TO THE UNTRAINED EYE, the oddly shaped structure just off Cherry Road in Rock Hill—a huge, concrete, oval hole in the ground, with steeply sloped sides—is a curiosity.
But Olympics fans who followed track cycling at the London games last summer will immediately recognize a velodrome—an arena devoted to a sport some describe as NASCAR on bikes. Friday nights at Rock Hill’s Giordana Velodrome have grown into weekly gatherings for hundreds of those fans, who thrill at the chance to watch cyclists wheel up and down the 42.5-degree embankments and zip around the oval at up to 45 miles per hour.
“Spectators get to watch entire races and see everything unfold right in front of them,” says Will Richter, a 19-year old cyclist from Rock Hill who took up track racing at the velodrome last year. “It’s really fast, and it’s really fun.”
The Giordana Velodrome is the centerpiece of the Rock Hill Outdoor Center—250 planned acres of recreational amenities, most still in development. The wooded Piedmont Medical Center Trail, along the Catawba River, opened in 2010, and the velodrome opened in 2012. A competitive BMX course is in the works.
“We have taken this thing from a national-caliber facility to a world-caliber facility,” says Thad Fischer, Rock Hill’s cycling coordinator.
The cycling world has noticed.
Local, national and even international cyclists are celebrating the Giordana Velodrome as a brand-new treasure—a 250-meter track built to Olympic standards, suited to training high-caliber professionals, as well as introducing newcomers to the sport.
In April, USA Cycling’s women’s National Track Team trained prospective members of its 2016 Olympic Games team—including 2012 silver medalist Lauren Tamayo—at the velodrome. In August, thousands of fans are expected when USA Cycling brings the most elite riders to Rock Hill for the national championships.
Since its grand opening, the velodrome has attracted thousands of users—accomplished cyclists honing their skills at a modern, conveniently located training track; local enthusiasts looking for a safe and challenging workout; beginning cyclists learning basic track skills and etiquette; and fascinated spectators who cheer on the Friday-night league races. Close to 600 regional riders—men and women, as young as 9 and as old as 82—have completed track certification clinics.
“This is like a niche sport of a niche sport in America,” says Kyle Knott, a competitive track cyclist who oversees youth and racing programs at the velodrome. “It’s something everybody wants to try after they see it on the Olympics.”
Track cyclists ride bikes with one gear and no brakes. They use the banked walls to strategic advantage—diving down the curved embankments to accelerate, sprinting past competitors on the 17-degree-sloped straightaways.
With up to 24 racers in the field at one time, the fast-paced action at the Friday night races can be challenging to follow, but an infield announcer provides running commentary and race results so spectators can track their favorite riders.
“You’ll be hooked once you watch it,” says Knott, who is often one of the competitors on the track. “We want to win races, but we also want to put on a good show.”
The Giordana Velodrome and the Rock Hill Outdoor Center are located at 1000 Riverwalk Parkway, just off Cherry Road in Rock Hill. Admission to the Friday night league races is free. For details, visit giordanavelodrome.com or call (803) 326-2453.