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Bring the Boards Back Home

Geneva, Switzerland. Cologne, Munich, and Stuttgart, Germany. Valencia, Spain. Manchester, England and Vancouver, Canada. How about Hartford, Connecticut? By building an indoor velodrome we can instantly put a Connecticut community on a world map with those cities.

(Photo Courtesy of Mike Gladu, Infinite Hangtime Photography)

A velodrome is a banked oval track, usually concrete or wood, built for racing bicycles. There are 19 active velodromes in the U.S., with the nearest in Eastern Pennsylvania. Quite a few New Englanders regularly make that four-hour trek to watch or compete in races. The nearest indoor track is Vancouver. Their bike club’s newsletter boasts they are becoming more popular than the local NHL franchise.

Why a velodrome – what will track racing do for the region?

Athletes will come from all over the world. These professionals will not be like NFL or NHL stars buying huge houses in the suburbs. They are young people who will need more modest housing in the city, and a loft community in a revitalized warehouse district might be ideal. Watching these athletes compete on Friday nights will be exciting entertainment – high speed, elbow-to-elbow action that’s 100% visible, understandable and more affordable than even a minor league ball game. A track will allow us to host events such as the National and World Championships, the Goodwill Games, and the Pan-Am games.

Cycling, track cycling in particular, has a huge following in Europe. A track here will benefit local colleges and universities, not only by giving their cycling teams a home for events and practice, but by strengthening their overseas recruitment effort as well. Many prospective European (or West Indian or South/Central American) students are cycling enthusiasts that will see a velodrome as an attraction.

But elite-level racing is only part of the picture, the most visible tip of the iceberg. Development programs form the massive base. This is where kids and local folks will be introduced to the sport. Air Products Inc. has sponsored a program in Pennsylvania for 25 years that has produced numerous national, Olympic, and world champions. More importantly, thousands of young riders have delighted in learning the sport and its lessons in fitness, tactics, and teamwork. The program’s enrollment is filled for the next three years.

The author rounds the corner at Jewell and Trumbull streets, May 1998.
(Photo by Karen Haas)

Track racing is an affordable way to enter the sport. The bikes have a single gear and no brakes, and cost a fraction of what their multi-speed road and mountain counterparts cost. The reduced emphasis on equipment makes the sport more accessible, like BMX. There are BMX tracks in Bethel, Torrington and Meriden, and more on the way in Danielson and Brooklyn. Hartford has its own youth BMX team. BMX is a logical inclusion with the velodrome, and young riders will benefit from this connection because it opens the door to international and Olympic competition.

Why Connecticut– what can our area offer the velodrome?

Two-time Olympian Raoul Lachapelle on the Hartford Velodrome, circa 1927.
(Photo Courtesy of Al Lachapelle)

Connecticut is steeped in cycling history. The first bicycle was patented in New Haven. There were once 32 velodromes between Boston and New York, forming a lucrative and hotly contested racing circuit. In the late 1920’s, the outdoor track in East Hartford filled its 20,000 seats several times a week. Making bicycles was big business and the world’s finest were made in Parkville by Colonel Pope.

Presently, the Eastern U.S. is a hotbed of cycling activity. The RIDE Magazine maintains that this is the #1 region in the world. There are major racing communities in Boston and New York, and Connecticut’s location will draw riders from both places. There are one-day cycling events in Connecticut that see over 1,200 competitors. The First Union pro cycling championship has rejuvenated sections of Philadelphia on its way to becoming the world’s biggest one-day race, attracting almost a million spectators. Cycling has flourished despite our winter climate, and an indoor velodrome will succeed because of it.

Southern New England has a dense population of colleges and universities, and collegiate racing is this country’s top growth market. Its team-based format makes novices just as important as the stars for accumulating points. A track here would be home base for several school teams, giving them a site to train and compete year round.

One vision for the velodrome has it as a centerpiece of the National Cycling Center. Sports medicine, performance testing, and retail businesses will help make the facility financially viable. An outdoor cycling park, cycling/ transportation history museum, and Hall of Fame will make it a tourist destination. The Union Cycliste International recently announced the construction of a similar World Cycling Center in Lausanne, Switzerland for $12 million. We can put ourselves on that world map by building the nation’s only indoor velodrome, instantly establishing Connecticut as a center of cycling excellence.

Concepts for the renaissance of Connecticut's cities are taking shape, and plans for many multi-million dollar projects are vying for attention. This is a relatively modest project that ties together our past and present, establishes a link among the colleges with our kids and community, while making Connecticut a worldwide destination. The State should consider this a sound investment in the region's economic future.

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Last modified: July 17, 2001