Doug Emerson, who has owned Boulder’s University Bikes for 37 years, was about to sell the Boulder Valley Velodrome last year. The new owners planned to tear down the pitched wooden oval he had built for the fast-paced sport of track cycling over an arduous decade with partner Frank Banta. The plan was to make room for a driving range.
After slashing the price and watching the one-of-a-kind Colorado track sit dormant since the pandemic, Emerson called his cycling buddies and said “if we’ve been at the 11th hour, now it’s midnight.”
“I told them, let’s say your group buys this and it doesn’t get blown over in a twister and it doesn’t get flooded in a 1,000-year flood and you don’t have to wait 18 months to open and you aren’t dead broke when you finally welcome cyclists, then I think you’ve got a great shot,” he said from his home in Sayulita, Mexico.
A new investment group is stepping up to save the Boulder Valley Velodrome in Erie. The investors, a group of well-known cyclists from Colorado, plan to operate the venue as a nonprofit led by Team Colorado Cycling, which trains up-and-coming junior cyclists for pro-level racing. The plan is to rehab the dormant track and craft a community gathering spot as well as an international cycling destination that can both introduce newcomers to the sport of track cycling and provide high-altitude training for elite athletes.
“This is a refocusing and new mission for us,” said team manager Todd Stevenson, who will head the effort and announced the sale Thursday. “We want to get more adults and kids on bikes. We want to provide a facility that will bring the community together.”
The Boulder Valley Velodrome began with a similar vision offered by Emerson and Banta in 2004. After years of planning, the pair broke ground on a 4.2-acre site in Erie in 2011. An August 2013 microburst wind storm shredded the nearly constructed track. Cataclysmic floods devoured the site a month later.
Banta and Emerson finally opened their velodrome in the spring of 2015, filling the track with paying members and the 250-spectator arena with cycling fans.
“It feels like we built the first hockey rink in Canada,” Emerson told The Denver Post in September 2015 as elite athletes from across the world spun high-speed laps on the wooden track during a fall evening race.
Two years later Banta and Emerson put the track up for sale, asking for $4.7 million. In 2019, with the price at $1.8 million, they inked a contract with an unknown buyer who planned to raze the facility. Cycling groups rallied to save the velodrome and in early 2020, a nonprofit coalition of cyclists announced they had raised enough to best the offer and buy the facility. That deal crumbled at the onset of the pandemic. The track has been closed since the fall of 2019.
The golf group was about to buy it when the new investment team took shape. This is a different group from the cyclists who rallied in 2020.
The new team — they are BVV Holdings LLC, includes Cari Higgins, a 23-time national road and track cycling champion who was introduced to track cycling through a community program at the Olympic training velodrome in Colorado Springs in the early 2000s.
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“I give all credit to the community programs at the Colorado Springs velodrome for not only recognizing my talent but also creating a supportive community,” said Higgins, who hopes the Boulder Valley Velodrome will do the same for younger athletes.
Track cycling is a hard sport to excel at, largely due to the lack of training facilities. USA Cycling counts 21 velodromes operating in 17 states but only three have roofs that allow for year-round pedaling and only four — including the Boulder Valley Velodrome — meet Olympic and international standards for racing.
Boulder Valley Velodrome is the only one in the country with an outdoor, wooden track that is 250 meters, the international racing and Olympic standard. That elevates the appeal of the Erie track among athletes keen to train at altitude as they prepare for major international contests like the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
Already international teams are lining up to train at the velodrome, Stevenson said.
His investors plan to launch a GoFundMe campaign this week to kick off the investment plan. They have funds to match the first $25,000 and hope to raise $100,000. That will help strip, refinish, repair and paint the 15,000-square-foot track.
He’s got 50 track bikes lined up for visiting pedalers and a host of volunteers ready to help. Stevenson has toured the country, visiting most velodromes to help sculpt a business plan. He will sell annual memberships and will rely on volunteers to help run the operation, which will include training and certifying newcomers on fixed-gear track bikes and etiquette. He’s expecting international teams to flock for training at 5,130 feet.
He’s planning concerts and festivals. Maybe there’s room to build cycling amenities on the property, like a pump track or cyclocross course. He expects the busy season will run from April through October but hopes to open on weekends during warm stretches of winter.
He envisions the velodrome as both a destination for traveling cyclists and professional athletes coming from all over as well as locals and kids. The visitors can ride mountain bike singletrack and gravel roads while basing out of Erie. The kids can pedal existing trails to the velodrome. Families can come for events, he said.
