Century-old velodrome sees summer boom

Huge numbers used to watch the West Riding Track League.
Huge numbers used to watch the West Riding Track League.
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Just 12 years after the manufacture of the modern bicycle in 1885, the first cycle races began at the grass velodrome at Roundhay Park in Leeds.

And this summer, West Riding Track League, which has been based at the park since 1947, attracted the biggest numbers in decades.

Cyclists at the  West Riding Track League.

Cyclists at the West Riding Track League.

Roundhay is one of just two grass velodromes that remain in the UK, and the club attracts cyclists as young as age five.

West Riding Track League has been a breeding ground for rising talent, with Otley-born London 2012 silver medallist Lizzie Armitstead, Sky Team rider Josh Edmonson, and former Olympian Jonny Clay, who’s now a director of British Cycling, all having taken part in the league.

Each summer, a 13-week series of races attracts cyclists from more than a dozen clubs across Yorkshire, with meets taking place every Monday.

Roundhay’s velodrome has been raced on every year since 1897, except during the two World Wars, and West Riding Track League has been running since 1947.

“In the 40s and 50s there would be 10,000 people watching the meets, it was huge,” organiser Mandy Parker said. “But when I first got involved numbers had dwindled, with around 30 kids taking part. But we promoted it, advertised it, improved it, changed it and now we have up to 200 kids and adults registered.

“This summer we’ve had the biggest numbers in years - with 140 on one night.”

Interest peaked during the London 2012 Olympics, with people who had never cycled before joining the club. The ‘Tour de France’ effect also saw a boost - with everyone getting the chance to try and race.

Younger children use regular bicycles but once they are 12 years old they switch to track bikes, without brakes or gears. In the past the club had seen girls drop out when they got to this stage, but since the Olympics more have been sticking with the sport.

Mrs Parker said: “Some of the people riding at the league are among the top in the country, but the beauty is anyone can start.”

LIKE hundreds of local cycling clubs, West Riding Track League is ran entirely by volunteers.

For organiser Mandy Parker, who got involved 11 years ago when her son Joe began cycling there at five years old, the club has become a family affair.

Her husband Chris helps set up every meet and Joe, 16, also volunteers with British Cycling. Mrs Parker, who also coaches at East Bradford Cycling club, said: “We couldn’t do it without volunteers.”

To volunteer with the league, or register for next year, email mandyparker2@ntlworld.com

HELPING HAND: Ben Wilson, MD at MPM, with Victoria Hopkins, MD at Hopkins Catering. PIC: Tony Johnson

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