By BOB NORBERG

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Just as a robin is a harbinger of spring, the arrival of the red-and-black cycling jersey in the mail is a clattering cow bell telling us the Levi Leipheimer King Ridge

Front of the 2011 jersey.

GranFondo is just six weeks away.

“It has been nuts around here, it is certainly a wake-up call,” said Greg Fisher, editor of Bike Monkey Magazine, the event organizer.

This year’s jersey again was designed by Odessa Gunn, Leipheimer’s wife and a former professional rider herself, and features a red bear on a black jersey.

The vast majority of the jerseys will be sold at the event itself, but the 700 pre-orders have begun showing up on doorsteps and in mail boxes and already on some Sonoma County riders.

“These are for people who plunk their money down and knew what they wanted and wanted to get their size guaranteed,” Fisher said. “We have a huge bin in the office now, on wheels, it is and was full and it is being refilled continually. We knew it was coming and we have some extra help, we have a system.”

Which brings up the question of protocol, whether to wear the jersey now, before the ride, or wait until after you earn it, so to speak.

Although I’m in the “you must earn it first” camp, Fisher is walking a thin line.

Riders getting excited about the ride is a good thing and if they want to wear the new jersey, for which they paid $85, it builds awareness.

The back of the 2011 jersey.

“If they want to feel they have to earn that jersey, we feel that is their right,” Fisher said. “As somebody who sees people who are investing themselves in our ride, I have a hard time telling those guys differently. We have an embarrassment of riches.”

Seven thousand have registered so far for the 7,500 slots in the Oct. 1 ride, in which a mass of cyclists will stream through the inflatable starting arch at the Finley Center in what may be the biggest mass start in the U.S.

The signature 100-mile ride, which includes the climb over King Ridge Road in Cazadero, is sold out, but there are openings for the challenging 65-mile medio and for the recreational 32-mile piccolo rides.

There are also a few new wrinkles this year.

First, there will be a cut-off time for the granfondo riders. If you can’t make it the 24 miles from the Finley Center to Monte Rio by 10:30 a.m., the CHP will re-direct you to the medio route. Don’t fret, it’s still a legit ride and it is better than finishing in the dark.

Mother Nature dictated the second change, a detour on Coleman Valley Road as it drops into Occidental because of a slip-out in the west-bound lane. Riders will instead use Joy and Bittner roads, which is longer and not quite as steep.

The third change is meant to make you feel at home in Sonoma County. Instead of Coleman Valley Road, there will be the option of taking Willow Creek Road from Jenner to Occidental and a chance ride on dirt with skinny tires.

Both are steep. Coleman Valley has the Wall. Willow Creek has a gravel and dirt stretch and two back-to-back, 12 percent climbs called The Sisters.

“Riding in Sonoma County always seems like there is a dirt road in their somewhere, Geysers Road, Sonoma Mountain,” Fisher said.

On Willow Creek, “it is a long piece of dirt, you are forced to adopt a broader set of skills. Riding in Sonoma County should include some dirt. We are making it an option,” Fisher said.

Although Fisher said they might have a few extra course workers on that stretch to deal with problems, it might be wise to make sure you pack extra tubes.

You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or bob.norberg@pressdemocrat.com.