“We are going to see Olympians coming out of Erie”
Cyclists in Colorado Springs are complaining anew over the limited access to the U.S. Olympic Velodrome in the city’s Memorial Park. The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee-managed velodrome is only open to select non-Olympic cyclists a couple days a week even though Olympic hopefuls mostly train at a velodrome in Los Angeles.
“We are filling a big gap in the middle of the country for velodromes,” Stevenson said. “The Front Range of Colorado has so much to offer for families and cyclists and adding this as a destination and resurrecting this new track, it’s a big deal and we are seeing people get pretty excited about it.”
The Town of Erie is booming, with its population tripling to 35,000 since 2005 and an expectation to grow to 60,000 residents in the next decade. The town will soon begin construction of its 390-acre Town Center, which will mix housing, shopping, dining, public spaces and offices in a pedestrian-focused new urbanism community. The Boulder Valley Velodrome is at the southern entrance of the new development and “will really help anchor our Town Center,” said Julian Jacquin, the director of Erie’s economic development efforts.
Jacquin in the past two years has discussed the velodrome with potential buyers who wanted to demolish the facility to make room for housing or businesses. He sees the new plan for the velodrome jibing with Erie’s plans for the Town Center as a mixed-use entertainment destination.
“All the activities Todd is envisioning — food truck festivals and movie nights and concerts — will be a unique location to hold events just as Town Center comes online and starts building momentum,” Jacquin said. “He will help generate the buzz for Erie and provide a place for all the people around the Front Range, around the state and around the country to come and use the track and enjoy our town.”
Back when the Boulder Valley Velodrome was spinning in high gear, the track would host events that drew as many as 250 cyclists and spectators and nearly 500 visitors a week. Those are the kind of crowds who can support construction of Erie’s first hotel, which is planned for the Town Center, Jacquin said.
The five seasons that the Boulder Valley Velodrome were open were good years, Emerson said. But he and Banta could never recover from the disasters that cost them millions. He said he and Banta always repeated the line from the movie “Field of Dreams,” as they toiled.
“If we build it they will come, we said,” Emerson said. “And they did. This story is a Disney movie script. Or at least a great documentary. Twisters, floods, disasters, financial ruin and then these guys swooping in at the last minute and save the day. It’s a great story that is playing out in favor of cyclists. They are the winners here. Mark my words: We are going to see Olympians coming out of Erie.”
Like Makala Jaramillo, an aspiring pro cyclist who hopes to race in the L.A. Summer Games. The 18-year-old from Monument has been racing bikes for eight years and training at the Colorado Springs Olympic velodrome. But she can access that track only twice a week at specific times.
She plans to spend a lot of time at the Boulder Valley Velodrome as she trains for her Olympic dream.
“I think it will raise everyone’s level of riding and fitness and we can all push each other and grow as a whole in Colorado,” said Jaramillo, who races for the Sonic Boom cycling team out of Boulder.
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Jim Kinsinger was pretty new to track cycling when Banta and Emerson began working with Erie officials to permit the new velodrome in 2012. The road and cyclocross athlete started going to those meetings, offering support for the velodrome plan unfolding in his neighborhood.
After the structure blew down in the 2013 wind storm, Kinsinger started spending many hours a week helping to rebuild. When it opened he rode the track regularly and volunteered when he wasn’t pedaling.
In 2020 and 2021, as potential buyers visited the dormant track, Kinsinger would open the doors and help answer questions. Lately he’s been working with Stevenson, who calls him “volunteer number one.”
“I think Todd has had lots of experience with the cycling community in Colorado and he can find ways to make this work,” Kinsinger said. “If things don’t work out as he planned, he’s smart enough to adapt and make changes to keep things rolling.”
In October 2018, Los Angeles hosted the masters track cycling world championships at the city’s Velo Sports Center. Veteran athletes from around the globe flocked to the Boulder Valley Velodrome to train that summer.
Kinsinger, who is 78, remembers that summer fondly as he joined the world’s elite masters on his home track. He won two bronze medals in L.A., helping the U.S. lead the medal haul for the world championships.
“If you take all the athletes who trained at the Boulder Valley Velodrome, we would have had the second highest number of medals,” he said.
He is eager to start pedaling around the track again. He plans to continue volunteering and hopes to connect more local kids to track cycling. He loves getting out on his bike and not dealing with traffic. He appreciates sitting in the arena and watching every minute of a race.
“It’s not like a road race where you get a quick glimpse of passing riders,” he said. “At a track you get to watch the whole race from start to finish. I tell you, it’s great fun.”