One of the cool things about living in Southern California, is that I really am exposed to all kinds of sports which I never would’ve been able to experience back East. Between the warm weather and dense population, this area is a hub to just about every sport imaginable; not just the NBA and Major League Baseball, but also more obscure ones like beach volleyball, surfing and BMX racing too. For someone who grew up around sports, and played and watched them his whole life, this really has been quite the learning experience.
Anyway, a few weeks ago I learned that another one of those lesser known sports was in town, when I discovered that the Elite Track Cycling National Championships were being held at The Home Depot Center in Carson, CA. For those confused, this wasn’t Lance Armstrong in the mountains of Europe, but instead, indoor cycling on a track called a “velodrome. And when I heard about it, I decided on a whim to go down to the track and check it out.
Well, safe to say it didn’t disappoint. Within a few minutes of watching, I became enthralled. Admittedly, I didn’t totally know what was going on, but the speed, pace and excitement of the sport fascinated me. As someone later told me (the person I interviewed below, actually) it really is “NASCAR on bicycles.”
Either way I needed to know more. Which is why when I was at The Home Depot Center, I tracked down the manager of the Home Depot Velodrome, Adam Duvendeck. Adam is an accomplished cyclist himself, having competed in both the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, and also took home two Elite Track Cycling National Championships in his illustrious career.
Adam knows the sport of track cycling, and because of it he sat down with me to discuss the intricacies of the sport he loves, and why many believe it is actually the sport which is most fun to watch in person.
For someone who has never been to an event what I like this, go ahead and explain what a Velodrome is. Just give the quick basics for someone who knows nothing about this sport.
So the Velodrome is a banked track for bicycles. They vary in banking. There’s a track in Encino (California) that is only banked at 23 degrees, but this one (in Carson, CA) is banked at 45 degrees. They all share the same common lines, so the etiquette, regardless of what Velodrome you go to pretty much remains the same. While they vary in size, you get very similar feelings when riding.
As far as this track, think of it as a huge bowl and within the bowl you have these huge banks that are 45 degrees that the riders are whipping around. The track from the bottom to the top and into the corners is nearly two stories high.
As far as the thrill, I can’t really describe it, so you’ll just have to come and try it for yourself.
So I come from a “mainstream sports” background, you know, football, basketball, baseball. So when I tell my friends I’m going to a cycling event, they assume its outside, Lance Armstrong all that stuff.
First of all, for people who may have only seen indoor track cycling in say an Olympic year, tell everyone what they need to know about what you guys do, because this is a very unique sport that I don’t think many people know about.
Well I think this year the sport got the most amount of coverage that it ever has, or at least that I’ve been doing it. In terms of prime-time TV coverage, it got quite a bit (during the Olympics). I think that was really exciting.
Beyond that, it’s a messaging thing. It’s not that I think people don’t know about it, but just as an example, for people who live in this area, this is the only world class Velodrome in North America. It’s not only the home of our US cycling team, but also the home of the Canadian National Team as well…
Really, how does that work?
Yeah, they (the Canadian team) lives and trains down here full time, which is really exciting.
Also it’s fun because it can create some great rivalry and competition among the athletes who are here.
Again, I want to go back to what I said before and think that too often when people hear cycling, they associate it with the Tour de France, the mountains, things like that. So I’m curious, what unique skillsets are important for indoor cycling, and these particular events:
Well, to me I go back to this: I wrote an article for Wired Magazine right before the Olympics explaining track cycling, and one of the things I said is ‘Track cycling is one of the coolest sports that you’re not watching.’ Actually, it was rated by Yahoo as the most exciting sport to watch live at the Olympics. So while it may not be as popular as other sports, it was rated as the one which is the most exciting and compelling to watch in person, and this was it.
It is everything that Americans love about sport; really, it is NASCAR for bikes. You have elbow-to-elbow racing, high speeds, high chance for danger, high chance for crashes.
The other great thing is that like road cycling it’s only gaining in popularity. In road cycling for example, in Europe people will go stand on the side of the road for hours and hours on end just to watch them go by once, then call it a day and go home.
