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Sonoma County bicycle events called assets with or without Leipheimer

Published: Thursday, July 5, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 5, 2012 at 11:26 p.m.

Two bicycling events that draw thousands of people and millions of dollars to Sonoma County will continue regardless of pro cyclist Levi Leipheimer's doping case, two people involved with the events said Thursday.

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Levi Leipheimer of Santa Rosa acknowledges over 7,500 bicycle riders at the start of his King Ridge Granfondo, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011 at Finley Park in Santa Rosa.

PD FILE, 2011

Leipheimer, a professional racer who lives in Santa Rosa, created the King Ridge GranFondo in 2009 and helps promote the Amgen Tour of California, which has visited the city six times since 2006.

The area's best-known professional athlete, Leipheimer, 38, declined to comment to reporters in France on Thursday about published reports that he and four other racers had been banned for six months after admitting to doping and agreeing to testify against former teammate Lance Armstrong.

Raissa de la Rosa, an economic development specialist for Santa Rosa, said she was confident the GranFondo and the Amgen Tour would continue to burnish the county's reputation as a great setting for cyclists, both amateur and professional.

“They have enhanced our destination brand,” said de la Rosa, who coordinates the Tour, a professional race that brought about 40,000 people to downtown Santa Rosa on this year's opening day May 13.

By “conservative estimate,” the Tour injected $6.8 million into the local economy, primarily to hotels, restaurants and retailers, she said.

The GranFondo, a fundraiser conceived by Leipheimer, draws 7,500 riders from around the world, with its next running set for Sept. 29.

Last year's GranFondo raised $266,000 for charity and made a $120,000 contribution toward Santa Rosa's costs for staging the Tour of California.

De la Rosa said the GranFondo, now in its fourth year, will continue to be “a world-class event with or without Levi.”

The event “stands on its own,” she said, propelled by Sonoma County's scenic rural roads, food and hospitality.

Greg Fisher, editor of Bike Monkey Magazine and a close friend of Leipheimer, said he knew nothing about the doping case.

“We're not equipped to shed any light on this in any way,” said Fisher, who organizes the GranFondo but is not involved in Leipheimer's cycling career.

Leipheimer, who is currently competing in the Tour de France, is a three-time winner of the Tour of California. He finished sixth this year, competing six weeks after being hit by a car and breaking his leg on a training ride in Spain.

The GranFondo stands alone, independent of Leipheimer or any other pro cyclist, Fisher said, calling it “unique and special in the world of cycling events.”

Riders are coming from six continents to the GranFondo in September, featuring three rides of 103, 65 and 32 miles.

The 103-mile ride is sold out, Fisher said, and the 65-mile ride has a few available slots. Organizers leave the 32-mile ride open as long as possible, he said.

Fisher said he had not talked to Leipheimer on Thursday. “The man's got better things to do,” he said, referring to the race in France.

A spokeswoman for the Santa Rosa-based Bissell Pro Cycling Team said she had no comment on Leipheimer's situation.

A telephone call to Leipheimer's home was not answered.

You can reach Staff Writer

Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.

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