Sandlapper Society

Go for a Ride

by Dan Huntley
Photos courtesy City of Rock Hill

The white, high-banked oval emerges out of the raw, red clay near the Catawba River like a futuristic NASA launch site.

What it actually is is nearly as exotic: a 250-meter velodrome, an Olympic-class bicycling track with staggering 42.5-degree banked turns. It’s the centerpiece of the $4 million, 250-acre Rock Hill Outdoor Center being built off I-77 just south of Charlotte.

The unique city-owned complex is being constructed within the 1,000-acre-plus Riverwalk development, a $600 million residential/commercial mix of town homes, retail, offices, single-family homes and business park. It’s being built along U.S. 21 (Cherry Road) near the Catawba River Bridge between Rock Hill and Fort Mill. The development is expected to take two decades to complete and most of it is being built on the site of the massive, former Hoechst-Celanese plant, which was once York County’s largest employer.

The Outdoor Center includes a network of walking, hiking and mountain biking trails curving along the Catawba’s tree-lined banks, as well as BMX/Supercross and Cyclocross bicycle tracks.

Rock Hill has long had stellar recreational facilities that have attracted national athletic tournaments, including several softball and baseball championships at its complex of fields at Cherry Park and, in July, its Manchester Meadows soccer fields will host the 2012 U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships.

“We saw Riverwalk as a unique opportunity for Rock Hill to be able to continue to develop recreational facilities— in addition to softball and soccer— by including a full complement of cycling activities for professional and amateur athletes, as well as children and families,” said Rhea Faris, Rock Hill Parks Division Supervisor. “With the Velodrome, we’ll be able to bring world-class cyclists for events to help build interest and enthusiasm for cycling here locally.”
To help defray the expenses of the center, Rock Hill has brought in several corporate sponsors such as Giordana, the cycling apparel label for Gita Sporting Goods, a Charlotte-based bicycle equipment distributor that has bought the naming rights for the Giordana Velodrome. Gita has also agreed to help supply bicycles for the Center.

To encourage the community to exercise and stay healthy, Piedmont Medical Center of Rock Hill has agreed to sponsor a picturesque 2.25-mile trail to be used for hiking, running and biking along the southwestern bank of the Catawba River. The ten-foot-wide paved trail opened in July 2010 and city officials say at least 9,000 visitors use the trail monthly.

The Piedmont Medical Center Trail is part of the City of Rock Hill’s Trails and Greenways System, as well as the Carolina Thread Trail, a regional network of trails and greenways spanning 15 counties in North and South Carolina and connecting more than two million people. The Trail will eventually connect to other parts of the Riverwalk Development. Along the hilly, winding trail— including uphill and downhill stretches with deep grades— are benches, garbage cans, pet stations and bridges. Restrooms are located in the parking lot. The trail is handicapped accessible and monitored by park staff. Its parking lot can be reached through Dunkins Ferry Road off Cherry Road near the Catawba River Bridge.

Thad Fischer has more than 35 years’ experience around the globe as a cycling coach, trainer and promoter. He’s been hired as cycling coordinator for the Giordana Velodrome. This past summer he brought the Colombian National Track Cycling Team to Rock Hill to observe the track under construction.

The Velodrome has already been chosen to host the 2012 and 2013 USA Cycling International Omnium Track National Championships. The 2012 event will be held just after the cycling events at the Olympic Games in London in August.

Odd as it may sound, the Giordana Velodrome is not Rock Hill’s first velodrome— or even second. At the beginning of the 20th century there was a velodrome in one of Winthrop University’s campus buildings and there was another velodrome in Rock Hill. The popularity of velodromes and cycling races began to decline with the advent of automobiles and car racing.

The Giordana Velodrome was designed by German architect Ralph Schuermann, who helped design the velodrome at the Beijing Olympics. Another Schuermann family member designed the velodrome at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968. The Velodrome has concrete stands for 800 spectators and has a NASCAR-style infield with an underground access tunnel, and a state-of-the-art, two-story complex where cyclists can work on and store their bikes. The complex also houses a second floor judge’s room to observe the track and finish line. The track has extensive lighting for night races. Fischer predicts that in addition to amateur recreational cycling for young people at the track, it could possibly be the setting for exciting night races where spectators can watch a circular blur of international cyclists beneath the stars.

“There is an element of excitement and glamour at this level of cycling,” Fischer said.

Cyclists can reach speeds of up to 45 mph on the track, but amateurs can cycle safely at speeds of 10–12 mph. “This track is not only Olympic caliber, but in the years to come, you will see young local cyclists who will be attracted to the Velodrome and build a tradition right here in Rock Hill for world-class cycling,” said Fischer. “We see the Velodrome as being the center of attention but the important thing is to bring in people of all abilities in the Carolinas to get on any kind of bike and be able to ride on practically any kind of track or trail out here.”

The Giordano Velodrome opened to the public in mid-March. For more information, visit cityofrockhill.com or giordanavelodrome.com.