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Emanuele Bianchi

Although I try to keep track of everything that’s going on in Chicago’s burgeoning bicycle scene, racing is one facet that I’m not so familiar with, but I’m definitely interested in learning more. For example, I’m not sure I had ever heard of the Illinois Cycling Association (ICA) before I attended their 4th annual awards ceremony on Saturday, having read about the event on the Chainlink.

The ICA is a federation of local bike clubs and promoters that are registered with USA Cycling, which promotes racing on a national level. The association’s goal is to raise the level of competitive cycling in Illinois, a state not yet known as a bike racing Mecca due to its mostly pancake-flat topography. This may change in the future if ICA member Emanuele Bianchi achieves his dream of building the world’s best indoor velodrome, the $40 million Chicago Velo Campus, on the city’s Southeast Side. I interviewed Bianchi about the project last fall.

The awards ceremony, held at Macello’s Italian restaurant, 1235 W. Lake, doubled as a benefit for the velo campus. Specifically, the money will go towards building a $500,000 cover over the temporary wooden velodrome that Bianchi and his colleagues built last summer at 8615 S. Burley, on the former site of a U.S. Steel facility.

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Hansen, Hamilton and a young competitor

At the event association president Steve Hansen, owner of Turin bike shop in Evanston, awarded gleaming trophies to youth and adult winners of last year’s ICA-sponsored road, criterium, time trial, cyclocross and track competitions. Masters track racing champion James Host and Sportif Team Exergy director Tad Hamilton talked about their experiences with the sport. And Bianchi shared his plans for the velodrome and asked the crowd for their support. Here’s a transcript of his speech.

I hope you guys have enjoyed the dinner. We were looking for a place to have good Italian food and I figured you guys couldn’t all fit in my living room so we opted for Macello’s.

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So first I wanted to thank Steve for the nice work as usual. He organized this event with some of my helpers and they were able to raise some cash for the velodrome, which is great. So thank you so much for this nice event.

I put together the velodrome that Steve mentioned. It’s a steep-banked track, which we haven’t had in the city of Chicago for about 65 years. And when I came here from Italy I thought that was an important thing to have to grow cycling here, especially from a juniors perspective, since I was always focused about the youth development. And I also thought we needed an indoor velodrome.

When I first asked, do we have an indoor velodrome here in Chicago, I was told no, the only one in the U.S. is in Los Angeles. So we’re trying to build an indoor velodrome but it’s a big, big deal, with many millions of dollars needed. So we started with an outdoor velodrome, sort of an interim facility. And now this velodrome is outdoors, being enjoyed. We had people riding on it last Saturday, in January in Chicago. It’s sort of a miracle.

So we would like to cover this thing so that the winter indoor training program that we have at the velodrome is not on rollers but on the track. Three days a week we have youth and adults training on rollers in our mobile unit, which is like a 1,400 square-foot building.

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Image courtesy of Chicago Velo Campus

In the same building we also do the Fix-to-Own program, which is a program that allows six or twelve kids at a time to learn how to fix bicycles. They earn the bicycle that they’ve fixed, along with a Park Tool book and some other things, like a lock for the bike and lights.

We were on Groupon last week. We asked Groupon to help us find money for the locks, the lights, the helmets and a few other things for the riders that are going to become cyclists after they learn how to fix their bike and they own that specific bike. The Groupon went OK, not as well as I expected. I was hoping to raise about $3,000 to buy all these things for a number of sessions. But it’s OK, it’s good anyway.

What I wanted to let you guys know is that the velodrome is in a difficult part of the city, in the Southeast Side where U.S. Steel used to have a big steel mill. When they closed it [in 1992] the whole economy there imploded and there was nothing for many years. And now, after 20 years, we have this velodrome, so there’s a little something going on, and all these kids have a chance to learn something outside of their usual orbit.

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Image courtesy of Chicago Velo Campus

We want to cover it so we’re looking for money. There’s been some discussion on the Web about me trying to change the people that want to cycle outside four seasons and put them into a velodrome. You know, this is competitive cycling. You cannot do it going to the office. Commuting in the winter is beautiful and I do it even in the snow, I always bike to the office.

But I want to transform the limits of not having a place to cycle competitively during the winter. We have to cover the velodrome that we have right now and the money needed is half a million dollars. It’s not like $40 million for the [large indoor velodrome and multisport complex], the big dream that we are still trying to achieve. This small thing is a pretty feasible project.

The last thing I would like to say is the real deal is the big picture, the big velodrome that can make a difference for cycling in the United States. If we have a velodrome like the Chicago Velo Campus, judging from my experience going around the world to see all these other velodromes, this would be a unique facility globally, so it would be a fantastic thing. I know it’s not easy but it is possible and if we all kind of work together and do a little bit we can make it happen.

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