Saputo Burnaby 4 track-racing contests will make heads spin

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      Round and round the cyclists go at the Burnaby Velodrome. Frankly, it’s enough to make anyone’s head spin, particularly when it comes to watching the year-end Saputo Burnaby 4 track-racing contests. But this isn’t the usual weekly matchup. From December 27 to 30, an international field of pro elite riders, including Olympians and world champions, will saddle up at the Harry Jerome Sports Centre’s velodrome, which has served as the Canadian national track-racing training centre since 2009. The incentive? Cash, of course, but just as importantly valuable International Cycling Union points, which determine riders’ rankings in their season-long quests for overall supremacy.

      “Outside of the national championships, this is the first time in Canada in 20 years that there will be ICU points awarded for track races,” said event organizer Jeremy Storie, the person largely responsible for the success of the centre’s Learn to Ride program for youth and adult cyclists. When the Georgia Straight visited earlier this month, Storie was putting a dozen Burnaby Velodrome Club elite riders through their twice-weekly paces. The sports centre’s ribbed white inflatable dome is a nostalgic reminder of similarly shaped B.C. Place’s roof prior to its industrial-strength make-over. Once through the doors, the rumbling sound of rubber on wood filled the air. Storie explained that the lower-than-average turnout was attributable to a world cup race in Cali, Colombia, that had lured many local riders, such as North Vancouver’s Zach Bell, who has already won two world cup races this year including November’s season-opening event in Australia. “The reason we got funding from Heritage Canada for the Saputo Burnaby 4 is that we’re providing Canadian athletes a chance to race at home against a topnotch field,” Storie emphasized, “without having to travel.”

      One of the club riders present was Cody Campbell, whom the Straight first interviewed several years ago when the now-20-year-old was still attending North Surrey Secondary. On hiatus from classes at SFU’s campus atop nearby Burnaby Mountain, Campbell said he’s currently focusing exclusively on his career as a member of Lance Armstrong’s Trek-LIVESTRONG under-23 continental road-racing team. “I’ve met Lance at several of our training camps,” Campbell said. “He’s a real inspiration to my dream of representing Canada at the Olympics and riding in the Tour de France. It’s going to take a lot more hard work to get me there.” Although Campbell has switched from track racing to road racing, time spent at the velodrome abets his loftier ambitions. “Track riding makes me a better road racer. Because there are no brakes on these bikes, I learn handling techniques at high speeds. It’s as simple as bike racing gets and teaches you tactics. Plus, the track is covered, so it gives me a cozy place to train at this time of year.”

      If you’ve ever watched a road race during the annual B.C. Superweek in July, such as the Tour de Gastown, you know the thrill of seeing riders whiz past before disappearing from sight. As much as Storie said he admired the weeklong road-racing extravaganza, he claimed that Superweek couldn’t hold a candle to the talent that’s been attracted to the Burnaby 4 spectacle: “No disrespect intended, but there’s so much buzz surrounding these four days. Unlike road racing, at the velodrome you’re never more than 50 metres from racers like our own Svein Tuft and Washington state’s Tyler Farrar, who are coming off outstanding road-race seasons. Sarah Hammer from California is the reigning world champion in pursuit, as well as the Pan American Games champion in the Omnium. Best of all, watch out for Tara Whitten from Edmonton, double gold medallist in the ICU points race and Omnium at the 2010 ICU World Championships.”

      Just as ski cross competition has emerged as the new kid on the slopes at world cup venues over the past three years, Omnium racing has taken centre stage at track races leading up to its official Olympic debut at the 2012 Summer Games in London. Storie described Omnium as “the decathlon of cycling. It comprises all the skills required on the track. Riders take part in five events in one day. It’s a mix of sprint and endurance races. The longest race is a 100 laps/20 kilometres for men and 80 laps/16 kilometres for women. The shortest is the flying 250-metre sprint.”

      Three evenings of races precede the daylong Omnium that crowns the Burnaby 4. “This really is far more than just a series of races,” Storie said. “It’s an event modelled on similar multiday, wildly popular competitions in Europe that are more like watching Cirque du Soleil with a bike race going on at the same time. Entertainer Eugene Ripper kicks things off with a performance on the first night. We’ve got trials rider Ryan Leech from Port Moody putting on his show the next evening. There will be food and microbrew and lots of opportunity for local track racers to show their stuff, including an Alley Cat Scramble for bike couriers, along with two hours of pro elite races each night. A light show will transform the dome into a party atmosphere. Check out videos of the Gent 6 Day posted on YouTube to get an idea of what we’re aspiring to bring to the velodrome.”

      Wrap your head around that.

      ACCESS: For details on the Saputo Burnaby 4, see The Burnaby Velodrome is located on the north side of Burnaby Mountain on the Barnet Highway (Highway 7A), 1.5 kilometres east of Vancouver. It can be reached by taking the 160 bus, which runs between Burrard Station and Port Coquitlam Station.