Races between NEV and CycleLoft riders foreshadowed the conflict that has arisen this season. © Natalia McKittrick
This is the first of a two-part series with exclusive interviews of the parties involved with New England’s velodrome, the home to a weekly cyclocross training series and the New England Velo-Cross Challenge. For the other side of the story, read Part Two, including our interview with the former head of the New England Velodrome, Tony Eberhardt. Have an opinion? Drop a comment below.
by Natalia McKittrick
I don’t believe I’ll breach journalistic objectivity by saying that New England is the heartbeat of cyclocross in the US. The Red Sox, I hear, are having trouble selling tickets on the weekends conflicting with Gloucester Grand Prix or Northampton Cycle-Smart Verge races. No, not really. You get the point, though.
Cyclocross has penetrated so deep under New Englanders’ rough skin that even a local velodrome developed a cyclocross course rash. Tony Eberhardt started the New England Velodrome (NEV), located in Londonderry, NH (45-60 min drive from Boston) five years ago. The inherited former go-cart track came with the scars of cracks in the pavement, bushes, divots and some fencing. Five years in, with the help of volunteers, friends, family and sponsors, the venue was not only offering a full track racing menu, but also started hosting a complement of cyclocross and BMX racing, including a weekly training series.
With the closest velodromes being in Breinigsville, PA (Trexlertown) and NYC, NY (Kissena), New England Velodrome in Londonderry, NH, has established itself as a sweet spot for New England track, cyclocross and BMXers alike. Racers no longer had to travel to Star Crossed in Seattle or the French World Cup in Roubaix to get a taste of velodrome-based cyclocross racing.
This year, March started on an unusually warm note, pushing cyclists off their trainers and onto the road. That’s when you start getting all those updates and newsletters from race promoters. That’s when you can smell the racing again and start getting your jitters back. Or maybe it’s just the coffee.
One way or the other, newsletters, just like returning migration birds, started flying in, as they do every year. Only this year one of them was different from the flock. So different that it caused some to rage and others remain silent, some to dish out wild theories and others turn into silentiaries.
Why the drama? As anyone who’s read the newsletter published at www.nevelodrome.com knows, at the very least the track will be under new management this year. What is awaiting cyclocross and track racers? Is there going to be cyclocross racing and a BMX program continued under new management? There are a lot of questions and some flaring tempers in New England right now.
Who are these two guys behind the takeover? Their bios are extensive:
• Acquired the Cycle Loft, one of Boston’s largest bicycle retailers, in 2006.
• Over twenty years of experience in the cycling industry
• USA Certified Cycling Coach
• MBA from Babson College (2002)
• New England State Track Champion in Masters category (2009)
• Born 1969 in Harare, Zimbabwe.
• Three National Cycling Championship Titles: BMX (ZIM 1982), Road (ZIM 1991), Track (USA 2008).
• Invited as a Guest Rider on the Super-Cup National Cyclocross Series 1999, 2000, and helped Lyle Fulkerson promote and host the series and National Championships.
• Certified Advanced Bike Fit Specialist and USA Cycling Level 2 Coach.
• Directed programs at two American velodromes, and has coached USAC programs at four velodromes in the US.
• Former Director and Head Coach of the Asheville Mellowdrome Track Program – became the fastest developing track program in the country.
• Worked with several riders on either bike fit or personal coaching to several National Titles and two World Championship Titles.
• Developed and managed the First Fully-Sponsored American Six Day Team since the Second World War. (Simes, Barlevav)
• Annually coaches the USA Cycling U23 Talent I.D. camp in Pennsylvania every summer.
Cyclocross Magazine presents an exclusive interview with the new management team, CycleLoft’s owner and president Jeff Palter and CycleLoft’s coach Kurt Begemann. Tomorrow Cyclocross Magazine will have an interview with Tony Eberhardt, who’s run the program at NEV for the past five years.
Natalia McKittrick: The velodrome Newsletter seems to imply that you (Jeff Palter and Kurt Begemann) offered increased monthly rent to the owner of the property that NEV was using – is this correct?
