What Is A Velodrome: All You Need To Know

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For the average person, the Tour de France is the first bike racing event that pops into their head. The multi-day event of riders racing around France attracts a lot of media coverage and is popular all over the world.

However, you may have also seen races, during the Olympics or while flipping through channels, of cyclists racing each other around a banked, circular track.

These races are held in a velodrome. Put simply, a velodrome is any arena for track cycling races. In modern times, they’re usually oval-shaped, with two banked corners connected by two straights, with a wooden surface.

In this article, we’ll be taking a look at:

  • What is a velodrome?
  • The History of The velodrome
  • What types of races are held in a velodrome?
  • The Most Famous velodromes From Around the World

Ready to get clued up on bike-racing velodromes?

Let’s get started!

What Is A Velodrome: Title Image

What is a velodrome?

A velodrome is a cycling arena for track cycling races. 

The track consists of a banked oval circuit. Modern velodromes feature two 180-degree turns and two straights. The banked track allows cyclists to maintain their speed as they complete laps around the track.

Velodromes used in the Olympics and World Championships must be 250 meters in length. They’re typically built indoors, with a polished wooden track surface and seating for spectators.

However, other – often older – velodromes can be anywhere from 130 meters to almost 600 meters in length, and can be either indoors or outdoors. (For reference, most outdoor running tracks are 400 meters.)

Velodrome track surfaces can be constructed from a variety of materials including wood, concrete, or synthetic materials.

What Is A Velodrome: All You Need To Know 1

What Are The Lines On A Velodrome Track For?

The track itself has different markings and lines for the riders to use as a guide.

The infield of the track is a flat section and is sometimes referred to as the “apron”.

Between the infield and the track itself is a blue band. This band is a warning to cyclists, letting them know that they may scrape their pedals when they lean into the turn.

There is a black line 20 centimeters above the blue band, which is the track measurement line. This is the line that determines the track’s length, which works out differently depending on how far up the banking you measure.

A red line can typically be found 90 centimeters above the black line. This is called the “sprinters’ line”. A rider will typically want to stay between the red and black lines to have the fastest path around the track.

Halfway up the track, there is a blue line, known as the “stayers line”. This line is used in certain races to separate riders on the same team as they move out of and into the race.

The track will also have a black line on a white band at the end of the home straight. This is the finish line of the race. At the 200-meter mark on the track, there will be a white line letting riders know they have 50 meters until the finish.

At the halfway point of each straight, there is a red line across the track which is used in races where riders attempt to overtake one another.

Two cyclists sprint down the straight of an outdoor velodrome.

The History of The velodrome

Velodromes first started being built as the popularity of cycling boomed in the late 19th century. The oldest cycling track in the world still in use is Preston Park Velodrome, which was built in 1877 by the British Army in the coastal resort of Brighton, UK.

Early tracks were generally made up of cinder or shale, and their banking was much shallower than the velodromes of today.

Because of the lack of standardization, these tracks could look remarkably different from modern velodromes. Some tracks – such as the Preston Park Velodrome in Brighton – featured 4 straights linked by banked turns. Still others, like the Portsmouth Velodrome, consisted of one straight and one continuous turn.

Many of these early tracks were also significantly longer than modern velodromes. Preston Park stretches for 579 meters, and Portsmouth for 536.

Indoor velodromes became increasingly popular in the early 1900s, as the rebirth of the Olympics pushed track cycling into the limelight. These new indoor tracks were built shorter than their outdoor counterparts due to the limitation of having to fit inside a building.

In 1909, the famous Vélodrome d’Hiver was built in Paris. It was a 250-meter track built with a wooden surface – not dissimilar to modern designs.

International competitions like the Olympics and World Championships have led to increased standardization of tracks so that competitions take place on a similar playing field.

Modern velodromes are made from better materials than their earlier counterparts. Outdoor velodromes are now constructed of asphalt or concrete, while indoor velodromes are usually constructed out of wood or synthetic materials.

A cyclist in a white jersey attacks the bend of the velodrome.

The Most Famous velodromes From Around the World

Velodromes have grown in popularity since their beginnings in the mid-1800s. Today, there are almost 500 velodromes in over 70 countries around the world.

Let’s take a look at some of the most famous velodromes!

Roubaix Velodrome

The Roubaix Velodrome (officially the Vélodrome André-Pétrieux) is an outdoor velodrome that was opened in 1936 in Roubaix, France.

It’s most famous for serving as the finish line of the one-day Monument Paris-Roubaix cycling race since 1943.

Lee Valley VeloPark 

Nicknamed the “Pringle Velodrome” by the British public for its resemblance to the popular snack, the VeloPark’s velodrome is a state-of-the-art building designed with energy efficiency and speed in mind.

It was constructed for the 2012 London Olympic Games, and the park also features a BMX track and 5 miles (8 km) of mountain bike trails.

Everything from the wood on the track, the air temperature inside, and even the doors were designed to keep the track at the perfect temperature, eliminate wind, and create conditions for fast, record-breaking times.

Agustín Melgar Olympic Velodrome

Located in Mexico City, this outdoor velodrome was built for the 1968 Olympic Games.

At an elevation of 2,300 meters (7,500 ft), the Agustin Melgar Velodrome is also the highest velodrome in the world.

Due to the high elevation, the air is thinner, so drag is reduced. This has long made the Agustín Melgar Olympic Velodrome a popular choice for record attempts, including Eddy Merckx’s legendary one-hour record in 1972.

Oerlikon Velodrome

The Oerlikon Velodrome – officially named the Offene Rennbahn – is an outdoor velodrome located in Zurich, Switzerland. It features a 333-meter concrete track and was built in 1912.

The Oerlikon has hosted the UCI World Championships 7 times – more than any other track still standing.

Veledromo Vigorelli

The Veledromo Vigorelli located in Milan, Italy was destroyed by the RAF during World War II but was rebuilt afterward.

Dubbed “la pista magica” (“the magic track”), it was one of the fastest velodromes in the world at the time. It held the hour record from 1935 to 1967. Nine different riders broke this world record on the Veledromo Vigorelli.

Record-Breaking Velodromes

What is The World’s Shortest velodrome?

The Forest City Velodrome is the shortest velodrome in the world that is a permanent structure. It’s located in London, Ontario, Canada.

The track measures just 138 meters long, and features 50-degree banked turns and 17-degree banked straights.

Which Velodrome Has the Steepest banking?

The Forest City Velodrome takes this crown, too.

While most velodromes have banked curves of 25-33 degrees, the Forest City Velodrome has banked turns at 50 degrees.

What Is The World’s Fastest velodrome?

Due to its state-of-the-art design, the general consensus is that London’s “Pringle Velodrome” is the fastest velodrome in the world.

Where Is The World’s Largest velodrome?

In terms of attendance, the Saryarka Velodrome in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan is the biggest in the world. Designed to look like a cyclist’s helmet, the velodrome boasts a seating capacity of 9,270.

Now you know All About Velodromes!

Hopefully, this article has given you a better understanding of what a velodrome is and what they are used for.

With over 500 velodromes across the world, there’s a good chance you have a velodrome near you. If that’s the case, you have the chance to go watch a race, or possibly even ride on a track yourself!

Have you ever been to a velodrome? What velodrome did we leave off that you think we should include? Let us know in the comments!

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Adam has an extensive background in coaching endurance athletes at collegiate level, covering both cycling and long-distance running. He first took up cycling in junior high, and has been immersed in all things cycling ever since. When he's not coaching others, Adam loves nothing more than getting out on the bike to explore the mountain passes, both on and off-road, around his hometown of Colorado Springs, CO.

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