By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Now that the adrenalin is gone and tiredness in the legs is fading, images and thoughts of the fondo ride keep seeping into my mind.
I’m waiting for the official results, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t beat Mary Poppins-lookalike Michelle McAvoy of Oakland, who was wearing a gray skirt and coat and riding a tall, matronly bicycle with full fenders and a sweet bell she would ring while passing us.
Chris Culver, former executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, introduced me to her at the final Occidental rest stop, where McAvoy mentioned that her bike only looked old-timey and was actually quite trick with a full selection of gears.
It was still amazing to see the mass of humanity at the start, 7,500 helmet-heads shoulder to shoulder and pouring through the the inflatable arch without incident.
It puts Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge GranFondo into a class by itself, a spectacle and an experience for riders like none other.
What do they have in store for next year, 10,000 riders?
It is also a crowd that has the chambers of commerce drooling. Average age is 45, 70 percent were men, 85 percent are college educated and the average household income is $135,000, according to Bike Monkey.
Having the roads closed almost all the way to Occidental was a wise move by Bike Monkey, the organizers. By riding three and four abreast, the pack can sort itself out, the faster riders overtaking the slower before the long, fast downhill on the Bohemian Highway to Monte Rio.
The road is rough, and we veered around some water bottles that got dislodged from some bikes, but the Bohemian Highway offered a descent that made you feel Levi-like.
One woman said she was counting her fillings, and they were still there.
The organization of the ride was much praised by all riders.
“Levis’s GF was by far the best ride that I have participated in,” said Emanuel Celestino of Austin, Texas, who was in the ride for the first time, in an email. “The charm of the region, town, restaurants all make Levi’s GF a MUST every year!”
Support and Gear (SAG) vehicles were everywhere and slowed to offer support to anyone alongside the road, and there were 150-plus red-shirted course marshals on bikes. The thousand volunteers at rest stops and at intersections were polite and cheery right up to the end.
I had a new tube put in my front tire just minutes before the start by Phil Scheidler at The Trek Store booth, fellow rider Virginia had her balky rear derailleur oiled and tuned by a mechanic at the Duncans Mills stop and SAG vehicles were helping people with flats and broken chains all along the route.
Such support is part of the package, although they couldn’t help one poor soul who rode without a seat after breaking a seat post. It looked most uncomfortable.
Doing the 60-mile medio, I missed the cold, wind and rain on top of King Ridge that made it one miserable ride and caused the worst of the several crashes. One strong rider I know called it the hardest 100-miles he ever rode.
The medio still has Coleman Valley Road, a steep climb that had probably half the riders walking their bikes, thankfully as close to the right to give us some room.
One woman I saw just toppled over when she ran out of steam, and someone offered to give her a push to get started again.
It is about then the quick riders, some of them pros, started catching up after doing King Ridge, adding a new dimension.
They were so quick, strong going up the hills, indecently fast on the downhills and a presence you just had to be aware of.
Fueled by a Coke and Oreo cookies, Occidental to the Finley Center turns into one long slog. You just keep chugging.
We crossed the finish line just before Levi and his group. They got a respectful ovation.
You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or firstname.lastname@example.org.