on a flat, and I’m good. Hills are another story. However, having re-booted my diet back in June, I have lost thirty pounds, so I was interested to see if the climbing was any easier with less weight to pull up a hill.
A zippy downhill took us into the town of Occidental, and we headed north on the Bohemian Highway towards Monte Rio… another zippy downhill, except longer. A left turn took us along the Russian River and to our first rest stop at Duncans Mills. Sunshine!! The inland fog was burning off, and promised a warmer day ahead. A quick turn onto highway 116 heading towards the coast, and then south on highway 1. From Bridgehaven there’s another hill to climb heading up to Goat Rock, and back into the fog. This hill was definitely easier than it has been in the past, so I was encouraged, especially with the beautiful ride along the coast. But the coast is short lived. After the next rest stop was a quick left turn and “the wall” loomed ahead.
This was it. I had always proclaimed that Coleman Valley Road would be easier if “just lost thirty pounds.” Now was the test to see if I really knew what I was talking about. The verdict… C V Road is still hard, but it was definitely easier that it had ever been in the past. I had to stop to catch my breath twice… but I rode all of it and was euphoric reaching the top. We were back in the sunshine, and enjoying a relaxed ride back to Occidental and Santa Rosa. A few more hills and some flats involved, and quick sprint into the Finley Center for the finish. My final time was a solid thirty minutes faster than my previous best Fondo time, so I was pretty pleased with the result.
Apres Fondo is a great festival with yummy food, New Belgium ale, and rocking music (when was the last time you heard “Baby Seal Club??”). I could have stayed longer and just enjoyed the rest of the afternoon, but Sunday is a work day (as it usually is), so I headed back to Sacramento for a hot shower and good night’s sleep. But I’ll be back next year for Fondo V!!
Don’t cry for me, Coleman Valley… the truth is, I never left you.
Ride stats: 100km / 4,200′ climbing / moving time 4:32