SPORTS

New velodrome in Milton is the star of Canadian track cycling championships

01/05/2015 05:09 EST | Updated 03/07/2015 05:59 EST
MILTON, Ont. - Canadian cycling star Curt Harnett likens it to being out on the water in a canoe on a calm day.

"When the water is like glass. . . just that feeling of no resistance, sort of like floating on air," Harnett said.

The feeling of racing on a world-class track is unlike any other, said the three-time Olympic medallist, who was one of the first cyclists to ride on the new Cisco Milton Pan Am/Parapan Am Velodrome when construction was completed a few weeks ago.

The gleaming $56-million facility west of Toronto was built for this summer's Pan American Games, and is getting a test run at the Canadian track championships this week. The event may have brought together many of Canada's top athletes, but the track is truly the star of the show.

"It's a spectacular sensation, and when you're inside like that, and the facility is giving you all of the elements of that containment. . . 'spiritual' is a strong word, but it's a thrill, an adrenalin rush," Harnett said. "It was a pretty spectacular moment for me, it was hard to believe that we would ever see something like this back in Canada."

The Canadian championships, a test event for the Pan Am Games, were originally scheduled for October, but were postponed due to construction delays at the velodrome.

The three-storey facility features a 250-metre track made of Siberian spruce, that Harnett described as being as smooth "as Plexiglas." The cycling oval shares the same builder as the track for the 2012 London Olympics.

"It's pretty amazing actually to be here," said Allison Beveridge. "Last year at nationals (on an outdoor track in Dieppe, N.B.), we had rain delays. . . The facility itself here is pretty amazing, and the track is as fast as anything you see around the world."

The 21-year-old from Calgary won the Omnium on Monday. The six-discipline event is like track and field's decathlon, with six events held over two days — the scratch race, individual pursuit, elimination race, time trial, flying lap, and points race.

Beveridge won Monday's time trial and flying lap to set up her for the overall victory, then clinched it with a victory in the points race.

"It's always amazing to win nationals, but to do it in Milton in the first one — we're the first people to race here — and to win the first title on a world-class facility, and put out good times during the Omnium, it's pretty amazing," said Beveridge, who helped Canada to a silver medal in the team pursuit at the 2014 world championships.

Stephanie Roorda of Calgary, who was also on that world championship squad, finished second Monday, and similarly praised the Milton track.

"I love it, it's fantastic, it's probably one of the nicest tracks I've ever ridden. And I've ridden quite a few tracks around the world," Roorda said.

Beveridge trained early in her career on Calgary's outdoor 400-metre concrete track. And along with her Canadian teammates, she spends a large chunk of her season training in Los Angeles. That's where the closest world-class track was, until now.

She's looking forward to having home-track advantage at this summer's Pan Am Games, which run July 10-26.

"It's definitely a big advantage to know the track, and how it rides, how it feels, and what times you can put out," Beveridge said. "So it will be a massive advantage coming back and being on home soil for a Pan Am Games is really exciting."

Remi Pelletier-Roy, who won the men's Omnium on Monday, said his trips south to train have cost his parents $10,000 a year since he was 18.

"I think (the new track) will help kids get into the sport, because it's cheaper for parents, and it's also more accessible — they can see it, they can see us racing, and maybe think it's cool," said Pelletier-Roy.

"For the elite already in place, it's a great facility to train and become even better on the world level. And to get kids involved in sports, when you have to travel 3,000 kilometres to get to an indoor velodrome, you're less likely to have people get into the sport. But a facility like this in Canada. . . we might see more track cyclists the next few years."

Pelletier-Roy was second going into Monday's points race, but a victory in the final event gave him the victory over silver medallist Zayne Heyes.

Montreal was home to the cycling velodrome built for the 1976 Olympics, but it was torn down in 1989. There is a 150-metre covered track in London, Ont., and one in Burnaby, B.C., that measures 200 metres. But neither is near the calibre of the oval in Milton.

Jacques Landry, Cycling Canada's high performance director, believes it's the best track in the Americas. Over the past few days, he's watched as one after another of his athletes has stepped off the new track with high praise for the facility.

"This is the first time we've been on the boards here, and everybody is pretty enthused about it," Landry said. "It's one of the world's top facilities now for track cycling, and it's our home now, so that's great."

Landry said Canada's track cyclists will be based in Milton in the weeks leading up to both the Pan Am Games and the Rio Olympics, whereas they would have held their final camps and Olympic staging in Los Angeles.

Olympic silver medallist Steve Bauer grew up training on the indoor track in Montreal.

"That's what spurred me into the world cycling scene with the national team," Bauer said.

Bauer capped his amateur career with a silver in the road race at the 1984 Olympics, before a pro career that saw him race in 11 Tours de France. Now 55, Bauer won the Masters C scratch race and was second in the points race Monday, for athletes 50-and-over.

Racing on the new track, he said, was a thrill.

"It's such a beautiful track, smooth and wide, and such a great venue," Bauer said. "Everyone talks about the word 'game-changer,' which is absolutely true."

Bauer is spearheading the new Milton Cycling Academy as its head coach, and said Canadian cycling has its work cut out in recruiting kids to the sport.

"I think that that's an important mission, get more athletes on the track, working with the coaches, and eventually we're going to have some great champions in the future," Bauer said. "It will take time and patience, but with such a facility, you can't go wrong."

Some 130 athletes will compete in the first-ever international event held at the velodrome, the Milton International Challenge, Friday through Sunday.

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