This past weekend, many folks associated with Cycle Folsom ventured over to Sonoma County to ride in Levi Leipheimer’s back yard, his second annual King Ridge Gran Fondo. The measly 103 mile course only boasted about 9,000 feet of climbing with some pitches hitting 18%. Sounds like something right up Cycle Folsom’s alley.

The weather was perfect. The temps were cool in the morning (60s), then reaching into the mid 70s in the afternoon. The coast was spectacular with the sun glinting off of the ocean and a very light breeze coming off the grand Pacific. Some of us had a great ride, yet others faced challenges. Check out some of the stories from the road in their own words below. For a more main stream review, check out what the Press Democrat had to say and browse their Gran Fondo photo album. Or check out what BikeRadar had to say or Cycle To’s photos. Cycle Folsom’s Meetup site has a load of photos posted too.

It’s only fair that I (Brian) give my story first, but the others are better:
How my ride unfolded: It was great to have all the CF riders together at the front, and then to meet up with the Road Rash racers (Curt, Chad, et al.). I was in for a mellow start, but the RRRs shot out the gate, led by Curt, like they were wanting to put Levi on the rivet! Phil kept telling me to jump on there wheel, so I did. It was nice getting swept up in a peloton cruising at 25+ with little effort. We were all together, Phil, me, & RRRs (not sure where Jeff, Oz, Kevin, & Joel were at) until we hit that first little climb in Occidental. Some of those folks on the front totally slowed up and I passed a bunch of folks on that climb. The next thing I know, I was in a group of about 50 guys with what looked like some full teams of 8-9 riders each (TNA from Vancouver, BC). They were humming along, so I just sat-in and enjoyed the ride at 25+. We blew by the first aid station (actually two aid stations – didn’t even see the first one), which was fine because I had two full bottles. When we hit the King Ridge climbs, things blew apart as expected. I took it relatively easy staying seated most of the way and hammered the rollers on top. It looked like some folks were hurting themselves on that climb. I got into the aid station at the top (Tin Barn?), used the restroom, filled my bottles, ate some food, and then sat out on the road waiting for any other CF riders. Jeff showed within a few minutes, and then him and I waited for Phil. I think I was at that stop for about 25-30 minutes. The 3 of us took off together. It was telling to take it easy on the descent when we saw someone being tended to by EMS on the side of the road. Jeff, me, and Phil got strung out on the next climb in that order. I kept thinking I had Jeff in my sights, but every time I caught him, it turned out it was someone else in a red and white kit. Near the top where it turned into some rollers and false flats, I caught on the back of a group that was primarily made up of Course Marshals. That group eventually caught Jeff, so him and I road together for the next several miles. The ocean view was spectacular. Jeff and I got in with a fast group that was passing folks, and blasted through Jenner. Eventually we backed off a little on the small climbs and we ended up trading pulls with a few guys hanging on to our wheels. We hung out at the next aid station (just before Coleman Rd) long enough to drink a coke, refill bottles, eat some fig newtons, grab some gels and Clif bars. We were thinking of splitting, but our buddy Phil rolled in, so we decided to chill a little longer. Again, the 3 of us rolled out together. We hit the Coleman Rd climb and both Phil and Jeff were a little worried about cramping. We all took it relatively easy, so as not blow up. I pulled a fast one and dumped one of my water bottles; Jeff said I shot off after that – no way, not true. I felt pretty strong on the top rollers and passed a lot of folks on my way to the water only stop at the top. By now I was familiar with the stops, so I just road straight in and up to the water station, unclipped one foot, filled my bottle, and then rode out. I guess right as I was leaving, Jeff could see me splitting down the road. Sorry, Jeff. I should have waited a bit. It would have been better riding with someone. After that stop, there was a lot of working around and passing folks from the Medio (60 mile) ride. That was a little frustrating, but not too bad. My legs were really feeling it on the climbs back over by Occidental. I took it real easy since I was getting a touch of cramps. Eventually, some group of about 10 guys went by me on a flat section going about 30! I jumped on their wheel; that was tough! This was no free ride, just a discount ride. The guy in front of me was in the drops hanging on for dear life. I had it my biggest gear pedalling as hard as I could so I wouldn’t get dropped. Oh, but then the road tilted upwards and I had to sit up. They all sprinted over the top; yikes! I didn’t want to dig a grave there. After Occidental, I got in a small group with two other guys for the last 8-9 miles and we all traded pulls on the outlying flats and the bike trail. We kept the pace between 20-23 all the way to the finish. With stops and all, I think my official time that was posted was something like 6:13-6:15 (official results not up yet on the website). Jeff was just a couple of minutes behind me, and Phil was maybe about 5-10 minutes in arrears. Oh, I didn’t stop at the final aid station, and I think they did. I would say that my ride time was some like 5:50. My GPS was having problems shutting off near the beginning, but for the final 97 miles it worked, I had a ride time of 5:38 with an average pace around 17 mph.

