Icons of cycling: Velodromo Vigorelli

Chris Sidwells recounts the history of one of cycling’s most famous velodromes

If the great climbs are places of cycling pilgrimage then velodromes are the sport’s cathedrals. Few are more revered than the Velodromo Vigorelli in Milan. World titles have been won on this track, great races have finished there, and it was once the fastest in the world; the spiritual home of the Hour Record.

Velodromo Vigorelli by Daniel Gould 2

>> Save up to 31% with a magazine subscription. Enjoy the luxury of home delivery and never miss an issue <<

Ten consecutive men’s Hour Records were set on its sleek, supple, boards. From Giuseppe Olmo’s 45.090 kilometres in 1937 to Jacques Anquetil’s unofficial — because he didn’t turn up at the dope control — 47.493 kilometres in 1967.

>>> Icons of cycling: Campagnolo Super Record derailleur

The Vigorelli hosted four World Championships. The first in 1939 was held as World War Two broke out, and competitors were called up to return home as the competition progressed. In 1951 Britain’s Reg Harris won the world pro sprint title there. Then local hero Antonio Maspes took two of his seven world pro sprint titles on the Vigorelli — his first in 1955, and his sixth in 1962.

>>> Icons of cycling: the first Shimano STI gear shift system

That was the last world title series ever held at the Vigorelli. And by 1962 the track was no longer the finish of the Tour of Lombardy. The race had finished there since the track opened in 1935, but brave moves made on this Monument’s hilly course were negated on the long flat run to the finish. Sprinters were winning, and the fans didn’t like that in those days. However, it took the opening of the Rome Olympic track in 1968 and a publicity seeking Dane to end the Vigorelli as a world-class venue.

Velodromo Vigorelli by Daniel Gould 3

Ferdi Bracke of Belgium set a new Hour record of 48.930 kilometres in Rome on October 30, 1967. Then Ole Ritter travelled to Mexico City and smashed Bracke’s record on the eve of the 1968 Olympic Games. Pundits said he did it because of Mexico City’s altitude, and the Olympic track became the Hour record’s home until 1993 — the more straightforward truth was that Ritter made his attempt there simply because a story-hungry press would already be at the venue.

Velodromo Vigorelli by Daniel Gould 4

Sadly, out of the record limelight, the Vigorelli crumbled. The boards that once sang under the silk tubulars of Fausto Coppi decayed. While the stands that rang to the Beatles in 1965, and hosted a riot at a Led Zeppelin concert in 1971, fell silent. Happily the Vigorelli was saved from the wrecking ball recently, and in 2013 it was renovated and reopened as a community velodrome.