Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Cycling: Arena to change face of NZ sport

The new developments will synchronise with the opening of the next stage in the Te Awa cycleway from the velodrome to Leamington. Photo / Thinkstock
The new developments will synchronise with the opening of the next stage in the Te Awa cycleway from the velodrome to Leamington. Photo / Thinkstock

The Waipa district sports hub revolution is about to take its next step, with the $28.5 million cycling arena, the Avantidrome, due to be handed over in February.

The district has long been home to rowers and high achievers across the equine spectrum and will add cycling, triathlon and possibly canoeing hubs next year.

Sarah Ulmer, New Zealand's only Olympic gold medal-winning cyclist, perhaps sums it up best: "It will be cool to see the community brushing shoulders with a number of the world's best athletes in the Cambridge 'CBD'."

Bike NZ and Triathlon New Zealand will take up tenanted space in the new velodrome, while Canoe Racing New Zealand is weighing up whether to base itself at Karapiro.

The new developments will synchronise with the opening of the next stage in the Te Awa cycleway from the velodrome to Leamington (there is already a section from Leamington to Karapiro). The 70km cycleway from Ngaruawahia to Horahora on the shores of Karapiro is due for completion in two years.

"It feels like everybody has been feverish about the direction we're going," Ulmer says. "The velodrome has been in the pipeline for years and there will be all-purpose trails to take people there. These developments are not just catering to the elite; it will benefit everyone from those riding mobility scooters to mums with prams to high performance athletes.

"I moved to Cambridge to train 13 years ago and it's brilliant to see the town used to its capacity. In large part, that's down to passionate townsfolk who tend to see opportunities rather than obstacles."

It hasn't always been that way in relation to the velodrome, located at St Peter's School just north of Cambridge. Ulmer's fellow Olympic gold medallist and new summer Games chef de mission Rob Waddell fronted a public meeting two years ago to debate whether ratepayers should pitch in $6 million towards the project. At the time, the Waikato Times reported the likes of Grey Power and Hamilton Citizens and Ratepayers chief John Easto campaigning against the development, claiming it wouldn't deliver much back.

Waddell says he could understand their positions because the region had suffered through the demise of the V8s; the impact of the Christchurch earthquakes; and the hangover from the global financial crisis.

"It was a chance to explain and make people look harder at the issue. We wanted to show it was a robust plan, the velodrome would be built on time, and weren't going to be asking for more help.

"We raised the money in a tough environment but we believe it will be a sustainable operation and an asset to the community, not a white elephant. Our aim is for 70 per cent of its use to be by the community through schools, clubs and families."

The long-term plan is for the 1500-seat velodrome to be a multi-purpose events centre. Already suggestions abound about using it for weddings, funerals and, on the day the Herald on Sunday visited, equestrian Andrew Nicholson popped in and said the arena could be suitable for showjumping.

- Herald on Sunday

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