By Gregor Brown
Italy's famous Vigorelli velodrome, where Fausto Coppi broke the Hour Record and Led Zeppelin played its only Italian gig, will host races again. A €6.3m (£4.84m) project will begin to renovate the structure and its 397-metre wooden track in Milan's centre in August.
"We've been battling for 10 years to get this work done," said Daniele L'Aquila, who organised the Vigorelli Velodrome Committee to pressure the city to save the track.
"When it opens, it will be a big day for Milan and for Italy. It's an important place in cycling, in Italy and in the world."
Besides the thunder of John Bonham's drums, the velodrome welcomed The Beatles in one of the few concerts they played in Italy.
Coppi set his Hour Record on the track while Allied Forces bombed they city. In August 1943, they destroyed part of the track and flames burnt the boards. On a re-built track, Jacques Anquetil and Roger Rivière also broke the Hour Record.
The track stayed alive and remained a centre point of Italian cycling through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, but attention in the 1990s turned to the road. The track sat alone and rotted with only local American football teams using its infield.
Milan approved a project in 2013 to destroy the track and build a multi-use facility primarily aimed at rugby. The Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities, however, stepped in and stopped the project.
"It's in everyone's interest,” said the ministry, “that Vigorelli becomes a living monument and opens to the city."
The city’s government agreed to save Vigorelli and sat aside the money to do so.
"Our idea is to have a cycling school for young cyclist, to let enthusiasts enter like they would at the gym during their lunch hour or after work and to host races like World Cups or the Six Days of Milan," D'Aquila added. "The football teams will share the space with us when the work is finished.”
Its an outdoor track with a semi-open roof, so in the winter months of December, January and February, it will of little use to cyclists. D'Aquila said that from March onwards, the boards should roar with the sounds of fixed gear bikes.
D'Aquila visited the track with Cycle Sport magazine last winter. Under the long straight and curves banked at 42°, the structure stands in good condition and ready to be re-used. This summer, the city and velodrome committee will decide the best way to replace the rotted boards above.
A large chunk of the €6.3m will go to repair the structure, including the offices below, the 8000 seats surrounding the track and the semi-open roof above.
"This is a stage victory, not an overall win," D'Aquila said. "It's a starting point to revitalise track cycling in Italy. We have fixed gear fever in the city. Maybe the kids will try riding Vigorelli and discover a new sport."
The committee will announce their partnership next week with the Italian cycling federation.
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