Milton velodrome set to foster next wave of track cycling talent

Canadian cyclists Katie O’Brien and Monique Sullivan warm up for the Milton International Challenge, presented by Cisco. Photo by Chris Young

National cycling centre provides new training ground for track cyclists
Story by Jeff Carson

There’s a new home for Canadian cycling. Mattamy National Cycling Centre in Milton won’t just be another venue for the Pan Am Games, it’s poised to house and develop a whole new generation of competitive Canadian cyclists.

The centre was built as part of of the Pan Am infrastructure, and will serve the city of Milton as a community athletic hub, but it was nearly relegated to another expensive, temporary piece of the Pan Am puzzle. Now, with the large, permanent centre open to the public, track cyclists around Canada are excited about the chance to train on home soil

The facility held its first official events this month and riders had a chance to take to the track, as excitement for the Pan Am Games begins to ramp up.

Athletes warming up for the Milton International Challenge, presented by Cisco. Photo by Chris Young

The $56 million, 250m track will hold 2,500 spectators and is one of only two velodromes to meet the highest international standards in North America and the only such facility in Canada. Until now, competitive track cyclists have travelled to Los Angeles to train on a track that meets the requirements for the Olympics and the World Championships. The complex will be one of the centrepieces of the Pan Am games and will have the ongoing role of cultivating the next generation of cycling talent in Canada.

While the Milton velodrome isn’t the first velodrome in Ontario, it is the largest. The Forest City Velodrome in London was built in 2005 and was Ontario’s only indoor velodrome. The track is only 138m long, well below the 250m required for top-level international competition, but has served riders of all levels and been a popular training spot for track cyclists. There have been other, temporary velodromes around Toronto — Red Bull brought their Mini Drome to the Evergreen Brickworks in 2011, and there was a velodrome at the beaches as part of an amusement park in 1926 — but nothing made for the level of competition the Pan Am games will bring.

In addition to the velodrome, the centre is designed as a community space for a range of athletics. The facility is home to gymnasium courts (for basketball, volleyball, badminton, trade shows and more), a 300m running track, a fitness centre, a bike shop, bike storage, a cafe, meeting rooms and more. It’s meant to be a gathering place for the community.
Construction of the facility began in February 2013 and wrapped up in December 2014. The cost of the facility was split between the town of Milton and the federal government, with the Government of Canada covering $38.4 million of the $56 million budget. The remaining $17.6 million was largely funded through private sector fundraising. As a legacy facility, the town of Milton will have some access to a legacy fund, which will help with continued operating costs and planning after the Pan Am games end. Despite that fund, at least one local councillor is concerned that the town of Milton will be on the hook for the operating costs of the facility.

Athletes warming up for the Milton International Challenge. Photo by Chris Young.

The initial plan for the Pan Am games was to build the velodrome in Hamilton. When that plan fell through, Pan Am 2015 considered building a $19 million temporary velodrome in the Portlands. A small group of cyclists and investors were unhappy with this strategy and began talking to municipalities and looking for donors to create a permanent velodrome. The group met to discuss potential sites for the velodrome and, within 90 minutes, they had secured five acres of land in Milton and $7 million in private donations.

Howard Chang, president of Top Drawer Creative and long-time cyclist, was part of that small group of investors and says having a top-tier cycling facility means two things for the sport of cycling: Bringing fame to the sport and bringing people to cycling. “Having a world-class facility and the programs to support it, you create Olympic champions, Commonwealth Games champions and world champions, which bring fame to the sport,” said Chang. Building the profile of cycling and bringing fame to Canada may sound like an uphill battle to some, but bringing on names like Canadian cycling legend Steve Bauer to run the Milton Cycling Academy shows a clear intent from the developers and the stakeholders. Bauer won Canada’s first Olympic medal in road cycling (a silver medal in Los Angeles in 1984), competed in the Pan Am games in 1979, placed forth in the 1988 Tour de France, and second in the 1990 Paris-Roubaix, among other accolades.

Howard Chang, pictured right, speaks at a fundraiser for the velodrome held two years ago at the TD Centre. The panelists included Canadian cycling legends Steve Bauer (next to Howard) and Curt Harnett.

A model of the velodrome on display at the fundraiser in 2013.

Chang says that bringing a high profile name and some fame to the sport will draw many new cyclists. “We’re hoping more people ride their bikes, more cities will agree to put in bike lanes and we’re going to impact the overall health and well-being of Canadians,” said Chang.

The velodrome already has requests from cycling teams around Canada, and even from the U.S., to train on the track and there is hope that interest should expand. The forming of a high performance training program by Cycling Canada will help draw elite talent to the velodrome and youth development programs will help identify new riders.

“A velodrome, just like BMX, is a wonderful vector to bring people into the sport,” said Chang. “It’s a controlled environment, it’s safe, there are no cars, you can bring kids on the track at 10-years-old, learn all the skills, develop power, develop pedalling, get great coaching.”

For cyclists hoping to try out the track, having access to a car will still be the easiest way to get to the facility, but it is accessible by GO. There are plans to work with Smart Commute and encourage carpooling to get the facility, as well as talk of extending the Pan Am Path to Milton.

With just a couple events completed so far, the Mattamy National Cycling Centre will host an official opening celebration on Monday Feb. 16, Family Day. That event will mark the beginning of a new era in Canadian cycling, one that hopes to reap the rewards of this facility as early as the Olympics in Rio 2016.

Cycling events at this year’s games include:

 

The Pan Am Games will run from July 10-26, 2015 and the Parapan Am games run from August 7-15, 2015.

Related on the dandyBLOG:

dandyARCHIVE: Hammer down! Will the velodrome go to Hamilton?

Relive the glory: Red Bull minidrome in pictures

The story of La Ocho

 

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