Its wooden trusses failing, the state’s only velodrome will close for good this winter unless an 11th-hour appeal by cyclists and their supporters can raise the cash needed to fix it.
The Olympic-caliber racing track, built in 1990, already has survived beyond its expected 20-year life span, said Barclay Kruse, spokesman for the National Sports Center in Blaine.
“Everybody knew that it would not last 100 years,” he said.
The outdoor 250-meter wooden track has limped along with volunteers making minor repairs each racing season, but checks on the structure this year revealed more serious problems, Kruse said.
A contractor estimated that $60,000 of repairs could keep the track running for another four years. Staff at the Blaine complex have recommended to the NSC board that the velodrome be torn down, but the board has yet to make a decision.
News that the velodrome might be torn down came as a “bit of a surprise” to racers who used the track this season, said Tom McGoldrick, chair of the Friends of Velodrome Racing in Minnesota.
His newly formed group has raised $30,000 so far to keep the velodrome up and running, said McGoldrick.
There is also a GoFundMe site, a Facebook page and a fundraiser at Fulton Brewery in Minneapolis Sunday that was expected to raise thousands more.
Standing amid a throng of cyclists at the Fulton Brewery fundraiser on Sunday night, a silent auction and raffle about to wrap up, Velodrome Director Bob Williams felt confident that the cyclists would save the velodrome.
“ I think this will happen,” he said
It would take even more money to keep the Blaine velodrome going beyond this initial repair, but there may be another velodrome in Minnesota before long: a group called the MN Cycling Center wants to build an indoor velodrome at the Shoreham Yards in northeast Minneapolis. That project is still in early planning and fundraising stages.
In Blaine, McGoldrick said his group wants to work with the NSC to build a stronger culture of track cycling. The velodrome never has made a profit for the NSC, which gets state funding for construction of its facilities but must support itself for operational costs.
The velodrome also draws the fewest number of competitors and fans of all of the amateur sports supported by the NSC, with about 190 riders and some 4,500 people attending this past season.
The NSC’s Schwan Super Rink pulls in about 2 million people annually, and soccer draws another 1.6 million to the NSC complex, said Kruse.
Still, the allure of track cycling and Minnesota’s strong cycling culture have meant a regular group of riders at the Blaine velodrome each racing season. The group usually produces some elite racers, and this year sent several people to national and international competitions.
Racer Linsey Hamilton, who won two bronze medals at the World Masters Track Cycling Championships this year in Manchester, England, said the Blaine velodrome drew twice as many women racers this year as it has in the past.
The thrill of track cycling takes some getting used to: newcomers must learn how to navigate the velodrome’s 43-degree banked turns.
“Certainly the first time you get on the track it’s extremely intimidating,” said Hamilton. “It just looks like a wall next to you. The faster you go, the higher you can go, and the next thing you know you’re up on that wall.”
“It’s like riding a self-propelled roller coaster,” she said.