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How weekly cycle races at Northbrook velodrome build excitement, community

Downhill, tailwind-aided, I can top 35 mph on my road bike, albeit with greater trepidation as I age. Cycling that fast without brakes or coasting ability, alongside other brakeless bikers buzzing mere inches away, however, exceeds my tolerance.

I can safely experience that same spine-tingle Thursday evenings at the Ed Rudolph Velodrome, where Northbrook Cycle Committee hosts three hours of racing for track cyclists, some exceeding 35 mph.

Joshua Ryan, NCC co-race director and a category one racer, notes, “In pro and category one/two races, racers contending for a sprint finish frequently get into the low 40s. The field normally sees average speeds in the 29-32 mph range.”



Category four male racers jockey for position over 10 laps in their July 13 Scratch race at the velodrome in Northbrook’s Meadow Hill Park.
– Courtesy of Ralph Banasiak



I’ll stick with spectating

Over 20 races are run Thursdays on the embanked oval angled at 18%. All ability levels, from 9- to 14-year-old juniors to top racers, orbit the concrete track counterclockwise, 382 meters per pass, 20 short of a quarter mile.

They race with no brakes, dropped handle bars, pedal clips, bolted axles, and one fixed gear — consequently, no coasting. If bike wheels are turning, so are legs. Without brakes, riders decelerate by exiting a draft, climbing the embankment or applying backward leg pressure.

Owned by Northbrook Park District, the velodrome, built in 1963, was named after speed skater and longtime park commissioner Ed Rudolph. NCC packs the venue with races, practices, training clinics and championships almost every day June-August.


        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

 


After their event, racers cool down on training rollers just outside the oval track at the Ed Rudolph Velodrome in Northbrook.


After their event, racers cool down on training rollers just outside the oval track at the Ed Rudolph Velodrome in Northbrook.
– Courtesy of Ralph Banasiak



Mix of events

Sanctioned by USA Cycling, Thursday’s races include various events. Examples: “Scratch” riders race a specified lap count; first over the line wins. In “Points” races, competitors amass points sprinting over the line at designated “bell” laps throughout the race. Final lap winners earn double points.

In “Eliminations,” one rider exits after each lap interval. In “Win and Outs,” the top sprinter is removed, achieving first place. The sprinter crossing first in the next interval earns second place, etc. “Miss and Outs” retire the slowest sprinter in a designated lap, repeating until a final few racers remain.

Val Brostrom, NCC’s co-race director notes, “Racers need USAC licenses to compete on Thursdays. Weekend sprint omniums and timed events don’t require licenses, helping lower the entry barrier (USAC licenses are expensive), allowing us to lower entry fees. One-day licenses are acceptable for novice racers.”

Competing since 2007, Brostrom and her partner Joshua Ryan have been co-race directors since 2010, except for three years. As category one racers (highest amateur ranking), they both compete locally and have claimed their share of podiums.

        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

 

Volunteer announcer Kenny Labbé, also a champion, launched his youth racing career in Northbrook in the late 1980s. Itasca cyclist Mark Gorski’s 1984 Olympic gold medal inspired Labbé. Shortly afterward, a Daily Herald velodrome article drew the Mount Prospect resident to track racing.

Achieving track “Rider of the Year” four times, Labbé recalled he sometimes raced 12 times a week, including at Kenosha’s velodrome. He also competed in regional and statewide events, like road races and criteriums. As a Mount Prospect postal carrier with a pro racing license, he joined the U.S. Postal Service team from 2000-2004, training with Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis, Robbie Ventura and others.

Labbé’s vocal energy announcing races, especially close finishes, excites even rookie spectators like me. Very familiar with individual racers, he’s been on the mic there for six years, starting with his son’s racing. Having previously announced criteriums and cyclocross races, the NCC recruited him for Thursdays.

Observing riders develop from beginner to elite, he learns their endurance or speed specialty.

“I like telling their stories, highlighting what I see. I don’t have to make things up.

“I want all those riders to feel what I felt when I started racing,” Labbé continues, feeling good giving back to his sport. “Racers love a big cheer when they finish that final sprint. You realize how lucky you are that people are there to watch you race.”


Darian Duchan (number 88), current leader among category four riders for track "Rider of the Year," lines up for the bunch start of the 20-lap "Points" event at the July 13 track racing in Northbrook.


Darian Duchan (number 88), current leader among category four riders for track “Rider of the Year,” lines up for the bunch start of the 20-lap “Points” event at the July 13 track racing in Northbrook.
– Courtesy of Ralph Banasiak



Welcoming vibe

As a 29-year-old category four track racer, Palatine resident Darian Duchan echoes a similar sentiment.

“The community here is extremely welcoming, open and inclusive,” he notes, a vibe I shared. “Community and camaraderie, coupled with ease of access, quickly made track a priority for me. There’s a large emphasis on how much I enjoy riding with everyone at the velodrome.”

Duchan takes the discipline seriously, dedicating 12 hours weekly to training/racing. In 2016, he built a road bike then joined the cycling club at Motorola for 6 a.m. rides. He added faster group trainings “to get out of my comfort zone,” riding his first criterium in 2021’s Intelligentsia Cup, repeating in 2022. Duchan currently leads in “Rider of the Year” track rankings among category four racers.

Dinner Arreola, 17, rising senior at Chicago’s Noble Street College Prep, and a category four in her second year, has raced criteriums and road events across the Midwest.

Recently, she earned “Most Courageous Racer,” an award modeled after professional road racing’s recognition of individuals animating a race. Per Arreola, it was “for pulling big efforts on the coldest night on the track.”

“Track racing can seem so intimidating. You can always make new friendships and bonds at the track,” Arreola said. “Best feeling is racing under the lights, with the stars above.”

Northbrook Park District’s Youth Cycling program enables kids ages 6-13 to get started. Instruction focuses on general bike handling skills and group riding, per Recreation Supervisor Cameron Edelman. Wednesdays are devoted to training/skills and Fridays to practice track races conducted as team competitions.

• Join the ride. Contact Ralph Banasiak at alongfortheridemail@gmail.com.

        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

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