Part of an email from Phil:
The entire ride was much better for me this year. No mechanicals or flats. I rode with Jeff all the way to the stop we made just before starting the climb up King Ridge Road. I stayed on Jeff’s wheel until we hit the 12-18 percent grades. Then I backed off so I would not blow up. After meeting up again with Brian & Jeff at the last stop before Coleman Valley I knew the both of them were going to summit before me and I had no hope of catching you guys before the finish. I drafted riders on the flats and dropped most on the descents. The last 10-12 miles back a rider in a USA Champion kit came by with a gal drafting. I jumped on the pace line with speeds up to 30 mph most of the way. Started to feel twinges of cramping in both calves on the last stretch of bike trail and had to back off for a mile. Brian and Jeff have really raised the climbing bar this year. I’ll need to work really hard to catch up. (If it is even possible.) Next year I’d like to ride this course even faster!

Part of an email from Kevin:
That had to be the fastest start to a ride I’ve ever been a part of. I really tried to keep Brian, Jeff and Phil in eye sight but as soon as we started moving and turned onto College Ave I lost sight of everyone. Frank pulled out in front of me and I hung on his rear wheel for quite a while when I finally had to pull off. You’re just too fast for me Frank! Then some time later I caught sight of Frank on the left side of the road changing a flat so I pulled off to wait. That’s when Oz and then Joel caught up and we regrouped and started out towards Occidental.

Yes, Oz and I had some “mechanical” issues. Well, actually I pulled a bone headed move and drifted into his rear wheel (derailleur side) with my front wheel when turning at the bottom of King Ridge Road to look for Joel who was behind us. It was the same thing that happened to me during the Ride for a Reason when one of those Team Revolutions guys crashed into my rear derailleur. Long story short, Oz had some serious shifting issues and my front wheel was out of true and binding against the brake pads even when wide open. We decided to hang out and wait for a SAG ride up to the nearest mechanic which unfortunately was at the top of the signature climb and the lunch stop (Tin Barn?). Just as we reached the rest stop I noticed Joel pulling out towards the exit so it took us quite a bit of time even by car to get to the top. Man, there were some seriously steep grades and killer views up there.

It only took the mechanic about 10 mins each to straighten and adjust Oz’s derailleur and to re-true my front wheel. After slamming down some lunch and grabbing some water we headed down towards the coast. And what a sight the coast was coming down Sea View Road! Growing up in Santa Rosa, you learn that this time of the year is really the best time to visit the coast and Saturday didn’t disappoint. Oz and I caught up to Joel at the Portuguese Beach Rest Stop and the three of us rode in the rest of the way in from there. We ended up seeing Phil right as we pulled into the Finish, he mentioned that a few of you had just left about 10 mins before that?

