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In a city hungry for another thick slice of good image, the velodrome coming to Albright is luminous news

Apr 12, 2017 • by Mike Zielinski, Host of The Mike Zielinski Show
Mike Zielinski

I guess you could say that Berks County has been spinning its wheels for decades.

But who knew?

The area’s love affair with cycling took a back seat to the Reading Railroad, which put us on the Monopoly board, and the Reading Fairgrounds where they raced stock cars, not bicycles.

Nevertheless, Berks County’s fascination with cycling dates back to the Penn Wheelmen, a group formed in 1890 that became of the nation’s leading bike race organizers.

In 1891 a half-mile outdoor velodrome with a dirt track was built in City Park so folks could burn off excess calories from too many pretzels and too much shoofly pie.

Over the years, the city and county have played host to a number of cycling races. And Mount Penn features a bronze-level mountain bike trail.

Suffice it to say, there are plenty of people around here with lightning in their legs.

But soon Reading will have the biggest spoke in the wheel.

The $20 million National Velodrome and Events Center, which will include a 2,500-seat, high-tech indoor cycling arena with a 200-meter, steeply banked track, will be built at Albright College.

It will be the second world-class indoor bicycling racing track in the United States and the first on the East Coast.

Yes, the area’s connection with cycling has dramatically moved ahead with warp speed.

The World Cycling League will lease a seven-acre site from Albright. The idea behind the facility is to hold and livestream 13 or 14 cycling meets around the world from October to March each year. The World Cycling League features six teams of eight riders — four male and four female — competing in 12 events over three days.

The cyclists ride aerodynamic, one-gear bikes that don’t have brakes. They zip around the track at around 30 mph in endurance contests, and top 40 mph in sprints.

This intense competition is not for the faint of heart. It helps to have legs like pistons and lungs big enough to house an aircraft carrier.

The velodrome will also host year-round cycling programs, pre-Olympic training camps and events, collegiate events and other sporting events and special programs.

Construction is expected to begin by late summer, with the goal of opening the velodrome for the 2018-19 season.

Granted, not everybody is a cycling fan. But there are plenty of folks who are. The velodrome is expected to generate more than $30 million per year in spending from about 50,000 out-of-town visitors. Hardly chump change by any accounting measure.

The velodrome obviously is quite the recruiting coup for Albright — giving the small, private liberal arts college new opportunities for academic and athletic programs and an enticing hook to recruit students.

Some of the college’s plans include adding cycling as a varsity club sport, internships at the velodrome and courses in sports marketing, event management, video production and communications.

The velodrome coming to town should be sending the Berks community into spasms of joy.

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