From the Georgia Straight, published December 27, 2007.
Quite likely, it will be a while before a new year begins in such dramatic fashion as 2007 did downtown. With a sound described by workers as “just like thunder” and “elephants coming through your living room”, the roof on B.C. Place collapsed last January 5.
The buzz of rubber tires whirring around the Burnaby Velodrome’s wooden track, amplified beneath an inflated dome similar in design, if not in size, to Vancouver’s white elephant, is just as loud. Keep that in mind when you’re deciding where to celebrate some of the 12 days of Christmas. For a thrill of an entirely new kind, set one or more days or evenings aside to take in the third annual Burnaby Six Day, a track-bike race that kicks off Monday (December 31) at the Velodrome’s home in the Harry Jerome Sports Centre.
Every sport has its own language, and track cycling is no exception: match sprints and madisons, scratch races and points contests, chariots, and even keirin, a style of bike racing popularized by the Japanese. With its views of the banked corners and tight straightaways, the Velodrome’s balcony is a spectator-friendly venue from which to pick up some of track racing’s finer points, such as how to avoid wiping out in a pack of riders going faster than the posted speed limit on the nearby Barnet Highway. As one of only three covered tracks in North America–and the only one in Canada–the Velodrome draws cyclists from across the continent. Alberta-based sprint gold medallist Lori-Anne Muenzer trained there with members of Team Fast Twitch in the months leading up to her triumph at the 2004 Olympic Summer Games in Athens.
The past five years have seen an explosive growth of interest in track racing, not just among elite Vancouver-based teams such as Symmetrics and Fast Twitch, but also among increasing numbers of novice riders keen to discover what the excitement of fixed-gear bikes, or fixies, is all about. When interviewed by the Georgia Straight following the Cycling B.C. awards ceremony held at Vancouver’s Heritage Hall in late November, Andy George, president of the Velodrome, identified several key factors driving the newfound enthusiasm for this electrifying style of cycling. “In winter, our covered location is a big draw with riders from road racing, BMX, and triathlons,” said the Surrey firefighter and Fast Twitch team rider. “Couple that with the rise in popularity of fixies with the bike-courier crowd, plus a groundswell of interest among junior and women riders.”
George, who picked up Cycling B.C.’s 2007 Road/Track/CX Volunteer of the Year award, began road racing a decade ago as a way to stay in shape when he turned 40. Five years later, some friends introduced him to the Velodrome. “It was just a perfect fit,” he said. “Two weeks afterwards, I bought a track bike.” In 2004, George won the provincial, national, and world championships. At the World Masters Games in 2005, he picked up two silver and two bronze medals. In 2008, he’s got his sights set on the Canadian National Track Championships scheduled at the Velodrome in August.
Fellow Fast Twitch rider Glenn Barr, communications director at the Velodrome, is helping organize this year’s Six Day. When contacted by phone, Barr attributed track’s growing popularity to other reasons as well. “It took several years for everyone to find out about the Velodrome,” Barr pointed out. “Track cycling is beneficial for all riders, no matter what their specialty. This is something that Europeans have known for decades. Racing on a track develops skills like good cadence and boosts bike-handling abilities. It’s not just for sprinters.”
Both Barr and George expressed elation about this year’s lineup. “Every possible madison team in North America will be here,” said Barr, adding that the Burnaby event will rival the World Cup being held in Los Angeles two weeks afterwards in the lead- up to this summer’s Beijing Olympic Games. Madison racing originated in New York City’s Madison Square Garden around the beginning of the 20th century and features two-person teams who “slingshot” each other around the track as they exchange positions.
Barr characterized the matchup of teams as a grudge match between Canadians, such as Svein Tuft of Symmetrics, and their American counterparts. “Svein won the U.S. Open Championship. He and his team destroyed the hometown favourites, Team Slipstream, whose riders will be looking to revenge not only that loss but also the fact that Quebec rider Martin Gilbert won the USPRO Criterium Championships.” He pointed to the stunning one-two punch as evidence that every decade Canada produces track superstars, like B.C. Sports Hall of Fame wheelman William “Torchy” Peden, who posted 38 wins in 148 six-day races during the 1930s and ’40s.
Count on some torchy sessions at this year’s competition. As the sparks fly, hopefully, the Velodrome’s roof will hold up. One new year’s fiasco is enough.