"Unless you were underground for most of last summer, you’ll know that the British dominated the track cycling at the Beijing Olympics, snapping up 7 of a possible 10 golds. There’s no denying the British cycling team is at the top right now."
Unless you were underground for most of last summer, you'll know that the British dominated the track cycling at the Beijing Olympics, snapping up 7 of a possible 10 golds. There's no denying the British cycling team is at the top right now. Handily enough, the place credited with nurturing such athletes is also open to the general public, who are positively encouraged to get on their bikes.
From the Ashes
Having been ravaged by the demise of industry in the city, east Manchester was one of the most deprived areas in the country during the 1990s, with 52 per cent of households on benefits and worryingly high crime figures. The area was in dire need of redevelopment when plans for a velodrome came about, thanks to the city's attempt to secure the 2000 Olympics.
The bid failed, but only after £9.5m had been spent on the velodrome's construction. It opened in September 1994 and was quickly denounced by many as a white elephant. At a time when the area was crying out for more jobs and better living conditions, people struggled to understand the need for a cycling track.
Jarl Walsh, general manager of the Manchester Velodrome, knew that the investment would pay off. 'Before the Manchester Velodrome, the UK was making up the numbers in cycling - bar a few exceptions,' he explains. 'Athletes were part-time and had to travel abroad to train during the winter, meaning they rarely became strong contenders.
'The velodrome gave them a world-class facility all year round and has produced world-class athletes such as Victoria Pendleton and Ed Clancy, who attribute their success, in part, to the Manchester Velodrome.'
It wasn't until the 2000 Sydney Olympics - ironically, those that Manchester had hoped to host - that the impact the velodrome had made became clear. Jason Queally, who started his track career in Manchester, won the one-kilometre time trial, and 10 of the 11-strong British team returned with a medal.
The track is not just the preserve of professional athletes; it is also open to the public. No one is left out. Veteran classes offer a steady pace for the older cyclists, while children's groups are run frequently and prove extremely popular. 'Twelve-year-olds finish their session while Olympic medallists wait their turn,' explains Jarl. 'It's incredible for kids to be allowed to use the same training facilities as international athletes. At the same time, we have 80-year-olds who use the track.'
With the City of Manchester Stadium and the Sportcity projects, the velodrome has been part of a dramatic change in the east Manchester area, which is set to develop further over the next 15 years with the help of a projected £2 billion of funding. This will lead to new business parks, housing and retail developments, which are expected to create up to 10,000 jobs.
'The city's sporting pedigree attracts thousands of visitors to the region every year,' explains Paul Simpson, managing director of Visit Manchester. 'Football was always seen as our strength but Beijing has put the velodrome firmly on the map.'
The future looks bright. 'The velodrome has been instrumental in our success,' says Peter King, British Cycling's CEO. 'With the introduction of BMX racing as an Olympic discipline, we have plans to build an indoor BMX track linked to the velodrome to confirm the track as the most important venue for British cycling.'
For more information:
Manchester Velodrome, Tel: 0161 223 2244
British Cycling, Tel: 0161 274 2000
The Revolution Cycling Series, www.cyclingrevolution.com