18 November 2022

How Canberra has grown to love the Narrabundah Velodrome

| Tim Gavel
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Design of the Narrabundah Velodrome created tough racing and tougher cyclists. Photo: Bundahdome Facebook page.

In the early days, racing at the Narrabundah Velodrome wasn’t for the faint-hearted or for those cyclists worried about crashing.

On the first day it was open for racing in 1972, one of the first to crash was a very young Neil Stephens who went on to win a stage of the Tour de France in 1997.

There was vigorous debate over who was to blame for the design, which had the transitions between the curves and straights creating hell during racing.

Narrabundah Velodrome. Photo: Narrabunda Velodrome. Photo: Bundahdome Facebook page.

Narrabundah Velodrome – don’t let the peaceful scene deceive you, it’s a tough track. Photo: Bundahdome Facebook page.

The brutal design of the track was the reason it was often described as the ‘wall of death’.

Competitors also had to put up with brown snakes, a vicious headwind, and a protective plover that took up residence on the track.

male and female cyclist

ACT Junior Cycling champions Scarlett Snow and Matthew Hayman at the Narrabundah Velodrome 1994. Photo: Bundahdome Facebook page.

If nothing else, these hardships created a breed of rider capable of overcoming great odds.

Canberra track cyclists dominated NSW teams during the 1990s and the list of riders who started their careers at the Velodrome features some of the biggest names in the sport.

Michael Aisbitt, Mathew Hayman, Rebecca Wiasak, David Bink, Nathan Hart, Tom Clarke, Tom Palmer, Michael Rogers, Sian Mulholland, Dan Ellis, Mitchell Lovelock-Fay, Kial Stewart, Tracey Gaudrey, Michael Milton, Oenone Wood, Alison Wright, Anthony Biddle, Sue Powell, and the list goes on.

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Matthew Hayman spent many hours at the track, affectionately known as the Bundahdome.

It probably prepared him well for the cobblestones in the 2016 Paris-Roubaix race. Recovering from a broken arm, he held off the pain and all comers to record a famous victory.

In 2013 the track underwent a total refurbishment.

Cyclists racing at the Narrabundah Velodrome

Cyclists racing at the Narrabundah Velodrome as part of the 50th Anniversary celebrations in 2022. Photo: Bundahdome Facebook page.

Long-time user of the track and a member of the organising committee for the 50th-anniversary celebrations, Neil Skipper, started riding at the Velodrome as a young boy.

He recalls, “I started riding there about 38 years ago. It’s a lot safer now after a refurbishment in 2013 with the transitions topped out and the track was coated with Plexipave.”

The changes gave the Bundahdome a new lease of life, with demand for usage at an all-time high.

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In a bid to capitalise on the growth, there are proposals for further improvements.

“We need a safety zone on the inside of the track, lighting and shade structures,” says Neil.

And the upgrades will further help to support the events hosted at the site, the ACT Championships, and now the Derek Aisbitt and Merv McDonald wheel races.

With the 2025 Masters Games coming to Canberra, there is hope that if improvements can be made, it will result in a full program of track cycling.

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