Gotta give props to Brian and his Tuesday evening climbing rides because this year I felt really good going up Coleman Valley Road and did a pretty good job of hanging on Oz’s wheel. Last year I had to get off the bike and walk up a bit of Coleman Valley so riding with you guys has really paid off.

Really felt like an idiot the rest of the day by keeping Oz from getting to ride the signature portion of the ride. He sent me a message later that he took the bike into Folsom Bike and thankfully nothing had to be replaced, just adjusted. I Hope it’s shifting like before with no issues Oz? I know, shit happens but still…

The real story from Beirut by El Patron, Steve W:
This is my (Steve’s) post-ride recap from the Gran Fondo. Be forewarned that there may be objectionable language, including language that may be racially inciting to some (this language occurs as the result of quotations from actual events/conversations, the words are not my own).

In an inauspicious beginning to my 2010 Levi’s King Ridge Gran Fondo, I was seated in the comfortable chair at the entry to the registration area when I heard a strong, gruff voice from behind me bellow-out “What’s up!” – accompanied by sharp, straight right jab to my right scapula. I turned to see a tall, bald-headed man with a stunned look upon his face; I immediately discerned that I was not who he thought I was – and I was right. He looked very familiar to me, but I couldn’t quite put it together a name for the man. He indicated my t-shirt (Williams Cycling) with his large, long boney finger and exclaimed that he thought I was Williams (although he couldn’t remember Mr. Williams’s first name – that would be Keith Williams of Williams Cycling). He introduced himself as Dave Toule (pronounced: towel), you known, the guy who does the announcing for, among other notable events, the Tour of California. He apologized for punching me out, and then we went on to have a lengthy chat. Good dude – and full of great stories.

Day turned to night and it was time to retire to my accommodations as this little dive of a hotel I came to call “Little Beirut”. The place was in shambles, taking on the appearance of Beirut in the 80’s during the troubles there. It appears to have been built in the early 50’s as a motor hotel type property, the kind you can pull up to with your car and take exactly two paces to get from your car door to your room. The walls are paper thin and the front of the room consists of a floor-to-ceiling plate of glass and a door. There is no insulation, no phones in the rooms, really, not much of what most of us have come to expect in a room for which one might pay for a nights lodging. Spartan for sure, but the cost was half of what the economical end of the market was bearing for the weekend. I checked in to room 131 and retired at 8:45pm to ensure a good nights sleep prior to the 5am alarm. At 9:30pm the local gangsters arrived, about 30 of them, and rented room 133, the room directly adjacent to mine and began to party O.G. style. Their room, being too small to host all of them, forced them to spill out onto to the walkway that separated the rooms from the parking lot. Since our doors were literally less then one foot apart from each other, it became convenient for them to congregate directly in fr
ont of my room. As expected, the longer the party went on, the louder their music played, and thus, their conversations became louder in order to remain above the level of the music. By 11:30pm I was ready to call the front desk and ask them to take some action, however, after turning on the light and scanning the room, I realized there were no phones in the room. I quick peek out the peep-hole in the door revealed some serious ganster-types hittin’ on the crack pipe. I was already aware of the small tobacco and hemp campfires burning in Little Beirut because the fumes were wafting through un-insulated gaps around the door to my room. A heap of empty beer cans were being stacked on the hood of my Highlander.

Taking in the scope and magnitude of the circumstances, I retreated to my bed to consider my options; there was one – do nothing. I couldn’t leave the room without fearing for my life. I thought about checking out early and driving off somewhere to get some sleep in my car but then I realized I’d have to push an $8,000 bike though a crack-pipe smokin’ gangsters to get to my care which was, at present, buried in beer cans. At 4:30am the party concluded – just in time for me to get half an hours sleep. 15 minutes later there is a very loud and persistent knocking on the door at room 133. No answer. Now there was knocking and kicking at the door. Then LOUD voices: “…THAT FUCKER PASSED OUT. FUCKIN’ RAP HARDER, WAKE TH’ ‘N….. UP!”. More pounding, more kicking. More voices: “…he passed out…maybe he locked himself out; let’s go get a key from the office”. Footsteps. Quiet. More footsteps. The door opens, and then closes. It’s quiet again. 20 minutes later a car pulls up. Footsteps; and then a soft knocking on the door at room 133. A voice “…’TH’ FUCK MAN – WHO DAT!.” The reply: “Taxi”. Retort, “Coo”. Door opens, footsteps, car leaves as my alarm clock rings. Perfect.

