Summer of success for ‘grass’ roots cycling at velodrome

Florrie Greenhalgh, (8), centre,  with her sisters Rosa, (10),  and Lily (13) at the grass velodrome in Roundhay Park, Leeds.  Picture by Tony Johnson
Florrie Greenhalgh, (8), centre, with her sisters Rosa, (10), and Lily (13) at the grass velodrome in Roundhay Park, Leeds. Picture by Tony Johnson
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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.

Roundhay is one of just two grass velodromes that remain in the UK - the other being in Richmond in North Yorkshire - and both have volunteer-run clubs attracting cyclists as young as five years old.

It’s the epitome of ‘grassroots’ sports and with both in use for more than a century, the grass velodromes were certainly good value when compared with the cost of building the indoor velodrome for the London 2012 Olympics - £105m.

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.

The league is dependent on volunteers, including organiser Mandy Parker and her family, who got involved 11 years ago when her son Joe began cycling there at five years old.

Each summer, a 13-week series of races attracts cyclists from over a dozen Yorkshire clubs.

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

“In the 40s and 50s there would be 10,000 people watching the meets, it was huge.” Mrs Parker said. “But when I first got involved numbers had dwindled, with around 30 kids taking part. We promoted it, advertised it, improved it, and now we have up to 200 kids and adults registered. This summer we’ve seen 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 ‘Tour de France’ effect also saw a boost .

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.”

It was after a visit to West Riding Track League that the founders of its Richmond counterpart started the North Riding Track League.

Based at Richmond Grass Track, which is even older than Roundhay, dating back to 1869, the club formed two years ago and has just finished it first full season. The velodrome hosts the National Grass Track Championships each Spring Bank Holiday, the oldest event of its kind in the world, but did not hold a season of meets.

James Hall, who is one of the organising team, said the aim is to eventually set up a Ridings Cup which will see the two clubs compete against each other.

“This summer we’ve been getting around 20-25 people coming to our events, but we’re hoping that will double next year,” he said.

The West Riding Track League is supported by Join In, a charity that puts more volunteers into community sport. To volunteer with the league, or register for next year, email mandyparker2@ntlworld.com

To find sports volunteer opportunities in Yorkshire visit joininuk.orgTo find out more about the North Riding club, search for Richmond Grass Track on Facebook.