Thanks to a strong community-guided effort, enough money has been raised to repair Blaine’s aging velodrome — the state’s only such bicycle-racing track — and extend its life for five more years, the National Sports Center announced Monday.
Although the repairs will lengthen the racing life of the Olympic-caliber outdoor track, they will not permanently restore the structure, according to the NSC statement.
Still, Monday’s announcement came as something of a happy surprise to cycle racers and their fans, just a few months after it had appeared that the deteriorating structure would have to be torn down for good.
Velodrome track director Bob Williams said Monday that track supporters hadn’t expected to raise enough money for repairs as quickly as they did.
It’s “overwhelmingly positive that enough people feel strongly about this sport to support us. But it proves that what we are doing is right,” he said. “Everyone is jumping up and down for joy. Without it we have nowhere else to continue our sport.”
The National Sports Center and the Friends of Velodrome Racing in Minnesota, a group of cycling advocates created last year, agreed that the 2019 season will be the final racing season at the velodrome, said Barclay Kruse, spokesman for the NSC.
“It’s reached its life expectancy,” Kruse said. “This fix will help keep the track in operation safely for a few years.”
Williams said after five years, the only option will be to completely replace the structure.
A cycling group called MN Cycling Center is looking to build a community cycling center that would include a velodrome in Shoreham Yards in northeast Minneapolis. That project is still in early planning and fundraising stages.
“Hopefully by then, another project will be available,” said Matthew Montesano, board member of the Friends group and an active racer.
Fans jumped in, big-time
The track, built in 1990, has needed ongoing maintenance, which volunteer carpenters have provided. Last year, an engineering report showed the track needed even more significant repairs, and as a result, the NSC closed it at the end of the 2014 season in October.
News of the closure did not sit well with cycling activists, who took to social media and fundraising sites to raise awareness about the track.
In just a few months, the Friends group raised enough money to cover the $100,000 estimated repair costs.
Kruse said the NSC is impressed with the commitment the cycling community showed in raising enough money in such a short amount of time.
Montesano agreed, saying, “It speaks to the capacity of the cycling community.”
Work on the track is expected to begin immediately, pending construction contracts.
‘A thrill’ is restored
The five-year window also gives the NSC time to think about what to do with the estimated 3-acre parcel, which sits on the western edge of the sports center’s campus, Kruse said.
The velodrome has never made a profit for the NSC, which gets state funding for facilities construction but must cover its own operational costs.
The track has drawn the fewest number of competitors and fans of all of the amateur sports supported by the NSC, with about 190 riders and 4,500 people having attended last season.
However, the allure of track cycling on bikes reaching up to 40 miles per hour on the velodrome’s 43-degree banked turns and Minnesota’s strong cycling culture have drawn a regular group of riders during racing season. The group usually produces some elite racers, and last year sent several people to national and international competitions.
In the meantime, as construction crews begin to work on the facility’s 25-year-old Afzelia wooden trusses, cyclists are counting down to opening day on a track that could have been permanently closed.
“It’s going to be a thrill to race all summer long,” Montesano said.