Greg Cook and I met in the parking lot at Finley Community Center, geared-up and then headed over to the staging area. What a mess. People and long lines everywhere. We maneuvered to end of the gates defending the VIP starting area and queued up right at the corner of the gates. We were going to be in good position very near the front. And then it was on…

We stayed in good position near the front, noticing that the pace up front was slower than what we experienced the previous year. Moreover, there were no slow riders in our way at all because the CHP was out in front with several motorbikes and cruisers clearing all of the early starters off the road so that Levi and Odessa would not have to worry about them; and neither would we.

Everyone in the top one to two hundred riders was trying to get all of the way to the front to ride with Levi, and that made things a little sketchy for the first ten miles or so. Greg and I just tried to remain near the front, but stayed out of the mess occurring in the first fifty riders. Once the road kicked up on the ascent up Graton Road to Occidental, the pretenders faded fast allowing Greg and I to move forward in the pack very quickly. I led the way up the climb into Occidental, towing a long string of riders in my wake. As we turned the corner at Occidental and began the flowing descent down the Bohemian Hwy into Monte Rio, Greg went to the front and lifted the pace. We had a group of about 80 riders and we all worked together to keep the pace high. The collective belief was that we were the third group on the road.

Once the climbing started in earnest on King Ridge Road, our hundred rides thinned-out quickly to about twenty riders. Half way up the mountain it was down to less than ten riders. That’s when Greg and about five others rode off the front leaving me and the rest to form our own group. I arrived at the Tin Barn rest stop (mile 40+) to find Greg chowing on a handful of PB&J sandwich quarters. We headed over to fill up our water bottles and as I looked to my left I saw Levi about 20 yards away, with a gaggle of paparazzi and cyclists covering his every move and trying to get a word in edge-wise with him.

I told Greg I was going to go over and get in a photo with Levi – Greg offered that it might be a difficult task with all those other people surrounding him. I replied, “Watch this.”

Levi was heading in our direction and I took a direct, assertive but not aggressive approach toward him. From ten yards out, with a strong voice I let out with: “Levi, I’ve only got a couple of seconds so if you still want to get that picture with me that I promised you, we have to do it right now.” Everyone looked at me and I know they were wondering: who is that guy? Levi had the same look on his face and I could tell he was quickly wracking his memory to place a name with my face. Then a sly little smirk formed as he approached me and he put a hand on my shoulder, saying, “Nice, I’ve never heard that one before.” It was only then that I realized that I didn’t have a camera – yeah, I was standing there with Levi, we were both posing and no one had a camera…uncomfortable pause…then we spun around and there was a member of the official media team there with his professional rig and he snapped a few quick shots. I gave Levi the nod and as I walked off; he was good enough play along with: “Hey, I owe you one!” I kept in character as I walked briskly back over to Greg – we got on our bikes and rode-off – and I know at least a handful of people were asking themselves, “who was that little guy in the Radio Shack kit getting his picture taken with Steve Ward”.

Then we were off again, falling off the edge of the earth, plunging down to Hauser Bridge and then up the long string of climbs on Sea View Road. I experienced some bonking on this section, which might have been at least partially induced by not a single minute of sleep in Little Beirut. I was struggling on this climb and catching the occasional glimpse Greg every now and then, but it’s because he’s going as slow as he can to wait for me. I kept telling him to go chase Odessa and get the hell out of my sight because he’s annoying me. He hangs around a while longer and then finally gets bored and heads off in earnest. I ride a recovery pace that allows me to start renewing my strength.

