When Jorien Ter Mors of the Netherlands makes her debut at the Valley Preferred Cycling Center this month, the short track speedskater will be the latest in a long line of Olympic and world champions who have competed at the racing track in Trexlertown.
Whether you're walking the streets in Sydney, Australia, or sipping a malted beverage at an authentic beer garten in Stuttgart, Germany, say the word T-town and people immediately know what you mean.
Around the world, T-town is regarded as a capital of track cycling excellence, and the 28-degree banked turns of the 333-meter concrete crater has been a go-to destination for countless cyclists and speedskaters, including U.S. star Eric Heiden and Tour de France champions like Eddy Merckx and Greg LeMond, and world and Olympic champion Stuart O'Grady of Australia.
"Not a year goes by when we don't have world champions or Olympic champions preparing for the next Olympic Games," says velodrome Executive Director Marty Nothstein, a three-time world champion as well as Olympic gold and silver medal winner who was born and raised a stone's throw from the velodrome. "National champions here are a dime a dozen. We truly bring in the best in the world."
The velodrome attracts international pro competitors like no other venue in the region. Dozens of countries are represented during the World Series of Bicycling, a Friday night summer series that kicks off this weekand and runs through Aug. 29.
The Lehigh Valley has risen in sports stature with Coca-Cola Park and the IronPigs, the Triple-A baseball affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies, and the soon-to-be-completed PPL Center, which will be home to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, the AHL affiliate of the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers. But the Valley Preferred Cycling Center has been a mecca of bicycling in the U.S. since the late Bob Rodale opened the velodrome on Oct. 12, 1975.
While the velodrome meets the needs of hard-core riders, it also has become a family-friendly entertainment destination for fans of all types, offering activities, promotions, refreshments and other amenities to provide a fun night out.
World Series of Bicycling
The cornerstone series that draws spectators to the Valley Preferred Cycling Center is the World Series of Bicycling.
Action rolls onto the track beginning at 7:30 p.m. as men and women in colorful jerseys and shorts — kits, in their lingo — compete in such exotically named races as the keirin, the points race, the Madison, the elimination and the Golden Wheel, and races with more familiar names like the 5-mile, 10-mile, the 3-lap and match sprint.
Some races include team pursuits, races where riders "lead out" teammates for a certain length of time before either dropping back and letting another teammate lead like in the pursuits, and team sprints, where racers drop off after each succeeding lap.
The summer schedule kicks off with the Coordinated Health Keirin Cup on Friday, and ends with the Madison Cup presented by Deer Park Natural Spring Water on Aug. 29. The Madison Cup is one of the oldest and most coveted cups in North American racing.
The month of June is dedicated to sprint races, ensuring that international sprinters making the trip to T-town will have a place to call home for a few weeks as well as a place to train.
July kicks off with Tandemonium and the Women's Open on July 11. In the Tandemonium, riders compete on tandems — bicycles-built-for-two — for added speed and danger on the banked track. The Women's Open ensures that the female racers get their due.
The rest of the summer is filled with more endurance-style races like the Madison, a tag-team event where one rider aggressively competes in the field of races while his teammate slowly circles above in recovery mode. At certain intervals, the teammates switch place in the race pack via a dangerous move that has caused more crashes than any other race tactic.
August races include the International Omnium, a series of events in which riders accumulate points toward the overall win, similar to a decathlon or heptathlon in track, except that the riders get the number of points for their place, and lowest score wins, like in golf.
For the family
From family-friendly priced food and beverages to live bands pre-race in the courtyard to a DJ spinning tunes all race long, there's lots to keep you busy in T-town.
Last season, for the first time in a very long time, visitors to the velodrome could take part in a variety of infield games during breaks in racing, much like what the IronPigs do between innings.
Alicia Marinelli, the velodrome marketing manager, previously worked for the IronPigs and brought a lot of fun participation games, including relay races with bike helmets or quick change cycling gear, musical chairs on inflatable chairs, food challenges, water balloon toss, T-shirt flings and "whatever our creative minds come up with that night," she says.
C&D Catering replaces Rodale Catering as the Breakaway Cafe's food vendor this year. C&D will offer an organic, gluten-free menu, but also add in traditional sports venue fare that Nothstein describes as high quality and wallet-friendly.
