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Experts, novices try out track at Rock Hill velodrome opening

When Dahlia Bell and Jonmikal Russell first laid eyes on Rock Hill’s new Giordana Velodrome, they mistook the 250-meter track – with it’s 42-degree embankment – for a humongous skating rink.

But after learning they would take the honorary first ride around the track during the Riverwalk facility’s grand opening on Saturday, Dahlia and Jonmikal, both 8, replaced their bewilderment with excitement.

“It will be fun; everyone’s so happy for us,” Dahlia said minutes before she took off on a small bicycle.

Dahlia and Jonmikal joined about 10 other children with the city’s PRT program as they peddled behind two Olympian cyclists in a one-lap around the track.

“It was exciting,” Jonmikal said after he finished his lap with more than 800 people watching.

“It felt really good, I’m definitely going to come here again,” Dahlia said. “We’re a part of history.”

Ed Duffy, 64, agreed.

Duffy worked as York Technical College’s vice president for development for 29 years where he spearheaded initiatives to boost Rock Hill’s economy.

Now, he’s retired and lives next to Mack Leitner, owner of the Leitner Construction Co., which constructed the velodrome after it was designed by German architect Ralph Schuermann.

“It’s impressive in Rock Hill the number of first-class recreational facilities we have,” Duffy said. “(The velodrome) is a natural outgrowth of that; this is just taking it to the next level.”

Before the track opened to the public Saturday, avid cyclists gathered to check out the track and snap pictures. In the parking lot, vendors gave away water bottles and promoted Rock Hill’s Riverwalk development off U.S. 21 near the Catawba River. Children played tic-tac-toe with chalk on the asphalt. Volunteers with the Rock Hill Bicycle Club gave out cookies.

But Phil Neely, 68, who came with his bike handy just in case he got the chance to circle the track, was focused.

“This is one of my loves,” Neely said.

After spending 25 years in New York cycling around the city, Neely said he carried his passion for biking back to his native home in Rock Hill.

“I’m glad to see the city get in-tuned to cycling,” he said.

Russ Langley, 52, biked from Charlotte to attend the velodrome’s official 10:30 a.m. opening. Langley, who’s cycled for the past 25 years, is pumped for the velodrome to give bikers more exposure.

“It’s just a good activity for all people,” Langley said. “I just love it.”

Hans Vandenberg and Sam Kophazi, both bicycling 13-year-olds, were anxious to get their tires on the track.

“It’s pretty crazy,” said Vandenberg, who came from Jacksonville, Fla., to visit his grandmother on the same weekend of the velodrome’s opening.

For Kophazi, who lives in Fort Mill, the velodrome gives way to “a whole new discipline” for cycling, he said. “It’s something new.”

Ask 25-year-old cyclist Kyle Knott and he’d say it’s the community of cyclists that shapes his love for the sport.

Knott, a Mars Hill, N.C., resident who competed in Saturday’s races on behalf of Athletix Cycling Team, said that although he frequents the velodrome in East Point, Ga., he plans to make the Giordiana Velodrome his “home track.”

The velodrome is a world-class facility that will attract world-class athletes training during the off-season, said Craig Savage, who competed against Knott and several other top-tier cyclists during Saturday’s races.

Savage, who lives in Fort Mill, said he already purchased a membership package because he knows he’ll be using the velodrome often.

Jim Miller, athletic director for U.S. Cycling, told attendees that Rock Hill’s velodrome was the third one built in the U.S. within the past decade.

“You should be proud of your town,” he said.

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