Greg and his group ride off, then another group overwhelms me and passes through (with Ed Lix of VOS on the front saying, “Steve, did you go out too hard on King Ridge…”). Yet another group passes through and then I feel good enough to latch onto the next group. My group catches the group in front of us heading up to Fort Ross Road. We descend like wild banshees and catch the next group up the road. We absolutely drill it down Barf-Bluff on Hwy 1, then ease our way up the grade that follows before pushing on down the coast, catching back on to Ed’s group and riding in together to our second and final rest stop of the day at Arched Rock. Greg is there and has been for at least ten minutes. We refuel and I decide to go for the new Clif Turbo Gel (50 mg of caffeine). This is my first caffeine of the day and is very useful in helping me overcome what I thought would be a miserable climb up Coleman Valley Road. I wasn’t fast by any means, but it was a smooth, consistent climb in which I was able to hold a non-stop conversation with two of the Ride Marshalls all the way to the top of the first climb. Greg shot up the hill in the expected fashion and topped out at the first summit about four minutes ahead of me. Then Greg disappeared over the horizon and took another 25 minutes out of me over the final fourteen miles.

I joine
d in with a group of guys that were going steady but not killing it. I stayed with them all the way to the fast descent into Occidental where I absolutely bombed the descent (50+ mph) and ran away from the group I was riding with to join another, stronger group up the road. We worked together the rest of the way back to Santa Rosa but no one was pushing the pace, it was steady, but nothing like the all-out hammer-fest from last year.

This photo was taken from the Helicopter just a few miles before we exited from the road onto the river trail that leads back to the Finley Center (I’m just moving onto the front to take my turn at pace-making – next to the “S”).

My loop time was 5:52 this year, twenty minutes slower than last year.

And the best for last, Joel‘s story:
Not much more to add other than the fact that each of you are lucky I got caught drafting behind that old lady and her walker on King Ridge Road. The tennis balls on the bottom of her rocker really caused me to lose valuable time to Phil, Brian and Jeff. Perhaps next year I won’t allow her to pass me on the way up!

But seriously, that was by far one of the best rides I have ever done. Even though my time was far from respectable, I can honestly say that I have learned the value of carrying a 30lb tool chest in my back pocket. I can’t wait until next year to see what kind of improvements I can make to my climbing, nutrition and overall performance. Special thanks to Kevin and OZ for carrying me back in. Our last few miles at over 23mph ave made it all worth while as several cyclists commented on “team CycleFolsom” bringing it home! The views were incredible, the food excellent and the company was by far the best!

Here’s to a great 2011!

Big Frank‘s story:
It’s a rare to participate in any ride that attracts six thousand cyclists; that much energy creates a buzz all its own. Six thousand? Seemed too good to miss.

Having done it, I can say it was worth all the hype. In fact, it’s the kind of event that makes you feel fine about being swept up in the hype. If I’d just driven by the event in a car, I’d probably have to race home, suit up, and pedal over in an attempt to pirate the ride—it’s that kind of event.

From my point of view, the start was unbelievably civilized for a mass start. Not many speed jockeys bolting out of the gates in a hot sweat within 5 minutes; not many weekend hammerhead types pushing through the crowds in a lame attempt to “win” the start. No bigtime jumbo Aunt Sally or Good Ole Uncle Ed types with flip-flops and squeaky cranks, either. Just lots of riders moving out in relatively orderly fashion, all doing their thing. I started out near Kevin and Doug, but it doesn’t take much to get separated from your amigos in an event like this;
too many other riders out there.

