On the Right Track

Track racing includes all the buzz of Nascar, the speed of road cycling and the mental tactics of yacht racing… and it’s making a strong comeback right here in the city of Durban.

Track cycling is a bicycle racing sport usually run on specially built banked tracks or velodromes — the word
“velodrome” sounds exciting in itself— and currently there is a resurgence of the sport bubbling in Durban. It’s
not happening amongst the trendy, hip 20-somethings with loads of cash for flashy bikes and kit. No, it’s happening
at grassroots level amongst the younger crowd — kids — who have taken to track racing like a grom from the Bluff takes to surfing. I find something appealing about track cycling, although it’s difficult to put my finger on exactly what it is about it that I like so much. Maybe the track reminds me a little of the roaring Nascar track and all the buzz of drivers chasing each other round and round the circuit, or maybe I’m having flashbacks to those highly competitive Olympic track races that I watched as a young lad that had me as pumped as the cyclists’ legs churning
round and round seemingly faster than an electric blender. Whatever it is, I like it and the idea of it making a comeback in the city is brilliant.

Hylton Belitzky and Roger Hattingh are two of several guys behind the return of the sport and, like the individual pursuit event, gaining momentum and interest is all about stamina and endurance. Hylton and Roger understand that it’s going to take some time to get back to track cycling’s glory days — they are hoping it will be about three years at most — but their progress over the last 12 months has been really impressive. Recent KZN trials attracted over 50 competitors — not a massive number but significantly better than the mere six in November last year.

Mountain biking and road cycling are still firm favourites amongst active Durbanites, probably because just at the time track cycling seemed to disappear, mountain biking came out of the gates strongly and bikers flocked to this discipline. Hylton, who has been cycling since he was a lad, believes there are benefits to riding track that complement both mountain biking and road cycling, especially for younger kids and their parents. Training at Durban’s Cyril Geoghegan Velodrome is much safer for young kids and track cycling is also a great spectator sport, so standing alongside the track or sitting in the stands works for parents.

It’s amazing to see new faces each week — mates of mates tell each other about the track and that kids can come along, with no bike needed as the guys lend them out for the first few weeks while kids try the sport out. Currently there are about 100 active cyclists ranging in age from eight to 65, which is promising, and the recent KZN Championships had more riders than in the last five years.

If the sport is going to maintain traction, it’s got to grow and this will happen in the junior division. Hylton and Roger understand this and are prepared to invest much of their time and effort into the development of the sport. They’ve even launched a school series where school teams compete in various events for points which see the team with the most points take the series title for their school. Thomas Moore took the 2015 title, but Roger thinks that Westville Junior Prep is looking strong for this year — but who knows which school will enter the strongest team and clean up the series. This is another exciting part to track cycling in Durban. If all goes well, it won’t be long before we
have KZN cyclists competing in Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) World Champs and, who knows, maybe even
in the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Or maybe not. For almost 100 years, track cycling has been at the
Commonwealth Games, but in 2022 it won’t be. Cycling South Africa (CSA) is working hard at trying to get the
event back onto the calendar, but what is really needed is the funding to put a roof over the track and bring some of the facilities up to scratch. The funding isn’t just focused on the games — developing track cycling in Durban would mean that international UCI events can be hosted here, bringing with them riders from all over the world to compete in sanctioned events right here in our city. Recent UCI events in the UK sold 50,000 spectator tickets…think of the impact on tourism.

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The current track for racing and training is in good shape for riders, but the facilities around the track could do with a little attention. The challenge is that the track is owned by the municipality and there are legal issues around the track and the whole Stables area. For Hylton and Roger, this isn’t a major worry — they get stuck in and look after the venue as best they can. Obviously, as more hands come on board, it’ll become even better, but they’re not waiting
to take action based on the outcome. Their passion to build the sport is tangible and it’s happening right now.
Anything that comes after what they are doing will be cream for them.

When I ask Hylton what had happened to the sport in the past he tells me that a while back the sport was fiercely competitive but that there had been some bad racing tactics that had resulted in a few bad crashes. He says that this has been sorted out by the UCI and that positive changes to the rules and the sport itself have made it safer
and much better for all involved. Hylton also believes that interest in track cycling waned because there is so much for people to do and be entertained by — the sport has had to compete with Friday night rugby games and all the other events happening in and around the city. What’s great currently, though, is that kids are bringing in parents and grandparents to support them, so all of a sudden there are more people in the stands actually getting to know
and enjoy the sport, which is growing again because of people’s interest in the kids.

These guys are really passionate about track cycling and passion is what we need to make Durban an even better place than it is now, with a variety of things to do, places to go and sports to take part in. Their commitment is tangible and infectious and, while they have their eyes set on big things for the kids, they really do just want to make it fun for them and let them figure out if this sport is something they are interested in. Great energy and great passion is putting track cycling back on track!

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