In today's tough economic times, when local councils across the country face significant cuts to their sports budgets, losing a well-loved sports venue has become an all-too-familiar sad experience. And it was one faced by Merseyside cyclists when, six years ago, the popular, but aging, Kirkby velodrome staged its last meeting.
Opened in 1964, the track was a key venue for riders throughout the north-west, and hosted Chris Boardman's first test of the ground-breaking Lotus Type 108 Olympic pursuit bike, which he rode to victory in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. But, in need of major refurbishment, the venue closed in 2007 amid fears that velodrome cycling would be lost to the region for ever.
Knowsley council, though, aware of history, was keen to maintain the tradition of local track cycling as part of its commitment to promote cycling through schools, communities and sports associations. It partnered with NHS Knowsley, Sport England, and British Cycling, who collectively provided the funding, to develop a £1.4m velodrome and BMX park with a 400-metre, national-standard, open-air velodrome and BMX pump track. It opened in 2012.
Back to the future
Now, only a few miles across the borough from the old track, it's beginning to look like the gap left at Kirkby is being handsomely filled by Knowsley's latest, ultra-modern facility, which rounded off its first full year of service this October.
Acting as a hub for the region's Go-Ride programme, providing regular club nights for Knowsley BMX Club, and hosting club track nights, novice coaching, an area competition of the National Youth Omnium League, and a Friday-night track league, the venue has already attracted over 7,200 visitors.
Track league organiser Liz Cockram expresses real satisfaction about keeping the tradition of open-air velodrome racing alive on Merseyside, taking particular delight in how the league has helped to develop young riders, not only from Merseyside and Greater Manchester, but from as far afield as Carlisle.
"To watch them develop was very special," she said. "Their confidence, fitness and ability grew week-by-week. It's really been worthwhile."
Possibly less daunting for young riders than the flagship National Cycling Centre at Manchester, the Knowsley venue provides an easy and friendly way into track racing, says Cockram.
Liverpool Century CC has relocated its club rooms to Knowsley and holds a weekly track night at the facility. Phil Garton-Pope, track rider and club coach, explained: "We couldn't have asked for more this year. There is a good fleet of track hire bikes. It's a bigger track than Manchester, and it's accessible for new track riders. We've had young riders who have become real track stalwarts and it's been a really new experience for some fully established roadmen. We've had some great nights there."
Enhancing the coaching programme at Knowsley is high on the agenda for 2014, alongside plans to develop a BMX youth club, continue with the track league, and hold regional and national competitions for both track racing and BMX.
"A really solid foundation has been built over the first year and things are now ready for an exciting spring," explained Garton-Pope.
This article was first published in the December 5 issue of Cycling Weekly. Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition, UK digital edition. And if you like us, rate us!
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