Track Racing is So Overlooked

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I saw a few articles about Bobby Lea’s 3rd place finish at the Track World Cup in London this past weekend.  This was following his winning a World Cup a few weeks ago.  He is leading the omnium World Cup overall competition now.  This is pretty unprecedented for US track cycling. Pretty great.

It got me thinking about track cycling and how it has pretty much disappeared off the radar screens of cycling fans.  Road, cyclocross, even MTB racing has a greater media and fan base than track cycling does currently.  I’m wondering how that happened.

I know that, here in the US, the USAC doesn’t put any emphasis in track cycling.  I know that they would disagree with that statement, but I know of no organized track program, which doesn’t mean that there isn’t one, but it has to be pitiful ,at best.  I would bet that Bobby Lea’s success this track season is because of his individual efforts and training and nothing to do with a USAC track program.

I have a friend, Jim Thiele, that has been going over to England the past few years to compete in the Master’s World Track Championships in Manchester.  He told me that when the British track team takes over the track for training, it is amazing.

The riders are riding their full race equipment, with telemetry on each rider’s bikes and the track, with guys with laptops looking at real-time data as they train.  He said there were probably 5 support for each rider.  And this was just for training.  He compared that to our sprint program where there is a half empty apartment in LA for the riders and having to pretty much fend for your own.

He said that there is no way that the US riders have a chance to compete with the British, taking the two programs into consideration.  I would have to agree.

But the organized track program doesn’t make the sport seem a fringe sport, even compared to other aspects of cycling, which is a fringe sport on its own.   It has just fallen off with popularity, which is too bad.

Track cycling is super fun to watch, in person.  Maybe it is because there are so few tracks where spectators can go and see it live?  I dont‘ know.

Bobby comes from Lehigh Valley where the Trexlertown Velodrome is located.  They have a super healthy track program going on and Bobby can train and race at a level that is much superior to the rest of the United States.  But, it still isn’t Britain or Australia.  These two countries track programs are off the charts superior to ours.  And the results show it.

Anyway, if you have a chance to catch so track racing, in person, I think you’ll be surprised how exciting it is.  Bobby Lea is currently doing something unprecedented in US track racing, for men.   It will be interesting following the rest of the World Cup season, which is one more race in Columbia, in January.    Wishing Bobby good luck!


22 thoughts on “Track Racing is So Overlooked

  1. Mark Weber

    We need more velodromes, but we can’t even keep the ones we have operating. The National Sports Center Velodrome in Blaine, MN is set to close next year if we cannot raise the $60,000 needed to repair the hardware for the track. This is an amazing outdoor wood track, built for the 1992 Olympic trials and is home to several National and World Champs. There is another track for sale in Chicago. Steve is right, this is a fringe branch of a fringe sport, without a well organised national program, it may be doomed here in the states….

  2. Franz

    Help repair the NSC Velodrome. It needs $27k.

    The NSC Velodrome – the only velodrome in the state and a unique part of the USA’s small portfolio of velodromes – needs major repairs immediately. The track is currently closed until it can be repaired. These repairs will extend the life of the facility, keeping the track cycling community active until a new, future velodrome facility is completed. We are asking the broad track cycling community to help out.

  3. Jason

    When I think of the attempts to get cycling into high schools the focus seems to be on mountain bikes. Track seems like there could be better in certain areas. The cost for a basic track bike it’s way cheaper than a mountain bike. Just a thought.

  4. Franz

    Help repair the NSC Velodrome in MN. It needs $27k.

    The NSC Velodrome – the only velodrome in the state and a unique part of the USA’s small portfolio of velodromes – needs major repairs immediately. The track is currently closed until it can be repaired. These repairs will extend the life of the facility, keeping the track cycling community active until a new, future velodrome facility is completed. We are asking the broad track cycling community to help out.

  5. JB

    Jason, you’re leaving the cost and maintenance of the venue (i.e., velodrome) out of the equation. As the adjacent comments illustrate, that’s a pretty significant cost.

    The mountain bike venues already exist almost anywhere.

  6. DStudley

    The cost argument the issue seem isn’t such a problem as most students can show up owning a mountain bike already, or can get find one not in use for next to nothing, but track bike availability not so much. The bikes they start out on may be terrible by a dedicated rider standards, but it is still workable.