Jeff Palter: Completely false.
NM: You did not offer a higher lease?
NM: It remained the same?
JP: It’s irrelevant what the actual number is.
Kurt Begemann: We were told what the lease was and we said OK. First of all it, was brought to our attention by someone in cycling community – we weren’t looking for it – that the lease was a possibility. There was a strong possibility that he had not yet signed a lease for this year. We then inquired [with the owner] if that was the case, and when that was confirmed, the next question was if the lease was open to anyone else to take it and the answer was “yes.”
JP: If [Tony] chooses to view the fact that the business transaction was done without him knowing it and characterizing it as behind his back, then it’s his prerogative to describe it that way.
NM: Did you indicate your intentions to do so to Tony Eberhardt prior to the offer officially being made?
KB: No. We didn’t. And the reality is that we don’t have to let him know. I don’t see Tony in the light that other people see Tony. He did a fantastic job of starting track cycling in New England, offered a full menu of track disciplines up there, no one can take that away. But his knowledge and experience only allowed him to grow track to a certain level. That’s my professional opinion. I came here because I kept hearing all these good things about the NEV. When I came to the Velodrome I was shocked at what people thought was “good” track racing. So I felt like Tony has done as good of a job as it could get thus far, and when I wanted to take it further, he was resistant to that.
When a business opportunity presented itself, I saw an opportunity to take the track to the next level and grow it to the point when it hosts 200-300 riders, so that the investors clearly see the message that there is a need for an indoor velodrome.
NM: Was Tony offered a chance of a counter-offer?
JP: We don’t know, and there are certain things that we are now not going to discuss because of legal ramifications stemming from the NEV newsletter. Out of respect for the owner, we are not going to involve him.
Palter and Begeman cruise a lap at NEV. © Natalia McKittrick
NM: Do you agree that your move can be viewed as showing “lack of respect for the sport of cycling, the community and the riders who made it all possible?”
JP: Absolutely not. It does not show the lack of respect to that. Tony may think that it shows the lack of respect to him, and that’s a separate issue. This is the characterization he is choosing, and there are a number of ways to characterize that. Someone could say that Mr. Eberhardt should have done what he needed to do such that his lease was secure.
KB: For me, it’s business. There are mergers and acquisitions happening every day. Companies don’t go to each other and say “hey by the way, I am going to do this, so you might as well just give a heads up to all your staff that they might want to start looking for another job.” It’s just business. For me, I saw an opportunity to benefit the New England Cycling scene, to build a better track.
NM: A few bicycle shops have continuously sponsored the NEV, CB and Wheelworks being the prime examples. CycleLoft is a bicycle shop whose owner and coach both raced consistently at the NEV track for the whole season – has it ever seemed like a viable idea to offer sponsorship to NEV?
JP: We discussed sponsorship in early 2009. It was for the 2009 season and we had a couple of phone calls with this idea of putting out a Madison league and how much it was going to cost…
KB: We tried to work with Tony, on different occasions, and it led nowhere. He did seem open to a clinic we offered on riders’ protocol and etiquette. He wanted us to become a sponsor of the venue, we agreed to that. We wanted to rent the track for a day and promote the clinic ourselves because I have done this many times before and I know how to do it. It would be a CycleLoft clinic, but we were going to hold it in conjunction with New England Velodrome. We were going to become a sponsor of the Velodrome for one of the series for the year; but Tony expressed his wish to have the rights to use my coaching materials which we (Jeff and I) didn’t think was fair. I spent over 20 years developing them. So that became a dead end.
NM: If the collaboration between you and NEV wasn’t working out, wouldn’t it seem logical to have clinics and leagues at another venue (given that the closest suitable one would be in Trexlertown, PA or Kissena, NY)? If your clinic is as good as you say, wouldn’t people drive all the way out there?
KB: Well, in fact I do teach a clinic at T-town, and a couple of people from the Boston area did come out to it, yes.
JP: But that was not the point; the point was to have a local clinic for the local riders.
NM: But what if there is no way around it to have it the way you wanted?
