One of two Southern California Velodromes sees plenty of action

Cyclists at the San Diego Velodrome whiz around the track at speeds of up to 60 MPH  Credit: Sandy Burgin/
SAN DIEGO It may just be the best-kept secret in San Diego.

The San Diego Velodrome is alive with the whirring sounds of bicycles whizzing over 30 mph up on the banks and along the track. Cyclists in brightly colored jerseys fill the infield tooling their bikes, padding their torsos and talking with friends old and new. All in preparation for a night at the races.

It's the Tuesday Night Training Race Series at the San Diego Velodrome at Morley Field in Balboa Park.

The 22-week series, which runs from April through August, attracts cyclists of all ages and abilities for competitive races, providing good training and lots of fun.

The training races are held in conjunction with weekly open training sessions that are held every Thursday night for juniors and adults. Both programs are presented through the Amateur Athletic Foundation, partnered with the Southern California Velodrome Association.

"We were surprised the Velodrome was here," said Anne Phillips of San Diego on a recent Tuesday night. "We've moved here from England seven years ago and never knew it existed until last fall. A friend of ours had played tennis here (at the Balboa Tennis Club) and he mentioned that there was a velodrome nearby."

The velodrome, a banked, outdoor 333-meter asphalt oval track, opened in 1976 in the recesses of Morley Field behind the tennis complex and adjacent to a Little League baseball field.

"It is a little tucked away and tough to find," acknowledged Tony Olsen, a coach and director of the Tuesday Night Racing Series. "We have a limited advertising budget and can really only target a lot of free publications.

"It is kind of a secret," Olsen said. "Some of the governing bodies of cycling dont really help to get the word out, they spend more time in running daily affairs and not helping out grass-roots biking."

Still, on this particular Tuesday night there were some 50 cyclists of varied backgrounds, from ages 10 to 60.

Anne Phillips' son Dan, 12, was a velodrome veteran, except his experience came in England.

"I was on a velodrome in Manchester (England) when I was 5 years old," he said. "It was a while since I did that that type of cycling, so it was great to finally find the velodrome here.

"I really like the action and the speed you get on the track," Phillips said. "I was used to BMXing in the street, but this is really special."

"It's all about fun and speed," said 33-year-old Chris Henderson of Solana Beach. "We have people here who have gone to the Olympics. We have people who have been national and world champions. We have a great cross-section of cyclists who are here to compete, but at the same time, have a lot of fun."

Henderson got into cycling after injuring himself running track in college.

Mark Flores, 30, another college track athlete, has taken to the Velodrome to enhance his overall cycling.

"Cycling on the road was getting dry so I came out here for a pick-me-up," Flores said. "I was watching the members of my bike club (San Diego Cyclo-Vets) and seeing how much fun they were having here, I decided to join them here. It's great going from the dryness of straight cycling to Velodrome sprint track racing."

Mark Scott, 34, of San Diego, used to do super-cross when he was a kid.

"I think the idea of riding real close, handlebar-to-handlebar with guys in super-cross kind of coincides with cycling here elbow-to-elbow," Scott said. "The difference is there are no breaks here. And that adds to the thrill."

Scott won a national Omnium title in Indianapolis in 1992 and is gearing up for a return trip there in July to compete in the Pro-1-2 category of the national masters.

Joey Valdivia, 54, has found the adult training classes on Thursday very helpful in racing on Tuesdays.

"The classes have given me a lot of confidence to ride in the races here on Tuesdays," Valdivia said. "Most of us work in the daytime so to be able to get the training at night is a real bonus. You get a lot of competition and a lot of speed work here."

Youth was very well-served on this night as 16-year-old Fernando Garcia, 15-year-old Anna Webb, 12-year-old Tori Wilson and 10-year-old Karryn Bowen put on some dazzling performances in winning some category races.

"I get to warm up even before I get here," said Garcia, who lives in nearby National City. "Since I don't have a car yet, I ride my bike 30 minutes to get here every Tuesday and Thursday.

"When I was younger I used to play soccer, but it bothered my legs," Garcia said. "This is a non-impact sport and it's now my best sport."

Webb has no commute to the velodrome as she lives in the neighborhood.

"When I was a baby my parents would take me over here (to the velodrome) to watch the races," Webb said. "I grew up on the velodrome. I used to play soccer, basketball and baseball, but I didn't really care for those sports. This is something I can do my whole life."

Wilson and Bowen are friends, who race against each other regularly.

"It is definitely friendly competition," Wilson said, "We both wish there were more younger kids like us here to race against and to have fun with."

Tate Rosenthal, 40, and Mike Jenkins, 54, have their own reasons for taking to the track.

"It keeps you fit and goes hand-in-hand with our other bike riding on the road," Rosenthal said. "My husband does it too, which is an incentive for me. Tuesday night training racing is a bit low-key compared with the regional races and it's a lot of fun."

"I've gotten 20 years of real competitive racing out of my system," said Jenkins, who works for the city of San Diego as an attorney. "I started racing at the Velodrome in Illinois back in the late '70s and did some real serious racing in the '80s in Illinois and in Baton Rouge. It was nice to be someone whom the other riders had to worry about. But now it's a combination of fitness and fun."

Those were the buzzwords of many of the cyclists who buzzed around the San Diego Velodrome. And who knows? Maybe the secret is getting out.

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