Nearly 1,000 cyclists will line up behind the starting line in the 4th annual GranFondo Saturday morning, Sept. 16. Spectators are invited to join the riders at 6 a.m. and ring traditional cowbells to spur them on.

Organizers of the event say traffic has been the only challenge in what is otherwise one of Tehachapi's largest events of the year.

Co-race directors Chris Kirk and Michelle Vance came up with the idea of a local GranFondo to attract attention to the beauty found in our surrounding mountains. It has since become a popular ride among cyclists and was voted the Best Century in California the past three years.

"It's really beautiful," Vance said. "You have the water tower, and the sun is coming up on Tehachapi Boulevard, and the cyclists come through. It's very majestic and very quiet — all you hear is the clicking of their shoes against the pedals. And a lot of cowbells."

Festivities begin Friday night

The GranFondo festivities will begin on Friday, Sept. 15, with the VIP dinner, to be held at Centennial Park in downtown Tehachapi.

"It's always a great event," Kirk said. "Usually, the night is perfect for a dinner outside."

The dinner will be filled with much-needed carbs for the bike riders to load up on in preparation for the endurance ride the following day. Catered by Steampunk Cafe, the dinner will include chicken Parmesan, lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, and will cost $22 per ticket.

The purpose of the dinner, Kirk said, is to recognize major sponsors.

The big event will begin early Saturday morning when 1,000 cyclists will assemble at the starting line in downtown Tehachapi for the five cycle courses: the Gran Fondo (104 miles), which tours all of Tehachapi and surrounding communities including Alpine and Keene; the MedioFondo (85 miles), which tours all of Tehachapi and surrounding communities, but not Alpine and Keene; the PiccoloFondo Plus (60 miles) and PiccoloFondo (38 miles), which tours the foothills of Tehachapi; and the FunFondo (18 miles), which includes beautiful scenery.

Local residents are asked to bring their patience while driving around town and surrounding communities as they will be sharing the road with the cyclists.

"This year's event is going to be as good or even better than last year's event," Kirk said.

Kirk said it takes about 10 minutes for all the cyclists to pass through the starting line.

According to Vance, about 900 pre-sale tickets have already been sold, and she anticipates another 100 will be sold the day of the event.

"That's the perfect amount of people," Vance said.

Kirk agreed that 1,000 is the ideal number of bicyclists for a race like this.

"Much more than that becomes really difficult statistically, and throughout the state, there are very few rides like this that get higher numbers than that, which we are pretty proud of," Kirk said.

Registration has already closed; however, it will reopen at 2 p.m. Friday for last-minute entrants.

"Also for those folks who have eyes bigger than their legs, they can switch routes that day," Vance said.

New sponsors sign on

This year will see new sponsors, such as Subaru.

"Subaru has contacted us and asked if they could be one of our sponsors, which is an accomplishment in itself, I think," Vance said. "They will be leading the ride out with one of their Subaru cars."

The Tehachapi GranFondo has been rated in the top 13 in the country by participating cyclists, and No. 1 in the state of California for the past three years.

"The reason why our ride is so incredible is because it is so heavily supported. The benefactors of our ride are our public safety volunteers," Vance said.

According to Vance, about 200 volunteers will serve on the course to assist the cyclists, such as the CERT Team volunteers who will run all the rest stops.

"We are very appreciative of our sponsors," Vance said. "We have over $50,000 in sponsorships. If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be able to give away as much money as we do to our public safety groups."

Vance said the many community organizations that participate in making GranFondo so successful are much akin to the hen and the bread.

"You help put this ride on, you get a piece of that bread," Vance said.

Adventist Health, new this year, will sponsor the "King and Queen of the Mountain." Instead of $500 like last year, this year's King and Queen will receive $1,000 for coming in with the shortest time in the final leg of the race up the mountain.

"This is really a big, organized ride," Kirk said. "It is intended to be a recreational ride, but there is that one competitive segment that only cyclists of the GranFondo course are qualified to compete in, and it's a climbing segment. It really challenges the best of the riders."

Of the 1,000 anticipated cyclists, 300 are residents of Tehachapi. Increasing in number are the cyclists who will participate as a club, such as the new sponsor of the VIP dinner, Lehigh Cement, which will have 28 cyclists.

"It's been really neat to see how a lot of these clubs who have been here since the first year have grown in participation," Kirk said. "It's fun, because people are coming out to do the ride, and then they are telling their friends about it and challenging them to do the ride."

Word-of-mouth pumps up GranFondo

Said Vance, "When someone says this is an amazing ride, and you have to do this, that's the best promotion we can get."

Kirk said the GranFondo has also promoted better health, especially among local residents, adding the annual bike event has grown the sport of cycling tenfold in local residents alone.

"They are training and getting out on their bikes, and increasing their aerobic activity," Kirk said. "They are doing things together and as families."

Another positive spin the event has had on the community is by allowing the  opportunity to get together and interact by practicing communication and coordination which could have a positive impact later should there be a large-scale disaster event.

City Manager Greg Garrett said he is proud of Tehachapi's cycling event, which showcases the best of what the city has to offer.

Said Garrett, "This is the week of Sept. 11. After Sept. 11, people started thinking differently about where they live and their communities. They started thinking about how they are raising their children and their quality of life."

Garrett said people are starting to take notice of Tehachapi due to the high quality of life it has to offer, such as education, clean air, employment opportunities and a low crime rate.

"Two years in a row now, the City of Tehachapi has experienced a lower crime rate than the previous year," the city manager said. "That's unheard of. The state of California is releasing felons faster than we can count, and crime rates all around us are going up, but not in the City of Tehachapi, bucking the trend."

Said Kirk, "Last year was flawless, and we expect for it to be flawless again this year. This is a great opportunity for people to come enjoy California, and Tehachapi in particular, in a unique and neat way."

Added Vance, "We are here to help our community, but we are also here to offer the experience, because people are paying for the experience."

The man to beat again this year is Cory Lockwood, a local resident, who has come in with the best time every year since its inception.

Tickets to the VIP dinner can be purchased at City Hall and at the dinner.