News feature, December 14, 2005
Syndicate looking for partners to commercialise concept
Cycling's most expensive accessory or biggest luxury, you could say, is an indoor velodrome, preferably with a track made of Baltic pine. But it's also the best venue for watching the sport in its most pure form, and track cycling has been a proven sell-out at major sports jamborees like the Olympics and Commonwealth Games.
For that reason, the organizers of the 2006 Asian Games, to be held in Doha, Qatar, on the Persian Gulf, decided to reinstate track cycling into its program.
But a major problem for Doha is that it doesn't have a purpose-built 250 metre indoor velodrome that is homologated to UCI specifications.
And it's not just next year's Asian Games that will need a velodrome. In fact, there are several planned events to be held around the world that will each require a UCI-standard velodrome.
For this reason, the designer of the Dunc Gray velodrome used for the Sydney 2000 Olympics, Ryder Associates, is forming a consortium to build a fully transportable velodrome.
"It soon became obvious to us that a down-the-line profitable business opportunity is there to make continued use of such a very large transportable facility for track cycling," said architect Paul Ryder, principal of the Sydney-based firm.
For the Doha project, Ryder has made an alliance with experienced American velodrome designer and builder, Dale Hughes, who was involved with the temporary track used for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, as well as the 2002 Asian Games in Pusan, South Korea. Hughes also runs the 'Nastrack' in the USA, a series of races held on outdoor, transportable velodromes.
Ryder has formed "The Sportable Syndicate" and has targeted other events including the Pan Am Games in Rio (2007), Central American Games in Mexico (2009), Commonwealth Games in Delhi (2010). The syndicate will address this business opportunity to own and lease the velodrome and is now looking for other partners.
Major cost advantage
Ryder said DAGOC is planning its events using temporary transportable venues where possible, instead of permanent facilities. After an early approach from DAGOC, Ryder Associates looked at the feasibility of constructing a transportable structure on this scale.
"We concluded it is 'doable' and within a much smaller budget than would be necessary for a permanent structure," he said. "Design has now been firmed up and costed."
In fact, the velodrome for the 2008 Beijing Olympics is still to be built, but this is being handled by Chinese firms and will be a permanent facility. Another velodrome in China, in the city of Shenzen was to be used for the 2003 world track championships, but the world's were relocated to Stuttgart due to the unwillingness of several countries to send teams to China because of the threat of SARS virus. However, Shenzen is considered one of the more challenging (read poorly designed) velodromes in the world.
However, the 'business case' for the construction of permanent indoor velodromes now requires some degree of inventiveness, or at the least a very supportive government. The USA only opened its first indoor velodrome in decades last year, just in time for the 2004 world junior track championships.
The velodrome to be used in next year's Commonwealth Games in Melbourne is actually a multi-purpose facility. 'Vodafone Arena' is also used for basketball and gymnastics, with temporary seating suspended over the track surface. This seating can be moved into the facility after engineers sliced through one of the bends in the track, creating a section of the velodrome that can be articulated. It opens to allow the steel girders of the temporary seating to be moved into the building, and is then lowered back into place.
Ryder Associates designed and built 'Dunc Gray' for the Sydney Olympic Coordination Authority, with legendary British track builder Ron Webb responsible for the construction of its Baltic pine track.
'Dunc Gray' was originally slated to be part of the main Sydney Olympic Park in Homebush Bay, but its location was moved to another electorate to satisfy political considerations of the time. Still, the facility is widely applauded for its design. A key feature of the structure is that it is 'passively ventilated'; that is, the design and aspect of the building - relative to the angle of the sun and other environmental considerations - means it does not require air-conditioning.
This means that temperatures inside the track can remain comfortable "on all but the hottest Sydney days", said the architect. "Dunc Gray is a pioneer in that area and it has been recognized around the world as a result."
"It's not just a bunch of tin panels," he said, somewhat self-deprecatingly of the impressive and internationally-regarded structure, "it's got a lot of things happening in it." The sustainable design has carried over into other buildings designed by the firm.
Ryder said they would incorporate aspects of the Dunc Gray design into the transportable facility, but a question still remains over the track surface. Ryder admitted that Baltic pine is the favoured surface, but it could be impractical for a transportable facility, he said, because the pine slats are 'skew-nailed' into the supporting structure.
"It would be very difficult to dismantle without damaging the boards," he said. The firm is testing a system of clips to hold the pine slats in place so they could be dismantled and re-used.
The other surface option is plywood, used by Hughes in the USA. "There are a number of these plywood tracks in the US and Asia and they are quite successful," he said. Although Baltic pine is preferred from a sport point-of-view, "it's definitely more expensive".
Ryder is seeking expressions of interest in The Sportable Syndicate. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or call on +61 (0)419 227 532. See also www.ryders.com.au