Cyclists prepare for national track race title in Detroit

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Detroit — Several high school students from Michigan will join dozens of cyclists from across the country in a national championship that returns to Detroit after an absence of nearly 45 years.

It’s a big moment for students like 15-year-old Connell Alford. The last time the USA Cycling Madison Nationals came to town was more than a quarter century before he and the other young riders competing this year were born.

Starting Friday and continuing through Sunday, 44 riders will descend on the Lexus Velodrome on Mack Avenue to compete in the Madison race, which the track has been specially designed to accommodate. The Detroit Fitness Foundation, which operates the Velodrome, won a five-year contract with USA Cycling and will hold the championship until 2025.

Opened in 2018, the Velodrome provides workouts, bikes and equipment to young Metro Detroiters and subsidizes their participation in national races like the Madison Championship.

Racers will compete for cash prizes of up to $400 per race in the Junior, Youth, Semi Pro and Elite divisions for men, women and children.

With a closed loop around which runners complete hundreds of laps during training and races, never coming to a complete stop, the Madison seems like the perfect sport for Alford, who lives in Chelsea. He said seven hours without moving at school made him restless.

“It’s kind of a lifestyle, in my mind, you live around that,” said Alford, who comes from an athletic family with a sister who figure skates, a father who rides a bike and a mother running.

“It’s just about constantly thinking about how to be better and always get your best performance,” he said.

Named after Madison Square Garden in New York, cyclists in the relay race, also known as the ‘American Race’ overseas, hold their bikes with one hand and use the other to start the their teammate’s bike forward.

According to Dale Hughes, executive director of the Detroit Fitness Foundation, the teams compete close together on the incline track at the same time, inviting chaos.

“Sometimes there will be 20 runners doing 35 or 40 miles an hour, shoulder to shoulder, shoulder to shoulder, wheel to wheel,” Hughes said. “All it takes is a small mistake by one person.”

Hughes’ son Jon, who built the track, coaches the riders and will be the championship announcer, said the Detroit riders have a clear shot at the titles, prize money and recognition in at minus a few of the dozens of races. during the weekend.

“Everyone has shown dedication and a real desire to really improve, and they’re trying to take it to the next level,” said Jon Hughes. “Also, they have become very fast.”

Cyclists describe the races as a chance to relax instead of a high-intensity Olympic sport, discontinued in 2012 but reinstated in 2020.

“You get into that mindset where you don’t have to worry about anything,” said 17-year-old Brendan Leary of Detroit. “It’s like therapy.”

Leary, the second of 10 children, started track cycling two years ago at a summer camp at the Velodrome after his mother forced him to go. Hesitant at first, within just two years he decided that track cycling was the career he wanted, with aspirations of traveling abroad to do so.

De’Jon Parks, also 17, also wants to travel to cycle and has a specific goal: he wants to go where the Olympics are.

Parks said joining the Velodrome helped him become a better student because he knew that if his education didn’t improve, he wouldn’t be allowed to continue playing the sport he loves.

“It keeps me out of the house, it keeps me focused,” he said. “…This sport has really changed my life.”

Education, as well as careers, is something Dale and Jon Hughes said the program is designed to inspire: it can help young riders on and off the track.

“They learn that if you do hard work, you’ll get really good results,” said Dale Hughes, adding that six of their members had received college scholarships through their program.

“In the long term, we also want to create a professional racing league where these young riders can actually make a living racing their bikes, like they do in football and basketball and those kinds of sports.”

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