Well this (indoor cycling) is four hours of the most exciting racing, right in front of your eyes and you don’t have to leave. And it doesn’t matter that you don’t have to totally understand the sport to enjoy it regardless. We’ve got some really great announcers who I feel like they do a really good job to explain the races and the strategy that’s involved.
Speaking of which, can you take us into the mindset of what it’s like to be on that racetrack? Because again, as someone who knows nothing about the sport, I see a lot of guys going up on the bend, going around each other, and it seems like there are a lot of dynamics that I don’t necessarily totally understand.
It’s interesting because having competed for many years, you tune everything out. It doesn’t matter how many people are in the stands, whether it’s 50 or 5,000, you’re so focused on what you’re doing.
As someone who has competed in the Olympics, it’s a common misconception that every country just qualifies to go to the Games. That’s not the case. It’s highly competitive and you spend months- maybe even years- to qualify just for your country’s position in the games. So you’re qualifying in these events all over the world in the months and years going into the Olympics.
So when you’re at the Olympics it doesn’t feel any different really. You’re so focused on what’s going on, on the track at that particular moment.
As far as on the track it’s kind of funny, because I always tried to take the thinking of out of it. In those split second decisions if you’re thinking ‘Is that my opportunity to go?’ well it was, and it’s already gone. These races are often times decided by tenths of a second.
So are you an active cycler, still racing?
I still ride occasionally. I teach a lot of classes, and I like to see the thrill of people riding the Velodrome for the first time. That thrill is long gone for me, but I get the thrill from seeing these riders out there.
When you took over the Velodrome (in 2011) what was the goal? Just to raise awareness?
Oh yeah, and we’re really just getting started. Although I have been employed here for over a year, we’re only about three months into our new operating system. We employ almost like a gym membership or health club model (where members pay a monthly fee to use the Velodrome).
That’s opposed to before I got here which was almost like, ‘Hey, just come in and ride,’ kind of deal. Often times there weren’t even people here, so you’d just walk in and be like ‘What do I do?’
So my goal was to one raise awareness and two, get people out there, because really, that’s all it takes. I honestly have never met anyone who has come out here and had a negative experience. That just doesn’t happen.
You’d think, ‘I live in Southern California, why would I want to come inside and ride on an oval,’ right? But it starts right from the moment they walk in the building. They have these turns staring right at you in the face, at 45 degrees. Literally you can stand up and reach out and touch the boards. You’re riding a wall, and the first feeling is ‘there’s no way I can ever do that,’ but within 30 minutes we have those riders on the track. It doesn’t matter if they’re 12-years-old or the fittest rider out there, it’s a lot less physically demanding than one may think.
I mean it is physically demanding, but most people are absolutely capable.
So I came down tomorrow and paid for a lesson, what am I experiencing?
Riding the track, we use a lot of freeway analogies. For example just because you know where a gas pedal and brake pedal are on a car, does that mean you’re ready to go out and join the masses on the road? Probably not, and that’s the same philosophy we keep here at the Velodrome.
Just because you know how to ride a bike, even at a very high level, you don’t have the skills or understanding of the etiquette and small nuances. In track cycling, we’re on bikes with one gear and no breaks, so those things become even more important than they are on the road.
We certify people on a four week process. People come once a week on the weekend, and through those classes you gain all the skills necessary to safely navigate our track, even with other people out there. Often times in our open sessions, we may have 30 or 40 people riding out there at the same time. So as long as everyone knows what’s going on it’s a very safe place to ride. As a matter of fact, I’d say it’s safer than riding a bike on the road because you don’t have those outside influences, those potholes, the dog chasing you, whatever.
So what’s next? I see you’re trying to get the community involved, put youth programs together. What’s the plan?
One is gaining awareness about the facility. Second, we’ve kind of re-vamped the local racing scene and promote that as much as possible. And ultimately, I just want this place to be on the map. I want people to know, ‘Oh, the velodrome, that’s over at the Home Depot Center.’
That’s what excites me, and while I never expect this sport to be as popular as any of the mainstream sports, you look at a number of these other sports which have gained a decent amount of popularity through the Olympics. Even road cycling is gaining popularity from a spectator point of view.
We hope to be that way too. `
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