British Cycling has confirmed that work is now under way to resurface the track at the historic Herne Hill Velodrome, the last surviving venue from the London 1948 Olympic Games, the first major work at the facility since a 15-year lease was signed between the sport’s governing body and the site’s landlords, The Dulwich Estate.
The poor condition of the track has been blamed for some events, including the Good Friday Meeting, being relocated to other venues, although in the case of the latter, the weather has also been influential, with this year’s event taking place indoors at the Manchester Velodrome following a washout in South London 12 months earlier.
The future of the track had been thrown into doubt after The Dulwich Estate revealed that it planned to redevelop the site, where generations of British cyclists including three-time Olympic gold medallist Bradley Wiggins got their start on the track.
That resulted in the Save The Velodrome campaign being mobilised to try and preserve the site for track cycling, drawing on the support of public figures not only within the sport but also those from the worlds of politics and entertainment living nearby.
The work has been financed by money provided by British Cycling under its Whole Sport Plan, together with a bequest from the estate of Leonard Lyes, who died in July 2009 and was a member of the De Laune Cycling Club, regularly officiating at Herne Hill.
Mr Lyes had requested that his bequest be used “in the pursuit of track cycling,” and Ian Drake, chief Executive of British Cycling, said he believed he would have approved of how the money was being spent.
“I don’t doubt that Leonard would be pleased that his generous donation is having such an impact at a venue that would close to his heart,” he commented.
“Getting the track repaired is a huge step forward for the Save the Velodrome campaign and will provide riders of all ages with a fantastic surface on which to enjoy their cycling. Herne Hill is such an iconic venue and British Cycling is both delighted and proud of the role it is playing in helping getting it back to its former glory.”
Hillary Peachey, Chair of the Save the Velodrome Campaign, said: "These works are a turning point for the Herne Hill Velodrome. Barely a year ago the future of this incredible site was uncertain; the lack of a long term lease combined with a series of harsh winters was threatening to overcome all the hard work which has been put in to the track over the decades and there was a very real threat of closure.
“At the launch of our campaign to save the Velodrome in late 2010, the Herne Hill Velodrome Trust's immediate aim was to secure a long term lease on the track in order to unlock the funding British Cycling had allocated to resurfacing. British Cycling's dedication to the project and professional approach resulted in the lease we needed and we all have an immense debt of gratitude to the team.
“And so as the physical works begin on the track, the Trust itself is now fundraising in earnest to bring together the plans and strategy needed to make the site a viable cycling venue for long in to the future. In time we will be drawing up proposals and inviting cyclists, local residents and politicians to tell us what they think, before we submit a planning application to Southwark Council. And of course, we are all looking forward to that first spin on the new track".
John Major, Chief Executive of The Dulwich Estate, added: “The Dulwich Estate is delighted that the track resurfacing is underway, ensuring that cycling can continue at this historic site.”
The work will take around six weeks to complete, with British Cycling’s Facilities Officer Patrick Flanagan outlining what is required to be done: "The track does need extensive structural repairs. It currently has a concrete base with an epoxy resin finish. This finish has failed and cracked, allowing water to enter the structure and, in conjunction with frost, cause extensive damage, alongside some settling of the concrete base."
"The repairs will start with this concrete base, which will be mended with fibre-glass reinforcement at each joint - it was originally made in 10 metre lengths and where these join, unevenness is now a problem. The repairs will provide a strong and very smooth base upon which the new track surface can be laid."
"The track will then be re-surfaced with a special velodrome-specific covering called ‘MasterTrack', a product we developed in conjunction with Tarmac. MasterTrack contains very fine granite stones and is exceptionally smooth, hard and dense, making it ideal for track racing. It is also impervious to water, so damage from the elements will be eliminated."
"The new surface will be 7 metres wide and laying it presents some challenges: its width, combined with the camber, which changes in the bends, and the need for an extremely smooth finish, make it remarkably difficult to lay. Tarmac has developed a unique rig which runs on a track inside the cycling track: this allows them to lay the surface in three wide strips. So, all in all, it's a pretty special project with some unique problems and equally unique solutions."
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.