Competitive cyclists meet again this weekend for series of races at Alpenrose track

Competitive cyclists from up and down the West Coast will gather this week to rub shoulders at Alpenrose Dairy.

The 20th Alpenrose Velodrome Challenge, a series of races Friday through Sunday in Southwest Portland, is known both for intense contact on the track and as a social occasion.

"What I like about Alpenrose is it's got the Portland vibe. It can get really intense, it's heavy racing, but it's still like a family gathering," says Bobby Walthour.COURTESY: MICHAEL HERNANDEZ - Jen Featheringill (left) and Dana Feiss race at Alpenrose Velodrome, site of the 20th Alpenrose Velodrome Challenge Friday through Sunday.

A former national champion from a family steeped in velodrome history — his great-grandfather was a star in the sport at the turn of the 20th century — Walthour will be participating in the Alpenrose Challenge for the fourth time. The Alpenrose Velodrome was one reason he moved to Portland several years ago.

"I have raced on grass. I have raced on wood, on dirt, on a 51-degree (banked) track. Alpenrose is unlike any other," Walthour says.

For sprinters, the velodrome at Alpenrose Dairy offers a unique strategic test.

With its tight, steep corners and long straightaways, Alpenrose provides plenty of opportunity for passing, which is not the case at velodromes in the Seattle area and British Columbia.

That is one reason Stephen McLaughry enjoys the Alpenrose Challenge.

"You can win from the front or you can win from the second position," McLaughry says. "Tactically, it's much more interesting."

McLaughry has been an elite-level racer at Alpenrose for two decades and is one of several top track sprinters from the Portland area who will compete in this Alpenrose Challenge.

Sprinting is one of several styles of track bicycle racing that will be featured during the three-day event. Among the types of races will be pursuit (where two riders start across the track from each other and try to pass their opponent), chariot (one lap from a standing start), Keirin (where riders follow a pace setter for the first few laps), and distances from 500 meters to 10 miles.

At their peak, sprinters are traveling at more than 40 mph.

Racing begins at 10 a.m. each day for the morning session. The afternoon sessions start at 5 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

It is free to watch what Walthour calls the most spectator-friendly type of bike racing — because they can see consistent action all weekend.

"Road racing is the watered-down version of track racing" in terms of action and contact, Walthour says. Plus, he notes that spectators wait all day to watch the Tour de France ride by, while at Alpenrose they can see hours of intense competition.

A total of $5,200 in prize money will be awarded during the weekend, $2,000 to elite women, $2,000 to elite men and $1,200 to masters division racers. There are two masters divisions: 35 and older and 50 and older.

The 268.43-meter Alpenrose track is notable for its extreme 43-degree banks at each end. It is one of only six velodromes on the West Coast. The U.S. has fewer than 30 velodromes.

Walthour plans to participate in some of the elite races and in some masters events. But at 41, he will avoid harm.

"I have to work on Monday," he says.

To encourage participation, the Alpenrose Challenge has teamed with the Marymoor Challenge in Redmond, Washington, for a two-race series. Only riders who participate both this week at Alpenrose and next weekend at Jerry Baker Memorial Velodrome are eligible for Cascade Cup prizes.

Because of other national-level events on the calendar — including the USA Cycling Elite Nationals in late July in Los Angeles — the Alpenrose Challenge does not expect to attract current Olympic-caliber racers this summer. But, in addition to a strong group of local racers, there will be riders who compete nationally.

"The Alpenrose challenge is one of only a few chances on the West Coast for track racers to make good money while riding their bikes," says Jen Featheringill, a Portland sprinter. "If you do both the AVC and the GP in Seattle the next weekend, you stand to win good money to fund further racing adventures."

One of the favorite things about the Challenge, according to McLaughry, is the friendly nature of the competition, even among the elite participants.

"It always has the right balance between serious competition and fun," McLaughry says.

Balance is a meaningful word at Alpenrose, where the steep corners can launch riders past a competitor — or into trouble.

"The key to sprinting at Alpenrose is learning how to use the racing surface to your advantage," Featheringill says. "Too many people disregard the racing surface in their tactical plan. You have a lot of potential energy stored up high on the track."

Cycling at Alpenrose dates to the early 1960s, when a dirt race course was built at the dairy. The Velodrome opened in 1965 and in 1967 hosted the national championships. The nationals also came to Alpenrose in 1989.

The first Alpenrose Velodrome Challenge was held in 1997. Sanctioned by the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association, the AVC has been held every summer since 1999, after taking 1998 off when Alpenrose hosted Nike World Masters Games races.

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