After last week, “bike prom” is no more. Cyclists from across the country flocked to the National Sports Center Velodrome for the last Fixed Gear Classic tournament and a chance to ride one of only three outdoor wooden tracks in the country.
Thirty years of Minnesota winters have taken their toll and the velodrome is set to close at the end of the year.
“The track got old, that’s the problem,” said director Bob Williams, “We can’t stay ahead of the repairs.”
The German-designed track was built in 1990 to host the Olympic Festival and the national championships. The turns are banked at 43 degrees and the straightaways at 15. Forty-two miles of African Afzelia wood make up the surface of the only outdoor, wood-planked velodrome in the western hemisphere.
For most of the last decade, the Fixed Gear Classic has been a summer staple at the velodrome. The invitational tournament draws some of the country’s best cyclists for two days of racing and camaraderie.
“This is it. This is the bike prom,” coach and tournament organizer Linsey Hamilton said. The track and the community are a core piece of her identity. The sensation of flying down the track is an experience every rider can bond over.
“It's like having a name spelled you know weird,” Hamilton said. “And you find somebody with your same name and you go, ‘oh my gosh, we have this thing in common and we've never met but we can talk about it.’”
Cyclists bond over the intensity of the sport. The fastest racers can go upwards of 40-miles-per-hour in sprint races. But the track isn’t just for the ultra fast. Hamilton founded the VeloKids program, which teaches kids ages 9-12 to safely race the track in a four-week summer camp.
Athletes who got their start on the NSC Velodrome have gone on to race around the world. Last year, then 17-year-old Peter Moore of St. Paul was named to the USA Junior World Championship team.
Over three decades of racing on the track, one rider hasn’t missed a season. Mark Stewart wore the number 30 this year in honor of years he’s attended. He came out to watch the track being built and took a class as soon as he could. Since then, he’s watched hundreds of riders fall in love with the sport and the community.
“The Velodrome has put a spark in a lot of kids I think, and they get excited about cycling and then hopefully they continue to do it as a lifetime sport,” Stewart said. “Seeing that possibility go away is just really disappointing and a huge loss for the state.”
Over the years, the community has raised money to fund continual maintenance of the track, but the National Sports Center has decided to end its run. The land will be used as a green space by the Spring Lake Park school district.
Efforts to fund a proposed Minnesota Cycling Center with an indoor track and multi-purpose community event center closer to the metro have yet to yield any results.
The 2019 season will extend into the fall, with races every Thursday night.
Correction (Aug. 9, 2019): A previous version of this story stated that Spring Lake Park Schools will build a school on the site of the velodrome. They intend to use the land as a green space for students.