Racers, organizers rave over Rock Hill’s Velodrome, local hospitality

08/14/2014 7:32 PM

08/15/2014 9:39 AM

Three days into USA Cycling’s Elite Track National Championships at the Giordana Velodrome, organizers and competitors seem to have nothing but good things to say about Rock Hill’s latest crack at running a major event.

“It has been going very well,” Tony Leko, USA Cycling’s national events director, said Thursday. “The weather has been great. We were expecting it to be a lot hotter and more humid. We had some rain the first day, but that passed and it has just been gorgeous.

“It’s a great facility. They built it right. It’s beautiful ... This is going to be a great East Coast hub for cycling.”

Jessica Prinner, 22, is competing in several events this week, including the international omnium – cycling’s equivalent to track and field’s decathlon, in which riders compete in five disciplines. She has been cycling since she was 12.

“Rock Hill has a really good venue,” said the Illinois native who now lives in Colorado. “They do a good job. The people are really great.”

This is the third consecutive year that Rock Hill has hosted the Elite Track National Championships at the Velodrome.

There’s a sense of community in the cycling world, and surrounding the Velodrome in particular. Prinner, who finished fourth in the women’s omnium, is staying with a local cyclist for the duration of the six-day event, which runs through Sunday.

“A lot of the local racers that race here house people,” she said. “I really like this track. I like the people and the area. It’s a really positive environment.”

To compete in the omnium, Prinner said, a rider needs to be a “jack of all trades.”

“You have the flying lap, which is pure sprint, and then you have the kilometer pursuit, which is a super endurance event,” she said. “In there, you have riders that tend to be more sprinters or tend to be more endurance, and that’s what makes it interesting.

“Some people might do really well on the sprint, and then they have to survive the endurance events – and vice versa.”

Jennifer Valente of San Diego and Bobby Lea of Mertztown, Pa., did more than just survive. They won their respective omnium events, each setting multiple Velodrome track records along the way.

David Espinoza, who will compete in Friday’s sprint event, came to Rock Hill from his home in Wellington, Fla., a couple of weeks early to practice and get accustomed to the Velodrome’s track.

It’s important to be familiar with a track’s dimensions before competing, he said, since riders go extremely fast.

“I got clocked a couple of times at 44 miles per hour in the turn,” said Espinoza, 22. “And then on top of that, having another rider right next to you rubbing elbows is a very interesting situation to be in.”

That’s especially true for the event he’ll compete in Saturday. In the Keirin, riders initially race behind a pacer motorbike called a derny, jostling for position for several laps until the derny leaves the track with less than three laps to go. From there, contact among riders is common and crashes are frequent as they race for the finish.

Admission to the races is free, with organizers setting up some of the best racing in the final few days.

“We kind of tweaked the schedule to make the Friday and Saturday evening sessions really fun for spectators,” said Leko, “so we’re hoping people will come out for that.

“We’re hoping to see a full house out here.”

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