BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Newport Velodrome builds on 10 years of success

South Wales Argus: VERSATILE VENUE: Newport City Council cabinet member for leisure and culture Cllr Debbie Wilcox VERSATILE VENUE: Newport City Council cabinet member for leisure and culture Cllr Debbie Wilcox

THROUGHOUT its lifetime, the 250 metre track has been used by many cycling greats from Sir Chris Hoy to Mark Colbourne, but the arena is also the base for the head office of Welsh Cycling and Newport Velo Youth Cycling Club.

As Britain’s cycling has seen an unprecedented rise into the spotlight, Newport’s velodrome has stepped up to play its part too.

In 2003, the velodrome opened as the home for Welsh Cycling and remains so – but today it is more than a place reserved for elite athletes.

Run by Newport City council, it’s become a community hub helped by other well-used facilities within the arena like the gym.

Neil Smith founded the Newport Velo Youth Cycling club in 2004 for 10-18 year-olds.

“It’s been an amazing ten year journey,” he said.

“I think it’s just grown. You only have to look at the group pictures. On a Saturday morning, we have up to 90 kids here.

Neil, who was awarded performance development coach of the year in 2012, has trained 18 coached through the club. He said: “We have not spent money on individual children but instead on the group. We don’t want to be elitist. In the early days I was very keen to be inclusive and include disability.”

The disability academy has been running for almost six years every Sunday afternoon.

The velodrome has grown simultaneously with the success and profile of British cycling as a whole.

“I remember during Beijing 2008 after Hoy took gold. The following morning we had 160 kids turn up. It was mad. But we managed to get every single child onto the track,” Neil said.

“Now it’s just growing again. Every parent believes their child could be the next Victoria Pendleton.”

For Neil, it’s important Newport Velo offer something different to the performance driven heights of Welsh Cycling.

“It all becomes about the performance and from a grass-root level it makes people feel more pressured. The bar has risen so much over ten years,” he said.

According to Neil around 60 per cent of the club members are from South Wales and the rest come over the bridge from England. A number of successful riders have come through the club including Hannah Rich who went on to represent Wales in the 2010 Commonwealth games, Lewis Oliva who last week competed in the 2013/14 UCI Track Cycling World Cup in Mexico and Risca cyclist Sam Harrison, who was part of the silver medal-winning team pursuit team in the 2013 World Championships.

“It’s only when you start looking back you see what we have achieved,” said Neil.

“You look at the children that make it but the other children that we have seen come through that might have had problems – just being there as a community, we have helped some of them.

“It’s about developing young people – teaching them discipline and interpersonal skills.”

Neil, who manages the cycling around a full-time day job, was the person who introduced paralympic gold medal-winner Mark Colbourne to cycling, after an accident left him with a broken back.

“At the 2012 games, I commentated on Mark’s event. That was something very special. To be someone’s coach from the beginning and then commentating to millions of people – it was quite surreal,” said Neil.

Head coach at Welsh Cycling, Darren Tudor, was trackside on Thursday afternoon getting ready for a training session.

Darren was at the velodrome on day one and despite taking up a position with British Cycling, where he spent seven years as the Olympic development programme coach, he returned to Welsh cycling in 2011.

“It’s definitely supported a lot of young Welsh riders.

“One of the reasons why we’ve got the riders has to be because of this track. Juniors are able to put more work in.”

During his time with British Cycling, Darren ran all the Olympic development camps out of Newport.

“It’s not just about what it’s provided for Welsh athletes but athletes from across the UK,” Darren said.

Steve Ward, sport and leisure services manager for Newport City Council, said: “The one thing that has made the biggest difference to the awareness of the Wales National Velodrome being in Newport was the facility hosting Team GB training camps ahead of London 2012.

Newport City Council cabinet member for leisure and culture, Cllr Debbie Wilcox, said: “The real benefit of the facility is that it can quickly morph into a venue that can host world class events and elite athlete training.”

Just last month the velodrome hosted the Newport International Paracycling Cup competition – the first world class competition for para-cyclists since London 2012. One of the successes on the weekend was 12-year-old Lauren Booth of Newport Velo, who became the Female C4 British Record Holder for the flying 200m and also the standing 500m.

“Having a 12-year-old taking a world record is just incredible,” Neil said.

“The velodrome and other facilities at the Newport International Sports Village contribute significantly to the local economy and attracting competitions such as last week’s international para-cycling cup brings visitors into the city to stay. Over the 10 years it will have attracted millions into the local economy of the city,” said Steve.

According to Steve, a staggering 20,000 people are riding the track every year, with visitor numbers increasing year on year.

When Darren returned to Welsh cycling he said there was a noticeable increase in the amount of people using the velodrome.

“We’ve got a lot more kids coming through now. Wales is in a fantastic position having this place. We are definitely getting what we need out of it,” he said.

Most of the time the velodrome facilities are used by the community who use the gym, indoor and outdoor sports courts and pitches plus attend fitness classes, meetings and education programmes. GP referral health and wellbeing programmes are also held there as well as school activities.

The council has recently invested £350,000 to expand and improve the gym facilities with equipment to create a state-of-the-art facility.

So what does the next decade hold for the velodrome?

“For me, I’d like to see more competitions here. That would be the way forward. But it’s getting a lot more use now than when it first opened,” Darren said.

Meanwhile, the council have their eye on the next Olympics. Cllr Wilcox said: “We are working very hard to bring Team GB back to the facility and hope they will use it for their final preparations before the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016.”

Neil said: “We’re looking to the next stage now. We’ve been very successful but with new velodromes opening up around the UK there will be a lot more competition. You can’t sit back and expect the same sort of success.

“The lovely thing about Newport Velo is that every day there’s another member born. You have always got new children coming in.

“I’m really looking forward now with the next athletes coming through. We just need to keep doing it. There’s no secret – we just consistently plug away at training.”

With the next generation of British cyclists promising to be as successful as the ones before them, Newport’s velodrome looks set for an even more exciting decade to come.


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