Thousands of bicyclists will flood the roads of Santa Rosa and west Sonoma County on Saturday as part of Levi Leipheimer's GranFondo.
Cyclists come from six continents to participate in the mass ride, which takes in some of the county's most scenic and challenging roads and raises money for a host of charities.
Now in its fifth year, the Fondo appears largely undiminished by the admission of its namesake — Santa Rosa-based Leipheimer — that he took performance enhancing drugs during his pro cycling career.
Organizers say the 7,500 spots in the ride sold out this year at about the same rate as they did before Leipheimer confessed to doping in late 2012.
“People value the GranFondo for what it is,” said Greg Fisher, spokesman for Bike Monkey, the event organizer. He said it is a day that encompasses “the spirit of cycling and what it means to be on a bike.”
The event is anticipated to raise about the same for charity as last year — $250,000 — including donations to schools and fire departments along the three routes of varying difficulty.
The toughest and most popular, a 102-mile ride from Santa Rosa and back, includes King's Ridge northwest of Cazadero and involves more than 9,500 feet of climbing.
Shaun Ralston of Santa Rosa, who will be riding it for the fifth time Saturday, said “there's something magical about the Fondo — an unexplainable, almost intimate camaraderie of starting this hometown ride with thousands of like-minded cyclists at every skill level.”
The event is timed, but is not a race. Beside raising money for nonprofits, organizers estimate the Fondo generates more than $3 million in economic activity by way of more than 1,000 hotel rooms that get booked, as well as restaurant meals and other revenue.
The Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, which helps enlist volunteers for bicycle valet parking at the festival after the ride, reported that at least two former volunteers said they would not participate this year because of Leipheimer.