3 March, 2023
“I am absolutely certain that Birmingham deserves and needs a velodrome of it’s own….” Brian Cookson OBE, former president of UCI and British Cycling
As a young racing cyclist 1976 was a very memorable year for me. It was the year the British Isles suffered a significant heatwave and the sun shone relentlessly on the peloton.
Birmingham MP Denis Howell was appointed ‘minister for the drought’! The unremitting heatwave created harsh conditions for the 85 amateur cyclists who rode in the 800 mile Raleigh Dunlop Tour of Ireland, my first event representing Birmingham.
It was also the year when Jim Saddler, chair of the West Midlands Sports Council, made a speech at Halesowen Cycling Club’s annual prize presentation saying that the very first indoor velodrome for the UK was going to be built in Sandwell. The skies were blue, cycling in the West Midlands seemed to have a very bright future.
Until 1994 when Manchester Velodrome, later termed ‘The Medal Factory’ opened, track racing was very much a summer sport taking place on outdoor tracks. There were four local tracks including Manor Abbey, Halesowen; Aldersley, Wolverhampton, which still exist, together with Salford Park, located within the shadows of Spaghetti Junction and The Butts, Coventry, sadly both demolished in the 1990s.
The problem with banked outdoor tracks is it is not possible to ride fixed wheel track bikes when the track surface is wet. Meetings were often cancelled due to adverse weather.
The West Midlands was a hotbed for track and road racing. Leading star riders in road and track, included four times world pursuit champion, Hugh Porter MBE from Wolverhampton; Graham Webb from Birmingham, world amateur world champion 1967 and Charles Holland, from Aldridge, the first English rider to take part in the Tour de France in 1937. Tommy Godwin was a proud Brummie who was a top class track rider winning two bronze medals in the 1948 London Olympic Games. Tom was highly respected in cycling and dreamt of having an indoor velodrome in his beloved Birmingham.
Fast forward to the summer of 2017. Birmingham was in the running to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Would this at last be the opportunity to get the long awaited velodrome? I wrote to the president of British Cycling and quickly established there were no plans to build a velodrome for the track cycling, which would not be held in the West Midlands! The track cycling was actually hosted in London’s Lee Valley Velodrome - the only sport hosted outside the West Midlands
In January 2018 I met Charlie Dickens and together with a student called James, we formed the petition to build a West Midlands Velodrome’ which numbers 9500 supporters and is still open.
By 2020 it became clear getting a competition velodrome for the Games with around 4,000 seats was not going to be achievable and so the focus changed to having a more modest training and development velodrome as a legacy of the Commonwealth Games with either no seating or perhaps 500 seats similar to the Geraint Thomas Velodrome in Newport.
The campaign gained some influential supporters including Mayor for the West Midlands, Andy Street who visited Manor Abbey in March 2018 where he tried out a track bike for himself before meeting club riders to listen to our case for the velodrome.
In a major step forward Andy included his clear intention to have a business case and to seek funding for the building of an indoor velodrome in his 2021 election manifesto. Recently the necessary steps by the WMCA have been made for an official business case to be undertaken with support from Sport England.
Indoor velodromes do not exist only for ‘elite’ track riders, existing velodromes cater for cyclists riding on the track of all abilities from 8 years of age upwards. Walter Fowler, 89 from Kinver shows enormous determination driving around 95 miles to Newport to train for future races.
The people of the West Midlands should not be obliged to travel to either Derby or South Wales to ride inside a velodrome - which need to become more affordable, accessible and inclusive to all.
Track cycling lends itself to Paralympic cycling including people suffering from impaired vision riding on tandems on equal terms as sighted riders. Cycling on the track is only part of the offer as the track centre provides a perfect setting for indoors sports of all kinds such as badminton, boxing, football, table tennis and so on. The Geraint Thomas Velodrome has a fleet of balance bikes for children from 2 years of age to ‘learn to ride.’
The official British Cycling ‘Lower Cost Velodromes’ technical review explains how indoor velodromes can be constructed for far less money than existing velodromes even includes the idea of including a climbing wall within the building.
The fact that indoor velodromes are very much about cycling and multi-sports under one roof is recognised by Frank Slevin, chair of BC, who said to me his preference is for the velodrome to be termed as
“An indoor cycling and sports facility.”
If and when the West Midlands Velodrome is built it will be a true legacy of the Commonwealth Games not only for cycling but also for indoor sports. Let us hope some part of the £60m Games Underspent might go towards the velodrome.
When attending the stage finish of the Tour of Britain cycle race in 2019 I had a million to one chance meeting in Leamington with the former head of sport and leisure for Sandwell Council. When the gentleman became aware my friend and I were watching the race, he said he had worked on a project in 1976 to have the first ever UK velodrome, with Mr Jim Saddler. The hair on my neck was standing on end as he explained just why the velodrome was never built. But that, as they say, is a story for another day!
My fellow campaigners, Charlie, Richard, Sam and I would like to thank every person who has signed the petition to date. If you have not yet done so please take a look. Every signature counts.
Sign the petition by clicking here.
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