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Preserving the Victoria Velodrome — An Editorial

June 16, 2008 (Victoria, BC) – Much has been made of recent proposals to replace the Victoria Velodrome located near the Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre with an all-weather new stadium complex for soccer, football and rugby teams.

The 333m velodrome, located near the municipalities of Colwood and Metchosin, is a legacy of the 1994 Commonwealth Games and is one of only seven velodromes in Canada — three of which are concrete, two are indoor facilities, and two are outdoor wood tracks. The Victoria track has held up well over the years, benefiting from its resilient concrete surface and Victoria’s mild winters (maintenance is largely limited to pressure washing the moss from the banking in the spring). It’s clearly a durable facility with low-cost maintenance needs, but would be very expensive to replace. Its banking is both shallow enough for beginners to ride slowly, yet steep enough for riders to motor pace, making it accessible to a wide cross section of riders. Since the Commonwealth Games, the track has hosted provincial and national championships as well as a Word Cup event and several American Velodrome Challenges (a North America-wide series).

Much has been made in recent years of the fact that the Victoria velodrome lacks a tunnel in its infra-structure and that it’s not a 250m track. The lack of a tunnel did indeed mean that Victoria was unable to continue hosting World Cup track events after 1996. This is now a moot point, however, as the World Cup events currently use indoor 250m tracks because the races are scheduled during the North American winter (the one venue that differs is Moscow which is an indoor 333m velodrome).

Moreover, it’s important to recognize that these features do not mean that Victoria cannot host international track competitions. In fact, it’s only World Championships, World Cups and Olympics that cannot be held on such a surface. Many of cycling’s most popular track events are held on non-250m length tracks, including the Ghent 6 Day, the Tasmanian Christmas Carnival and the West Indies vs. the World Series in the Caribbean. The Lehigh Valley Velodrome, the famed “T-Town” track, is the most successful track in North America and relies on a bridge over the track similar to what was used when Victoria hosted a World Cup event in 1996. Last summer T-Town hosted a series of UCI events that awarded precious UCI points to successful racers and drew riders from Canada, the USA, New Zealand, Australia, Trinidad and Denmark, just to name some of the countries participating. The recent Pan American Championships in Uruguay that saw some amazing Canadian successes were also held on an outdoor concrete track.

There is no better example that track quality need not be a barrier to the quality of events it can host than the prestigious Tasmanian Christmas Carnivals. These annual meets held between Boxing Day and New Years draw international fields vying for large prize purses on decidedly unorthodox tracks. While one Carnival is held on the Launceston Silverdome an indoor wood velodrome (with a seemingly bizarre length of 286m) the bulk of the racing takes place on dead flat 500 meter tracks around cricket fields. The lack of uniform 250m tracks doesn’t inhibit the likes of Ben Kersten and Shane Kelly from putting on displays of speed and power that wow the thousands of spectators that pack the stands each night. It should be noted that the that the popularity of racing on the poorer tracks played a significant role in supporting the building of the Silverdome – an excellent and facility with a very fast surface, despite its unorthodox length.

What Victoria does provide is a versatile racing and training surface that is accessible to a diverse assortment of age groups and ability levels. The track allows for some excellent elite level racing and training. It’s perfect for motorpacing without requiring the use of a specialty electric derny, and at the same time, is a facility that is safe and un-intimidating enough to teach primary and middle school groups to ride on the track with their mountain or BMX bikes in a supervised setting that introduces them to bike safety and rudimentary racing skills.

Cycling BC youth coach Dan Proulx has taught several youth and school groups to ride the Victoria track over the years and commented: “The Juan de Fuca Velodrome is one of the best tracks to teach young riders on. Most children are able to ride the track within ten minutes of arriving at the velodrome. The ease of use and safety of the track are some of it’s key features. The kids were always thrilled with their experience and many have gone on to become track riders as adults. The Juan de Fuca track is the best track in Canada for it’s suitability to both young children and elite riders.”

Proulx also noted that when he lived and coached in Calgary he would annually take a group of junior cyclists to Victoria each spring to benefit from the track facilities as well as Victoria ideal riding routes and moderate climate.

In terms of the life and maintenance of concrete velodromes, the Argyll Velodrome in Edmonton Alberta is a legacy of the 1978 Commonwealth Games and is both older and has weathered far harsher winters in its long life than the Victoria track. It is nearly identical in length and design to the Victoria track. Most recently, the Argyll track provided a suitable home base for Lori-Anne Muenzer’s campaign for Olympic Gold in 2004. There are few tracks in Canada and it is unlikely that that number will increase significantly in the near future. Building a new velodrome is undeniably an expensive capital investment. It is therefore extremely important to preserve those existing tracks that we do have in this country, especially if it’s a track with relative low cost of maintenance. It would be a tragedy to destroy a track such as the Victoria velodrome to replace it with another playing surface that could be located elsewhere. Velodromes are simply too scarce a resource to condone this planned demolition.

The programming and community engagement at the velodrome in Victoria may not have been utilized to its full capacity in recent years, but it has all the facilities and attributes that it needs to be an important regional hub in track cycling, especially as the nearby Burnaby Velodrome continues to grow in terms of both participants and events. This is not to suggest that the Victoria track has been dormant, for it hosts a series of learn to ride and race clinics, plus several races a year, including the BC Provincial Track Championships. It also serves as a valuable training ground for Pacific Sport athletes, local cyclists and triathletes. Rather, it is to suggest that greater coordination among the various cycling facilities has much to offer towards increased track usage. A few years ago, making use of coordinated planning with other tracks in other regions, the American Velodrome Challenge events attracted many riders from as far away as Quebec, Oregon, Washington, Alberta with even a contingent of New Zealand riders racing at the events.

There is perhaps no better testament to the role that the Victoria Velodrome has played in developing cycling in Canada, than in 2004 when Victoria last hosted the National Track Championships. Two of the riders that won events there were winning their first ever national titles. Four years later, those two riders, Zach Bell and Gina Grain, have won more than a half dozen titles between them, and will be representing Canada in the track events at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. For both of these riders, Victoria was an important stepping stone in a journey that will culminate this summer at the Olympic Games opening ceremonies. Canada does not have sufficient sports resources that we can afford to destroy existing, low cost, flexible racing and training centres. Hopefully, this wonderful facility can be preserved so that it can continue to generate future generations of internationally successful Canadian riders.

Chris Reid recently graduated with a Masters Degree in Public Policy from Simon Fraser University, his thesis “There is No Manual For This: Creating Winter Olympic Legacies” dealt with creating legacies from Winter Olympics that endow lasting value to the host communities.

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