NorCal League dinner and ride highlights

Schmoozing with the stars for a good cause

The 5th Annual CycleFest gala dinner brought 300-plus people to the Mill Valley Community Center to benefit the NorCal High School Mountain Bike Racing League November 8, followed by a group ride with pro road cyclist Levi Leipheimer in Marin County the next morning.

The dinner

High school racers and their parents mingled with Mountain Bike Hall of Famers Ned Overend, Joe Breeze and Tom Ritchey, as a post-dinner fundraising auction offered patrons a chance to buy: a US$5,500 2009 Specialized Stumpjumper FSR Pro Carbon mountain bike donated by title sponsor Specialized Bicycles; a day riding with Ritchey at his ranch in Jenner, California; coaching by Leonard Harvey Nitz (multiple world and national track champion); and several cycling-flavoured paintings. A silent auction offered an autographed Lance Armstrong poster, crankbrothers Cobalt wheelset, and a Leipheimer-autographed jersey, among other items.

League board president Vanessa Hauswald emceed the dinner, introducing the new League assistant director Justin Morgan. League rider John Bennett, a participant in the Varese, Italy world championships, also spoke about his experience racing in the League. Several custom bicycles were on display along the interior of the dining hall, part of the NorCal Handmade Bicycle exhibit. Bikes and components from Calfee, Steve Potts, Castellano, Ahrens, RetroTec, Soulcraft, Bruce Gordon, Steve Rex, Broakland, White Industries, Frances, Grognard, Kish and Cycle Monkey were shown.

NorCal League founder and director Matt Fritzinger

League founder and director Matt Fritzinger thanked the audience for its participation and ongoing support of the organization he founded in 2001. Following the auction, Leipheimer, fresh off one of his most successful seasons to date, sat down for a candid interview in front of the audience.

The ride

Under cobalt blue skies, a hearty group of 100-plus gathered in Kentfield, California in Marin County for a fundraising ride with Leipheimer. The 73km ride was escorted by California Highway Patrolmen on BMW motorcycles, including a lead patrol car. The pace was smooth and easy, rolling up Sir Francis Drake Boulevard before turning north on Nicasio Valley Road toward Point Reyes Station, where coffee, pastries and a group photos awaited the cyclists.

Leipheimer (C) stays safely in the pack on the way to Point Reyes Station

After riding ahead to get a few photos of the pack, I chased down the speeding Sunday peloton as we cruised into Point Reyes Station. The rhinoceros-strong headwind made riding a challenge into Point Reyes Station, but was a blessing on the return trip through Samuel P. Taylor State Park. Leaving nothing to chance, Leipheimer stayed out of harm's way, scooting up to the front of of the pack as the road became narrow, slick and strewn with debris through the Park. A quick spin through Lagunitas, Forest Knolls, San Geronimo catapulted the lead group into Kentfield, but not without a high speed chase.

NorCal League founder and director Matt Fritzinger (L) with Leipheimer in Point Reyes Station

Having lost contact with the lead group on a steep, short climb outside Fairfax, I did my best Stijn Devolder/Tour of Flanders impersonation to bridge the gap, taking full advantage of the police escort through the red stop lights. After a few kilometres of soloing, I latched onto some stragglers before passing them again to arrive in the parking lot seconds after Leipheimer's group, breathing heavy but having given every ounce of my 42-and-a-half-year-old body for the cause.

Ah yes; another wonderful day in the saddle, NorCal style.

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