  7. Jim

    Thanx to a few individuals, and there untiring efforts, we now have a really nice 167 meter track in Cleveland. Located on a site that was once a hospital, there are Friday night races all through the summer. Long term the plan is to put a building around it but first it has to be financially viable.
    The only thing that bothers me is that so few road riders have given it a try. Lessons and the track bikes are free for the orientation. Track bikes are remarkably inexpensive and we have them to rent for very low cost.
    From the standpoint of spectating, it is vastly superior to road (or even criterium) racing.
    What’s not to like?
    Come on out and try it!

  8. bidon

    Got started cycling back in the 80’s at the Trexlertown Velodrome as a 9 year old. That place got off the ground because Jack Simes and Dave Chauner were promoters. They made the racing seem big and the track was lined with fans every Friday night. The track had high school racing league too. They got the area newspaper as a major sponsor, and that meant the races got coverage every week. That’s promoting.

    Yeah, other tracks have some racing programs too, but are basically non-existent in comparison.

  9. bidon

    Also add, on the track you learn how to race for the win because you get to do it often. I remember hearing how Connie Carpenter had to learn how to throw her bike at the finish in prep for the ’84 games in LA. I was bewildered, because I did that every race already.

  10. Oldan

    I would think that Sarah Hammer’s recent results in the International Omnium (Olympic medals, World Championships, etc) sets a precedent for Lea’s achievements. The only difference is she is a woman.

  11. Matt Dow

    I grew up in Colorado Springs and was watching the racing at the velodrome one night. There was a wicked nasty crash that scarred me for life. The concrete surface probably didn’t help.

  12. Bolas Azules

    bidon – If I remember correctly C. Carpenter was surrounded by some of the finest track / sprinters in America when she was coming up so all she had to do was watch. I think the issue was she wasn’t in too many sprints early on.

    As for these tracks needing repair, why can’t the cycling federation take a break from funding and druging their young riders for a few years to ‘inject’ a few bucks into the tracks? Really, $27k and $60k is trimming a couple of the do-nothing positions they have wandering around and with their incredible marketing muscle (cough cough) it shouldn’t be too much to ask.

    Back a few decades ago I remember one young rider being told he was on the national track team and told the coaches ‘no thanks’ as it was a sure trip into never making a living at racing…either you raced the road or you ate off of your trust fund.

  13. stu

    One thing about track racing that is overlooked is the technical component of the discipline. Track racing is great for learning about tactics and race development. A 20 meter gap can be rather significant in a track race and those that don’t react are usually caught out. Riding in a tight group with no hand brakes and banking added in helps develop technical skills as well as bike handling skills and confidence. It transfers well to road and criterium racing. The physiological demands of the sport also transfer well to road events. Some very good cyclists, whom many of us know of, split time between track and road with little to no detraction from their primary discipline. Track racing is an excellent discipline of cycling and it is disappointing that it hasn’t gained more popularity in the states from both racers and spectators alike. I strongly agree with you Steve, USA Cycling could be doing much more in this department.

  14. Michael

    This is USA development. Local kid shows up at Nationals and wins all on his own. Club team, mom and dad, local bike shop support and an old trackie as a coach. USA rep walks up after awards ceremony and says “would you like to be on the Worlds team?”. Junior worlds is only a couple of weeks after the Junior nats. Oh, by the way, since you won the nats but not in a fast enough time, you have to pay your own way since your time does not show that you are contendar material. USA does not look at the training program you are on or how to prepare for the Worlds fast approaching. For a team event, they very well may throw you with some riders that you have never seen before the finals at nats. So you travel home and try and raise the cash or your parents write the check to USA for your worlds trip. Jersey, shorts, track suit, some tshirts in a bag. Welcome to team USA. You travel half way across the world and race against the Brits or team Australia that has a group of guys/gals who have been riding together for years on matching supplied equipment, same coaching, testing etc. So at least you gained some experience, now you go home start college with no contact. USA is not interested if you are going to a school close to a velodrome or with a team or a coach. Hats off to riders like Bobby and Matt and the ladies of velodrome who represent our country on their own dime, local bike shop teams, still go to school, because their is no future. The next Marty, or Nelson, hopefully.

  15. Guy Swarbrick

    The US could easily afford to take track cycling seriously – indeed, the reason Great Britain focused on track when the lottery funding came in for sport 15 years ago was because it was deemed the cheapest way to win medals!