After the first few miles, the pace picked up a bit for some, and the separations began. I felt pretty good so I thought I’d ride forward to see if I could find Jeff, Phil, Brian, or any of the other CycleFolsom jerseys I knew were out there in front of me. Within a few more miles, I found them. I rode by Jeff and told him this was all I would see of him all day. He laughed, but it turned out to be true. Rode with Phil and Brian for a few hundred yards too, but this was still a giant peloton and you spend a lot of time navigating around/with/through other riders. At just about mile 10, I all but decided today was going to be a great day and I was going to hammer pretty
good. So I got going. And just when I pulled in a big lungful of unearned, breathless ambition—–BANG!—–wow, that sucks, who’s the mope with the rotten luck to get the flat tire? You
guessed it… I look down and see my back tire flopping on the asphalt like a glued-up chain of dying frogs.

I’m still not sure what caused the flat—a 2-inch violent blowout in the side of my tube. Doug L. was cool to stop and make sure I got rolling again, but after oh, say, 3,000 riders had passed us during the flat-fixing exercise, the momentum had really slowed. Doug and I spent the next 30 minutes or so wishing to god almighty that there weren’t so many pokey Medio route riders in front of us; it’s physically hard to move around them all. I tried passing a couple times and was very politely scolded by a Marshall for crossing the yellow line. Still, blew through the first rest stop and hoped to gain some ground on the others.

I was a bit surprised by my motivations at this point. It’s not a race–wasn’t this supposed to be just for fun? Was the “chase or be chased” tagline worming its way into my attitude toward the ride? Not sure. At any rate, I was determined to push on in hopes of bridging up to a CycleFolsom jersey. Any of them.

Doug and I got inadvertently separated at a rest stop; I wasn’t sure who was where. So I started a pattern that I would follow for the rest of the day: push on to the rest stop, stop very briefly or just blow by it, and keep looking for a CF jersey. In that manner, I worked alone nearly all day. The scenery, the climbs, the support, the other riders, hell even the Marshalls were great. Not really an a**hole in the whole bunch, so I have nothing but great things to say. And I do remember thinking to myself that the route selection was really excellent. Redwoods, shade, good descents, and by and large good road quality, everything—totally and completely well-planned. But I wanted to see at least one CF jersey in front of me before we crossed the finish.

At the very last rest stop I finally saw one—not sure who—but definitely a CycleFolsom jersey by the water spigots. I had plenty of water so I just kept going. Picked up the pace a little maybe, to be sure I wasn’t caught, and just finished the ride in the big ring for the last miles. I was pleasantly surprised by the paved bike trail in place of what was probably pure gravel last year (or so I’m told). Nice bonus. Then, it was suddenly just over.

In a sense, I enjoyed the ride more after it was over. I’d pushed harder than I would have otherwise, and didn’t have the patience to try to work in with another group. So, I still have
much to learn. It wasn’t my best day, but I did push a bit. And without the CycleFolsom motivation, I might have been content to treat it all as a “lazy century,” which isn’t quite the
appropriate spirit to bring to this ride, is it? Glad it didn’t go that way. I’ll be sure to give it another go next year.

And finally from Death Ride Doug:
I came to this ride thinking that I would never do it again because of the crowds of people, and the costs. As the ride progressed, I realized that I was smitten by the beauty of the scenery. It was just an incredible ride. I am already thinking about doing it next year. I had a goo
d day on the bike. I am 10 lbs. lighter, and stronger than last year. Had great fun on King Ridge. Hammered all the hills dropping a bunch of people. The part on Hwy 1 was cool, not too windy, and spectacular. Climbing back up to Coleman Valley was very steep in parts. Great fun!

It was fun meeting up and riding with the boys. I got separated from Oz early when I hit a huge pot hole and lost my bottle. Went back to get it in the dirt, only to see a man crash in the same hole, and 3 others run him over! Damn! Saw Frank B. on the side of the road with a flat, and waited for him. OZ and Kevin touched wheels, and damaged the bikes, Waited with them for a while. Helped another guy fix a flat on the same hill. His CO2 cartridge didn’t work. It seemed like I spent the AM waiting, or helping people. Should have been a ride Marshall!