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Sunday Telegram (Massachusetts)
Racing on a fixed-gear bicycle without brakes around a steep, banked track at top end is thrilling.
No doubt about it, speed is exciting.
But few people get a chance to witness track cycling, never mind participate in the sport.
"Once you get over your nerves, you'll say, wow, this is so much fun. It's cool, it's fun, it's exciting," said Pam Fernandes, a former track cyclist and Paralympian.
"Track racing is mostly short stuff and super spectator-friendly," Fernandes said.
However, there are no velodromes in New England, and the nearest tracks are several hours away.
Fernandes is part of a group proposing to build a velodrome in the region. The New England Velodrome and Sports Complex is a nonprofit that originated about two years ago when Boston was considering a bid for the 2024 Olympics. The Boston 2024 effort included discussions about a velodrome for the Olympic track cycling events.
The Boston 2024 effort fizzled, but the New England Velodrome and Sports Complex has continued its plans to build an oval track for cycling.
"We decided to continue working toward that effort of building a velodrome," Fernandes said. "That put the burden of finding a site and raising the money on our shoulders. It's a lofty effort."
The group is meeting with various communities to discuss finding a home for the NEVSC, while fundraising and looking for partners in the project.
All options are still open. Massachusetts is probably the best state in New England to build the velodrome, Fernandes said, because it has the highest percentage per capita of cyclists.
Fernandes and the two other directors at NEVSC, Ed Kross and Jessica Eckhardt, will be making a presentation on their plans from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Worcester Public Library, at 3 Salem Square in Worcester.
The organization is talking and meeting with various groups, officials and communities with the goal of breaking ground on the project around 2021. The business plan is about 90 percent complete, Fernandes said.
"We are getting interested people and eventually something will come through," said Fernandes, who medaled in the 1996 and 2000 Paralympic Games. She is visually impaired and competed in tandem cycling races with a pilot. She currently organizes training camps for riders with disabilities preparing for competition in elite road and track cycling races.
The velodrome could cost anywhere from $1 million or $2 million to as much as $50 million, according to Fernandes. She said the cost depends on the extent of the project, which could be one of several options, including: a concrete, outdoor track; a covered outdoor track; a 250-meter wood track with a supportive inside structure; or a 250-meter, indoor wood track with locker rooms and indoor facilities for many activities, including a walking track, climbing wall, volleyball courts, indoor soccer and community meeting rooms.
A site of about 10 acres or more would be ideal, she said, with a 165,000-square-foot indoor facility.
"Ultimately, we're not going to be successful unless we're a good community partner," Fernandes said. "We want kids. We want kids on this track. We can teach kids how to ride."
The community meetings are a chance for the group to make a presentation, establish connections and form new partnerships. Fernandes said the group has several needs, including a fundraiser to help secure money for the project, a community willing to make the project viable, and volunteers to complete the many tasks such a project entails.
At the Worcester meeting, NEVSC directors will introduce themselves, talk about their plans, show photographs of other tracks, play a video of track racing in a velodrome, as well as have a discussion with those in attendance.
There are about 29 velodromes across the country, according to USA Cycling. The nearest tracks are the Kissena Velodrome in Queens, New York, and the Valley Preferred Cycling Center, which is known as T-Town, in Trexlertown, Pennsylvania.
Track cycling began around 1870. Wooden planks were laid down with banked turns similar to modern velodromes.
The most famous track cyclist from the area was Marshall "Major" Taylor, or the "Worcester Whirlwind," a Worcester resident who won the world championship in 1899.
When Major Taylor was racing, track cycling was at a peak, attracting Americans to velodromes like they are drawn to baseball parks today. There were an estimated 20 velodromes in New England around 1900, and 50 or 60 on the East Coast. The velodrome in Newark, New Jersey, for example, held 25,000 people, and Madison Square Garden was packed for cycling events.
-Contact Mark Conti at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @markconti11.
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