A variety of craft brews and Clover Hill wines are on the beverage list.
Each night will also have a theme, ranging from Dog Days of Summer (dogs get in for $1) to Pa. Dutch Night, Canadian Night, Caribbean Night and Fan Appreciation Night.
So where should you sit?
Fans can purchase Finish Line seats on the main grandstand, or sit on the grandstands on the backstraight. People line up around the advertising boards on the curves around the track as well; on some nights like Keirin Cup and Madison Cup they are three or four-people deep to be close to the racing action.
You can also rent the VeloDeck in Turn 3, which sees the racers come out of the backstraight, go into the final turns and then head down the homestraight to the finish line. Catered sponsorship packages put people on the paved infield area in Turns 1 and 2.
There's really no place along the track, either sitting or standing, that you aren't close enough to the action to hear the riders yelling at each other after completing risky maneuvers.
Community Developmental Programs
Big-name cycling races and big name racers are a fan draw, but the center works hard to breed new cyclists. Through a variety of community programs, the Valley Preferred Cycling Center has developed cyclists for every Olympics since its inception, and homegrown cyclists for every Olympics including the boycotted 1980 Moscow Games.
The PeeWee Pedalers is for the youngest cyclists, some of whom are still using training wheels. The Air Products Developmental Program provide a first taste of racing. The Red Robin Marty Nothstein Bicycle Racing League puts young racers ages 8-16 on teams to compete against each other.
"Those are the programs that I came out of and helped develop me," Nothstein says. "We're seeing attendance numbers for these programs running at capacity. ... They come on a Friday night and see how much skill is involved, then they take a class and understand how much skill is involved, but also how much fun there is."
Nothstein says his personal goal is to see these community programs develop the next generation of successful cyclists, like junior world champion Sarah Uhl, Olympians Bobby Lea and Giddeon Massie and silver medal winner Lauren Franges.
"They don't all have to be Olympic champions," he says. "Keeping them on the bike and in a healthy, fit lifestyle is enough for us."
VALLEY PREFERRED CYCLING CENTER
•Where: 1151 Mosser Road, Trexlertown
•When: 2014 World Series of Bicycling every Friday night through Aug. 9 except July 4
•How much: $8, finish-line reserved seating; $5, general admission; free, 12 and under
•Other Racing: Fuji Suer Tuesday Pro-Am and Bear Creek Future Stars races, Tuesdays through Sept. 2; First Niagara Masters and Rookies racing, Saturdays through Aug. 30
•Info: 610-395-7000, http://www.thevelodrome.com, Twitter@thevelodrome
WORLD SERIES OF BICYCLING SCHEDULE
(Promotional schedule subject to change)
Friday: Coordinated Health UCI Keirin Cup; First Drink on Us, Thunder Stick giveaway
June 13: UCI U.S. Sprint Grand Prix; Dog Days of Summer No. 1, $1 hot dogs, Utility Man Entertainment
June 20: First Niagara UCI Fastest Man on Wheels, featuring the Mike Walter Madison; Pa. Dutch Night, Victory BrewGrass Preview No. 1
June 27: Adams Outdoor UCI Festival of Speed; Canadian Night
June 28: Red Robin BRL All-Stars
•July 11: Tandemonium/ Women's Open; Thunder Stick giveaway, Ladies Night feat. $2 'Ritas
•July 18: Bear Creek Keystone Cup; Dog Days of Summer No. 2, $1 hot dogs
•July 25: U.S. 10-Mile Championship; Ride Your Bike Night, Victory BrewGrass Fest Preview No. 2; Utility Man Entertainment
•Aug. 1: The Golden Wheel Race; Caribbean Night, Pig Roast
•Aug. 8: International Omnium Championships; Dog Days of Summer No. 3, $1 hot dogs
•Aug. 15: Rodale Corporate Challenge; USA Night, Military Appreciation, $2 domestic bottles, Peter Johann Band
•Aug. 22: Air Products Championships; Victory BrewGrass Preview No. 3, Utility Man Entertainment.
•Aug. 29: Madison Cup; Fan Appreciation Night, prizes and drink specialsCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun