In the track centre, riders whirl in place on rollers. Balanced on the spinning cylinders, they stare ahead with focussed eyes, finding rhythm with the music that flows out of their earbuds, motivating them as they focus on their warm up. Sweat drips, forming pools on the concrete floor. On the wood board track, others ride in formation, in a long paceline. Each rides a lap on the front of the group, before swinging up the banking to find their spot, and some respite, at the back in the slipstream. Sharing the work, readying themselves for the racing, they find a metronomic pace, lap after lap on the 250 meter velodrome. The commissaires and organizers tap away at computers near the start/finish line, chatting amongst themselves, to make sure things are in order before the first race. The line at the table for number pick up has dwindled as the start time nears, and now only a few late comers hustle to get registered. It’s a Saturday night. The Canadian winter is creeping into our lives. We will congregate in the warmth of the velodrome for the next months, to ride and to watch the races. 

Unlike anywhere else in North America, several of the best in the world will be racing. The velodrome has been an incubator for cycling talent  since it was built for the 2015 Pan American Games and, as a result, Canada now has numerous World track medalists and champions. It is a testament to the quality of the facility and devotion of the coaches to helping the kids progress within a community . Yet, the stands are never as full as they should be. If we were in Belgium or Germany, they would be packed as there is an adoration and respect for the bike racer within their culture. Aspiring young cyclists would gather to ask for autographs from the riders. The festive atmosphere would be amplified by the emcee’s voice as it echoed through the building with music thumping as the track boards rumbled under the weight of the riders. Beer would flow and bets would be placed. 

Our champions race in front of their parents or friends, and a few fans who understand the sport, the achievement of becoming world champion and the level at which the Canadians now ride. The riders don’t receive the recognition they deserve for their talent, dedication and effort. Some in the stands may reminisce of the days when the board track in Delhi Ontario was alight with racers who had come from all over North America and Europe. In 1972, renowned British cycling journalist Jock Wadley came to Delhi to see a six day event and wrote a glowing account of it in his book “Old Roads and New”. Jock had seen racing all over the World from World Championships to Six Days at the Paris Vel d’Hiv to nineteen Tours de France. Jock said that the racing at Delhi was “the most exciting, most adventurous, most spectacular cycling scene I have encountered in more than 40 years association with the sport”. Who would believe a small Ontario town was where you’d find some of the best racing in the World. Milton isn’t much different; the speed, talent and thrill are all there but lack the cheering crowds.

In the stands, there are some Canadian champions who have come to watch, to cheer on the future and to enjoy the night of racing. Steve Bauer, Canada’s most successful cyclist ever,  sits with Michael Leonard, Canada’s youngest up and coming World Tour star, who now rides with one of the top pro teams, Ineos. Together, with my wife, Dede, we absorb the racing and chat about cycling and life in Europe. Our generations of shared experiences have many similarities as we all honed our racing acumen on the velodrome and then pursued our goals in Europe. 

The racing runs through the evening. People dip down to the cafe for a beer or bag of chips as the riders sip on waterbottles of syrupy drink or nibble on bars. They race with the same ebullience as they might a championship, the fluid efficiency only broken by a sudden touch of wheels and a tumble down the track’s steep banking. Most often, they’ll bounce back up, look at their bike to make sure it’s fine to race, pull out a splinter or two, and re-join the race. 

Races are categorized by skill level. Those who aren’t on the track, watch the others race from the track centre, cheering on their clubmates. The teenagers will mix with the kids and adults, all forming a community of friendship and support, each learning from the other. Rubbing shoulders with a champion, kids can see what is possible. Goals and dreams are not as intangible as they seemed to past generations of racers. 

2023 / 2024 NCIM RACE/ONTARIO/NATIONAL SCHEDULE at the Mattamy National Cycling Centre.

  • NOVEMBER 25th 6:30 pm-10 pm 
  • DECEMBER 10th OCUP All day. 
  • DECEMBER 16th 6:30 pm-10 pm
  • JANUARY 14th O-CUP All day. 
  • JANUARY 20th 6:30 pm-10 pm
  • FEBRUARY 3rd 6:30 pm-10 pm
  • FEBRUARY 10th-11th O-CUP All day.
  • MARCH 16th 6:30 pm-10 pm
  • MARCH 23rd 6:30 pm -10 pm

One thought on “The Thrill of Velodrome Racing

  1. Great article on the joy of track racing. I am moving to Waterdown in January, and now I know how I will spend my Saturday nights

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