On the list of things the Palo Alto community enjoys, bicycling and food are right at the top, and the Italian-inspired Gran Fondo bike ride and festival is bringing them together in a celebration of cycling and food Sept. 16 in front of City Hall.
Italian professional cyclist Michele Scarponi will headline this year's Gran Fondo (Italian for "big ride"), which features courses of 30 miles, 75 miles and 95 miles.
The two longer courses take riders over the Santa Cruz Mountains to the Pacific Ocean before looping back to Palo Alto. Elevation changes of thousands of feet will challenge riders.
Participants not looking to spend hours on a bike seat can take part in the Echelon Challenge, a 0.6-mile loop around downtown Palo Alto for walkers, joggers and cruiser bikes.
Hunter Ziesing, executive director of Echelon, the San Francisco-based nonprofit hosting the event, was encouraged by the turnout last year -- the Gran Fondo's first year -- and is hoping for even more riders this September.
"We had about 600 or 700 (participants) last year," Ziesing said. "And we are expecting between 800 and 1,200 this year."
More than 40 charities will benefit from fundraising by Gran Fondo and Echelon Challenge participants.
"The number of charities has gone from 17 to over 40," Ziesing said.
"About 70 percent of those charities are local," he said, referring to the Bay Area nonprofits.
The entrance fee for fundraising teams is $5 for the Echelon Challenge event and $50 for the Gran Fondo. Echelon Challenge teams are required to raise an additional $100 for their charity of choice, and Gran Fondo teams are likewise required to raise $250.
After completing the 95-mile Gran Fondo course, or the 0.6-mile Challenge course, hungry participants can converge on a post-race food-and-drink festival. The event will offer a sampling of dishes from local restaurants, including The Flea Market and New Leaf Market, along with a selection of cheeses from Pescadero's Harley Farms.
"I really want to get the people of Palo Alto who are health minded to come out and have a good time," Ziesing said.
More information on the event can be found at www.echelongranfondo.org.