Attracting the fans to track cycling events has been the challenge for promoters in recent years. Dulwich Hill Bicycle Club has decided to use the Tempe Velodrome for the Sydney Xmas Carnivals as an experiment to promote cycling to the masses.
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

20 Dec 2016 - 7:58 AM  UPDATED 20 Dec 2016 - 8:35 AM

“You see people in the crowd who are obviously not cycling fans,” said Paul Craft, series promoter and commentator. “They wander into the velodrome with their shopping and you think they might stay for a race or two but they get absorbed and they are there for the entire night.”

It is that sort of hidden mainstream appeal that organisers are hoping gets brought to a larger audience in the upcoming track cycling events in Sydney. Whilst road cycling has gone from strength to strength in recent times, with the wins of Cadel Evans inspiring a generation and the Tour de France captivating the Australian public once a year, the same cannot be said for the events on the track.

With the increased focus on the road and the World Championships and Olympics being the blue-riband events for the track, it tends to get pushed back in public acknowledgement except for the push for Olympic gold. Paul Craft pushed back against that notion.

“I think the cycling community needs to stop saying that the track scene is dead. We’ve got great events that excite people and provide a good pathway for youngsters in the sport. I was talking to Caleb Ewan and he said to me that one of the reasons he made it in cycling was because of his track riding.”

Future of Dunc Gray Velodrome in doubt
The Dunc Gray velodrome, built for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, is in danger of being pulled down by local government with serious ramifications for track cycling in New South Wales.

Out of all the events in the upcoming Sydney Xmas carnivals, the Tempe event looks most likely to capture the public’s attention, with a ten piece funk band and plenty of other peripherals to the main entertainment.

“The thing that Dulwich Hill Bicycle Club are doing is spending quite a bit of cash on this event,” said Craft, “with entertainment, food trucks and what have you and then any profit they make they’ll re-invest into next year’s event. I’m looking forward to it growing into something big.”

With the idea behind the event being the engagement of the public, not just the cycling aficionados, there will be fewer of the less accessible races, like the points race and the Madison. The focus will be on events that, whilst tactical, don’t require an abacus to follow. 

“This is an event that the whole cycling community can get behind,” said Craft. “Bring a few mates that don’t know the sport. There won’t be any of the complicated events like the points race that can be hard to understand, it will be very accessible and enjoyable for everyone.”

Track carnivals used to be a key feature of the overall cycling calendar with the winter road season complemented by the summer track riding, with the big names of the road lining up against the track specialists and drawing crowds to the events. Brad McGee famously split his racing career between the track and the road, winning Olympic gold and wearing yellow at the Tour de France. But he still remembers hiding from the rain in the Tempe tunnel in his youth.

“I’m really looking forward to getting out to the different tracks around Sydney,” said McGee, “especially Tempe, I’m sure there will be a lot of good… and bad memories that come flooding back. Strange to think that some guys never ride outdoors anymore (on the track), so it will be good to get out on those tracks.”

“It’s a really good opportunity for local and interstate riders to get some quality racing in what is a great time of year to race, over this Christmas period.”

With the change in the road cycling scene expanding into the track’s traditional territory in the past few seasons, with criterium events taking centre stage where once the track ruled the roost the crowds have moved to where the big names frolic at races like the Stan Siejka Classic, Noosa Criterium and the Shimano Super Crit.

“It has changed a bit since then, there are certainly more road events stretching into this part of the season than before. But I’d still encourage roadies to get down there, you can certainly add to your skills by riding the track.”

Other states hold their own track cycling events as well, with Victoria and Tasmania having successful carnivals that regularly attract crowds and riders. The point of difference for the Sydney carnival is that all of the events are located in the same city, meaning less travel for riders and their support staff or more likely, their family.  

For anyone not accustomed to track racing and looking for a fun evening’s entertainment between Christmas and New Year there are few better options than the pumping atmosphere of track carnival.

27th December – Dunc Gray Velodrome – Carysfield Rd, Bass Hill - 6pm start
28th December – Canterbury Velodrome – Bayview Avenue, Tempe – 6pm start
29th December – Hurstville Oval - Dora Street, Hurstville – 6pm start
30th December – Licombe Oval – Church Street, Lidcombe – 6pm start
31st December – Dunc Gray Velodrome – Carysfield Rd, Bass Hill – 2 pm start