    Something does need to be done about the lack of facilities, though. It simply isn’t the case that they can’t be financially viable – the UK now has five Olympic standard indoor velodromes with a sixth at the planning stage – three of them are almost impossible to get track time on because they’re booked solid! Sydney has two and Melbourne three! And yet North America has just four – two in that economic powerhouse Mexico and one in Canada.

    It can be done, but the will needs to b there.

  16. Erin Hartwell

    Steve, winning at the track world cups is, in fact, quite precedented for the U.S. track team. We were a dominant nation in the 90s with the men’s track endurance winning multiple medals at the world championships and world cups; a good group of women in sprint and endurance that could compete with anyone; and, finally, a sprint squad that won multiple world championship medals and spent a lot of time on the world cup dais. I was a part of that national team and remember it well. We were a leading track cycling nation during that era.

    We had exceptional infrastructure and support through EDS and USAC; it was a golden era for track cycling in the United States. Everyone (athletes, coaching staff, management, and sponsors) understood the challenges and provided us the resources to compete against the historical juggernauts. That changed abruptly when EDS (a track-centric financial supporter) pulled back in 1999 to restructure. We lost an immense amount of resources that were geared to the track and its growth.

    That said, what Bobby Lea is doing without the same level of organizational support is simply amazing! I’ve watched his progress closely since 2008 wondering if he would ever be able to take that next step from participation to competing with the best… well, he’s done that and more! Truly impressive to see how far he has progressed in the last couple of years from dominating internationals at T-town to, now, dominating on the true field of play. Kudos to him and his crew for getting it right.

    Track cycling in the U.S. went through a darker period in the 00s with little effort put into the discipline and a fading morale from those involved. In essence, you DO get what you pay for… and we paid a figurative minimum wage. Now, USAC is looking in the right direction with Andy Sparks at the helm. However, they’ll need to continue pumping resources (time, manpower, money, and more…) into the program to realize long-term systemic gain. I wish them the best (well, to a point as I now work for Canada, haha)!

  17. Erin Hartwell

    Guy, Mexico has at least four world class indoor velodromes (Aguascalientes, Guadalajara, Mexico City/CENAR, and the just-finished Veracruz that hosted the 2014 CAC Games). There’s are also the 250m outdoor tracks in Toluca (semi covered) and Tijuana. Canada has a brand-new $50M indoor track cycling facility opening up in January outside of Toronto in prep for next year’s Pan American Games. Oh, and Trinidad and Tobago will open the first indoor 250m track in the Caribbean next spring!

    Point is, we ain’t lacking for tracks as a region… we’re lacking the expertise to develop the infrastructure of the sport.

  18. Bolas Azules

    Michael – What you wrote matched perfectly with what I wrote above:

    “Back a few decades ago I remember one young rider being told he was on the national track team and told the coaches ‘no thanks’ as it was a sure trip into never making a living at racing…either you raced the road or you ate off of your trust fund.”

    Even with their cache of ‘supplements’ the “Federales” couldn’t convince old Bolas to jump on board. And the bags were packed.

  19. Craig

    You live in a state where the official track championships is a “grass track event”. Back in the 80’s there were a couple of traveling velodromes – very short and steep but they could set up shop and do races. When I lived in College Station I used to go to Alkek in Houston. Even then it was more or less deserted.

    I think the fastest and cheapest way to get this going is for local groups to set up some grass track events and get people interested. They are a blast to ride and while you lack the banking they are also a lot safer from a crash perspective.
    From there it gets expensive … the departure of EDS from US track cycling financially killed it. Track is my favorite discipline to watch and I ride when I can (every year I plan to go to Frisco to get certified and use the track but life gets in the way). Maybe this spring …

  20. Charles Dostale

    If track racing had as many participants as cyclocross, this would be a different discussion.

    One year I rode the Wisconsin Milk Race and Super Week, and raced at Kenosha at night. I made more money on the oval than on the road. I guess that says more about me as a rider than track racing vs. road racing, but a lot of riders are missing out on a great experience if they ignore track racing.

    The club I rode for developed two really good Junior riders, and without track experience I don’t think they would have kept interest in the sport or achieved some of the results they managed. Bernard Hinault started his career as a pursuiter.

    Of course I think the same about cyclocross vs. road as well. To be a well-rounded rider I think you need experience in all facets of the sport. I’m surprised the USCF ignores track racing like it does.


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