Kissena Velodrome Improvements

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Mordecai Silver (not verified)
Times article


July 19, 2004
Recycling a Cycling Haven: A New Day for 'Big Bumpy'

The cyclists who race without brakes around the steep embankments had to be hardier when the Kissena Velodrome was called the ""big bumpy"" - a nickname uttered with equal parts derision and pride in honor of the landscape of potholes along the 400-meter oval.

But the hazards for these racers, who ride in tight packs on their one-gear machines at speeds that can exceed 30 miles per hour, were not limited to potholes that caused eye-watering jolts or, worse, tumbles of various degrees of intensity.

Stray dogs darted about. The track's infield served as the occasional dumping ground for discarded appliances. Shards of beer bottle glass were so common as to seem part of the natural order. Among the small number of velodromes left in America, the one in Kissena Park in Flushing, Queens, built in the early 1960's, became known among some riders as the absolute worst.

Now, though, that the track has been refurbished - it is part of the city's effort to spruce itself up for 2012 Olympic consideration - the bicyclists have found themselves with the last thing they expected: a pristine track.

""There used to be 57 cracks with grass growing out of it,"" said John Campo, who, as the velodrome director, is in charge of organizing the races for the club. ""Now it's a little like having an Olympic pool in your own backyard.""

Mr. Campo, a former musician who now works as a shop steward, has tasks that run the gamut from deciding what type of races to run to sprinting with the first aid kit to anyone who gets scuffed up. In between, Mr. Campo busies himself speaking of velodrome racing with a missionary's zeal.

For spectators, velodrome racing has distinct advantages. Unlike road races, where spectators can see only a sliver of the action, velodrome races can be viewed in their entirety. Edward Beloyianis, 82, of Flushing, watches from the sidelines, where he often straddles his own bicycle, and enjoys the scene because he can see the whole race from one spot. He still rides every day, but gave up racing a few decades ago.

Velodrome racing was a well-followed sport a century ago, when thousands of fans paid to watch riders compete on wooden tracks in places like the original Madison Square Garden. The sport lost favor to more modern ones like baseball and football, but sees a small-scale regular revival during the Olympics. It also has its dedicated base of participants, like the several dozen members of the Kissena Cycling Club who race there, some of whom dropped out during the time the track was under reconstruction and are only slowly making there way back to their velodrome, which cost $500,000 to fix. The track has an asphalt surface with an acrylic seal and was reopened in the spring.

Cynthia Bye, a 40 year-old from Huntington, Long Island, first raced in Atlanta 20 years ago. She was attracted by the elegance of the Atlanta track's curved slopes at each end and was not overly concerned that the bicycle she would be riding would have no brakes.

""It's actually safer,"" Ms. Bye said, ""because you don't have to worry that the person in front of you will stop or slow suddenly."" When she moved to New York and got married, the prospect of resuming her velodrome career at what she called the ""notorious"" Kissena Park track did not appeal to her.

""I always heard the stories about the layers of potholes, generations of weed and graffiti in every language,"" she said. But the camaraderie and competition with dozens of others gave her the fortitude to try it and to keep coming back, despite the conditions.

Renshon Michel, 17, a student at Midwood High School in Brooklyn, has been coming to watch races here ever since he was 1, broug"

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Frank Grazioli (not verified)
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Appears to be Nancy Modica.

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