I’m convinced that Santa Rosa and Sonoma County [are some] of the best places in the world to ride a bike because you can ride 360° from Santa Rosa, and I can rattle off 20 different climbs that are more than 15 minutes long. And I go through seven different microclimates in each ride. I can hit coastal, vineyards, redwoods, alpine, desert-y Middletown stuff in Lake County. It’s so varied. You have ferns the size of your head; you feel like you're in Jurassic Park. And then all of a sudden you’re on the coast watching surfers. It keeps it fresh all the time. There are so many different roads and so much variety. And when you’re putting in those hours, that’s what makes it special.
I was flying home from [one of the final big European races of the season, the Giro di] Lombardia. I was lucky that the fires broke out like 20 minutes after I took off on this 11-hour flight because if I’d gotten the news right before then, I would have been super agitated the whole time. I landed in San Francisco Monday morning. I turned on my phone and it blew up. Luckily, the first text I looked at was from my wife saying, ‘Santa Rosa is burning down, just so you know. We’re okay. We’re at the airport waiting to pick you up with the dogs.’
We felt like we were in a war zone because we would hear helicopters going overhead, sirens going up and down the main street, and propane tanks blowing up, which sounded like bombs as they went off. So it was...a surreal experience.
We realized nothing was ever gonna be the same anymore in the town that we loved. The rebuilding process is gonna take a decade at least. The rides that I fell in love with out here are all going to look different now. Certain climbs that were shrouded in foliage are going to be moonscapes and some of it’s going to be toxic.
Fountaingrove burned down, which is where the multi-millionaires live. Journey’s End was a trailer park that burned down and Coffey Park is middle class. [The fire] was the great equalizer. Everyone came together and all those barriers were broken down and people bonded together. Unfortunately, it took a disaster to make that happen, but it happened. And that was really cool to see. A lot of people are tighter because of it. Everyone is doing their best to help support and hold the community back up.