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Track Cycling In The Olympics | The Rio 2016 Velodrome

Will the most important cycle racing track of 2016 be ready in time?

Track Cycling In The Olympics | The Rio 2016 Velodrome
Artist’s impression of the completed Rio Velodrome – Photo: rio2016.com

With the 2016 games just months away all eyes are on Brazil to finish construction of its Olympic venues, in particular the repeatedly delayed Rio Velodrome. Currently a crack team of cycle track builders led by one of the world’s top velodrome designers are toiling away, trying to get the venue ready for cycle racing in August. So what’s the story behind Rio’s most troublesome Olympic build and will it be completed this summer or will we still be waiting to race on it in 2020?

Where Will The Rio Velodrome Be Built?

Track Cycling In The Olympics | The Rio 2016 Velodrome
The Rio Velodrome will be built next to the coast in Barra da Tijuca – Photo: Google.com

Designed and built specially for the 2016 games, the Rio Velodrome is part of the staggering £5.1bn Rio Olympic park project. Located in Barra da Tijuca on the West side of Rio the Olympic park sits right on the coast, enjoying stunning views out across the Atlantic Ocean.

Track Cycling In The Olympics | The Rio 2016 Velodrome
Barra da Tijuca – Wikipedia.org

Barra is one of Rio’s richest and most beautiful neighbourhoods. Known for its beaches, rivers and mansions this is a playground for Brazil’s celebrities and is fast becoming one of the most popular spots to go shopping and clubbing in the city.

The Olympic Park site is built on an area of reclaimed marshland that used to be the site of the Nelson Piquet International Autodrome which was a major centre for motorsport, hosting the Formula One Brazilian Grand Prix on ten occasions. Nine years ago the site was partially redeveloped for the 2007 Pan American Games when a velodrome was built to host the Games’ track cycling events. Since then both the track and the original velodrome have been demolished to make way for the 2016 Olympic Park project.

Track Cycling In The Olympics | The Rio 2016 Velodrome
The 2007 Barra Velodrome – Photo: Wikipedia.org

It might seem crazy to tear down a one velodrome just to build another one but unfortunately the 2007 track didn’t meet International Cycling Union (UCI) standards for Olympic events. With the costs for modifying the existing velodrome running close to the price for a completely new building it was decided to knock down the old Barra Velodrome and start again.

How Is The Rio Velodrome Being Built?

Track Cycling In The Olympics | The Rio 2016 Velodrome
The Rio Velodrome’s outer shell is now complete – Photo: Rio2016.com

The Rio Velodrome’s construction began in February 2014, and it’s been a green minded project from the get go, designed to gain LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, which means it will promote sustainability in its construction.

When it’s completed the Rio Velodrome will be the first Olympic level training venue in the country. Unlike the 2007 velodrome the Rio 2016 velodrome will be kept, along with most of the other park venues, as part of an Olympic training centre for Brazil’s future world class athletes.

Track Cycling In The Olympics | The Rio 2016 Velodrome
After the Olympics the Rio velodrome, and other Olympic Park venues, will become a training centre  – Photo: Olympic.org

Featuring permanent seats for 5,000 plus 800 temporary seats just for the games, the Rio velodrome will have almost the same capacity its London 2012 predecessor and the similarities don’t end there. The Rio track will also be made out of Siberian Pine, just like the London 2012 Velodrome.

How Fast Will The Rio Velodrome Be?

Track Cycling In The Olympics | The Rio 2016 Velodrome
Siberian Pine is one of the best timers for building velodrome tracks – Photo: Wikipedia.org

Siberian pine is famous for its ability to bend into new shapes without splintering or breaking while still maintaining the strength needed to build an Olympic level cycle racing track.

Reputed to be the fastest surface for racing on in the world, Siberian Pine can be affected by changes in temperature and humidity which cause the wood to warp. Velodrome tracks have to be flawless to achieve the best results at competition. Even small bumps or irregularities can makes a track impossible to race on which means that conditions have to be perfect for the wood before track construction can begin.

Track Cycling In The Olympics | The Rio 2016 Velodrome
The London 2012 velodrome also made use of Siberian Pine – Photo: Wikipedia.org

For London 2012 the wood was given several months inside the drome to acclimatise to UK conditions before it was used, ensuring the smoothest and fastest possible finish. It’s not clear how long the timber for Rio has had to get used to the sweltering Brazilian heat which raises some questions about the final finish. If all goes well though this track could still be fast enough to set new Olympic and world records.

Who Designed The Rio Velodrome?

Track Cycling In The Olympics | The Rio 2016 Velodrome
Ralph Schurmann – Photo: velodromes.com

The team building the Rio Velodrome track are lead by Ralph Schurmann, part of the Schuermann Architects group who are have been designing velodromes since 1925 and have 7 Olympic and 20 World Championship tracks to their name. These are the same guys who were responsible for the Beijing 2008 track which saw Olympic Records set by the likes of Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins and Victoria Pendleton so we can be sure of a fast track when it’s eventually finished.

Track Cycling In The Olympics | The Rio 2016 Velodrome
Shurman also helped to design the Laoshan Velodrome for the Beijing 2008 Olympics – Photo: wikipedia.org

When Will The Rio Velodrome Be Finished?

With tonnes of delays, time is running out for the Rio Velodrome to be completed

The Rio Velodrome was originally Scheduled to be finished in second half of 2015 (according to Rio 2016 website) but construction has been repeatedly delayed. The first test run at the velodrome was due to take place in March 2016 but was then pushed back a month. As April came around it was clear that the track still wouldn’t be ready in time and a new projected finish date of May 31 has now been given with a provisional schedule for a training event and test run at the end of June.

Organisers have cited “logistical problems” with unloading the wood and installing offices as the reason behind the delays, but whether everything will be running smoothly by the opening of the games on August 5 and the start of track cycling events on August 11-16 remains a mystery.

According to the latest reports there is currently a shell to the building but no news on the wooden track yet, but with the shell in place everything can be sealed and air conditioned for the Siberian timber to be laid. So fingers crossed for meeting that August deadline and creating a track where Team GB can smash even more Olympic Records.

Track Cycling In The Olympics | The Rio 2016 Velodrome
Photo: wikipedia.org

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