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Sacramento velodrome project: Pedal fast, turn left

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For anyone who ever wanted to take cycling to a new level in Sacramento – or see some exciting bicycle track races – a local group has the answer: build a velodrome.

A velodrome, for those not yet immersed in the world of bicycle racing, is a stadium with a 250-meter oval race track – banked at 25 to 45 degrees – where cyclists race at speeds up to 50 miles per hour in front of nearly 1,000 spectators in the stands.

Most velodromes have track lengths between 150 and 500 meters, according to local cycling coach and bicycle mechanic Dean Alleger.

And, since there are only four velodromes in California (Carson, Encino, San Jose and Los Angeles) – and 22 in the nation – Alleger and a group of cycling enthusiasts want to build one for the Sacramento region.

“I would like to see a place for kids to learn and train,” Alleger said Friday, “and where people can go to see some great races and to ride in some great races.”

Alleger started the Sacramento Valley Velodrome Association in 2010 as a nonprofit organization with the goal of raising $4 million to construct and operate a velodrome for local cyclists of all ages and abilities.

A location has already been found – Granite Park near Power Inn Road – and Alleger has raised more than $20,000 for the project. He has even started collecting race bikes to use as rentals for racing in the future velodrome.

Alleger said he sees the project as the start of something big in Sacramento, and a way to get young people into a sport that could – one day – take them to the Olympics.

“We’d host racers from beginners all the way to world class,” Alleger said. “It would be a chance to get kids who really don’t have much to do to learn something exciting and develop skills in a great sport.”

Alleger said, in cycling, the peak age for a professional cycling racer is between 25 to 35 years old, but anyone can learn to ride – and race.

“There would be beginner sessions (at the velodrome) for people to get oriented with the track,” Alleger said, “and there would be sessions for racing. Anyone can do it that wants to give it a try.”

The Sacramento Valley Velodrome Association wants to capitalize on enthusiasm for cycling by hosting national cycling competitions, training adults and youths in track cycling and educating the public about bicycling and fitness, according to a press release Thursday.

As part of the effort to promote the idea of a velodrome, Alleger’s Savage Sprints – an organization that provides cycling coaching and training – has hosted a series of stationary bike races at local bicycle shops and at Hot Italian restaurant at 16th and Q streets.

According to the release, about 1,500 cyclists belong to the more than 50 cycling clubs in the Sacramento valley, and more than 6,700 people in the Sacramento area rode 1.35 million miles during “May is Bike Month.”

“People here ride bicycles – lots of people, lots of bicycles,” Alleger said. “A velodrome would be a big draw here.”

The board of directors at the Sacramento Valley Velodrome Association includes Kevin Hedahl, a senior accountant with the American Red Cross who was a collegiate national track champion; Carrie Lo, an investment analyst at a state agency who raced for McGuire Real Estate; Michael Sayers, a two-time member of the U.S. World Championship cycling team; and Larry Wolff, a local cardiologist who has two national track cycling titles and a third-place finish in a world championship race to his credit.

Lo said an important factor in having a velodrome is the focus on fitness.

“Cycling draws people of all ages, shapes and sizes,” Lo said Friday. “A velodrome provides a way to challenge ourselves and our youths to become better in many ways. It’s about getting kids to channel their energy in a new way, or learning something new or just challenging ourselves to get better at something.”

Lo said there have been efforts to get a velodrome in Sacramento in the past, but a variety of hurdles and red tape prevented the idea from getting anywhere.

“One thing different this time is (we are) developing interest at the grassroots level,” Lo said. “We want corporate sponsors, but we also want it to be built from the ground up so we have plenty of community support.”

Hedahl said having a velodrome is also about community.

“People enjoy coming together and watching velodrome racing,” Hedahl said. “We’re kind of like NASCAR – we go in circles and turn left, and it appeals to everyone. If you like cycling, you get to see some great races. If you don’t like cycling, you get to see some fantastic wrecks. Everyone wins.”

Hedahl said the track racing bikes are fixed-gear bikes – that means no brakes – so a sudden stop means a wreck.

“We can’t just stop pedaling after the race,” Hedahl said. “We pedal slower.”

Hedahl said it’s not an expensive sport to get into – but cost is relative.

“I had a friend that built up a bike to race for about $400,” Hedahl said, “and GT makes some cheap track frames that you can pick up used for about $75. Just add wheels and you’re ready to go.”

But, as with anything in cycling, Hedahl said, the price can get steep if you let it.

“You can get a custom Steve Rex frame and spend up to $3,000 or get a carbon fiber frame and spend up to $10,000,” Hedahl said. “Some pros out there spend $3,000 just on a wheel.”

But the price of the bike isn’t the point, Hedahl said. It’s about doing something fun and exciting.

Alleger said that, once financing is in place, the entire velodrome project could be up and ready for racing in about 120 days.

For more information about the velodrome project, visit the Sacramento Valley Velodrome Association website.

Melissa Corker is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @MelissaCorker.

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