Palo Altans will have the opportunity in September to participate in what event organizer Hunter Ziesing called "the latest and greatest Italian import" -- the Gran Fondo, Italian for "big ride."
On Sept. 17, San Francisco-based cycling and environmental nonprofit Echelon will put on the Echelon Gran Fondo, a lengthy bike ride accompanied by live music, cheering and a celebratory feast.
"We basically try to give our average, everyday participant the same fanfare and frivolity that you see at the Tour de France," said Ziesing, Echelon's founder and executive director, who has put on similar events nationwide for two years.
Participants in the Gran Fondo will include Greg LeMond, a three-time winner of the Tour de France who began his racing career in Palo Alto. LeMond became the first American to win the Tour de France in 1986. He also won the race in 1989 and 1990.
"I am really excited to do the event in Palo Alto," LeMond said in a statement. "I have a long history with the city that goes back to when I started racing."
The Gran Fondo is part of a daylong, city-sponsored festival of biking. In addition to the "grand" ride, a low-key, 0.6-mile loop ride called the Echelon Challenge will be offered, along with live music and food at downtown Palo Alto's King Plaza.
The first-ever Taste of Palo Alto food festival, co-sponsored by the Palo Alto Kiwanis Club and the Palo Alto Recreation Foundation, will feature samplings from at least 15 local restaurants.
Echelon and the Kiwanis began working together at the city's suggestion with the hope of attracting more attendees for each other, according to Lanie Wheeler, Kiwanis Club coordinator for the Taste. Participants in the Echelon rides receive free tickets to the Taste.
In May, the Palo Alto City Council unanimously pledged $50,000 to support the Echelon events, reflecting the city's growing enthusiasm for biking, as seen in the recently installed bike "corral" on Ramona Street in downtown Palo Alto.
"The city is currently a gold-rated city by the American League of Cyclists," Ziesing said. "The best you can get is platinum."
Bikers in the Gran Fondo choose from one of three bike-ride options that travel to the coast and back -- 65, 80 or 95 miles. The easier Echelon Challenge lets participants "walk, run, ride or stride" repeatedly around a 0.6-mile lap.
Riders of the Challenge and the Gran Fondo have the option of collecting fundraising pledges for their charity of choice or form fundraising teams, said Susan Becker, Echelon's Palo Alto team coordinator. Both Echelon and the City of Palo Alto particularly hope to support locally based charities, she added.
Taste proceeds will benefit the Palo Alto Recreation Foundation and local children's and youth charities, Wheeler said.
"If this is successful ... we'd like this to become another Palo Alto ongoing event, like the Black and White Ball," she said.
Gran Fondo riders will bike from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m., Ziesing said. The Challenge is open also from 8 to 2, but participants can stop and go as they please to enjoy live music, entertainment and food.
Registration for the Echelon Gran Fondo routes costs $100-150 depending on distance or $50 with a minimum $250 in fundraising. The Echelon Challenge costs $50, or $25 with a minimum $125 in fundraising.
The Taste runs from noon to 5 p.m. Tickets, which include five food samplings, can be purchased at the event for $25 for adults and $15 for children under 12.
More information is available online at www.echelongranfondo.org/palo_alto.