JP: We didn’t know that until we went down the road.
KB: When it got to that point when we realized it wasn’t going to work we said we were done. We tried.
NM: At the same time, as rumors have it, you were involved in working on the development of indoors track in Boston area, is it somehow connected to your taking over the NEV?
JP: It’s not
KB: It is.
JP: Well it is, but to a degree, not specifically to this.
KB: It is not connected to the NEV and, yes, we were working on an indoor velodrome, but we don’t know whether this is connected to Tony. I’ve been working on indoor velodrome projects for a long time, the most recent one being in North Carolina in 2007. They are multi-million projects. If you don’t get the funding, you don’t get the indoor track.
NM: Is that what happened to the track project in NC?
KB: Didn’t get the funding.
NM: What makes you think it’s going to be any different here?
KB: There are definitely people who are going to invest money into it, but the community needs to show the need for an indoor track.
NM: Tony has heavily integrated the community into administering the NEV: maintenance, running of the track, series, advertisement, PR was done with the help of volunteers from the cycling community, which helped shape the track into truly a community-based venture. Are you hoping to keep that mentality of the track or are you going with something else?
KB: Very few people actually came to us to offer help and ask if we needed them to be involved.
NM: You didn’t offer any explanation to your potential ridership and the community…
JP: The damage that the NEV newsletter has caused to our business forced us to seek legal advice and at that time the advice was to not say anything.
NM: Given that many regulars of the NEV are confused by what had happened, what is your plan in respect to attracting racers to the venue?
JP: Lower training races’ fees, lower race entry fees…
KB: Clinics, coaching… The last thing I want to see is riders not coming to the velodrome. The only thing I want from the existing velodrome is that the riders continue racing and supporting the velodrome because they are passionate about cycling. I don’t want them to feel that their volunteered efforts are in vain.
I understand the loyalty to Tony, I don’t want to change that at all. I understand that this kind of loyalty builds through friendship over time, and I totally respect that. But if you are passionate about the sport, why don’t you partake in taking it to the next level?
NM: Within the past 2 years in addition to the track itself, Tony had developed a cyclocross course and a BMX platform which were getting an increased attention – what’s your plan in respect to those?
JP: That’s still in the plans. We are working on a BMX facility right now, and the cyclocross will come mid-season, that’s part of the plan as well; we would like to keep all of the programs intact, running and growing, and we want people to still do that; but if people choose not to do so because of siding, it is ultimately going to hurt the facility.
KB: For example, the guy who was in charge of the BMX program, we think he was doing a great job. We would love for him to continue.
JP: He has not returned phone calls. We heard he was working with Tony to build an indoor BMX facility. We are looking for someone who can take over managing the BMX program.
NM: Will you drop the BMX part if no suitable candidate comes around?
JP: We don’t know.
NM: How did your relationship with the NEV start?
KB: In 2007 I was running a track in NC when one day Tony phoned me to ask if I had any advice for him on how he could grow programs here. We met with him and his partner in Manchester [NH] when I moved back to New England a year later, talked about how I could be involved in a number of capacities: race promotion or a coach or providing clinics.
I was planning to help him develop a Madison program, state championships and we were going to put on a clinic. Two or three weeks prior to the clinic, Mr. Eberhardt canceled the clinic stating that financial support was the priority at the time.
Jeff and I have been friends for a long time and I got him involved in track. We started riding there from the first Saturday it was open. Even though this [clinic cancellation] happened between us and Tony we continued to ride. Then Tony did bring me in for this one Madison clinic one afternoon there. It was a decent rider turn out, it was about 22 riders there. After that it was left alone and the Madisons didn’t develop after that.
JP: I raced there the whole season, and from the store’s perspective, I was also trying to promote the store at the track, and vice versa: I had NEV brochures and leaflets at the store as well.
NM: What is going to be radically different at the track under your administration? What can racers definitely expect and what should they not expect?
JP: It is in the plans to improve the surface of the track, assess the damage that was done over the winter, deal with the cracks in the pavement.
KB: One of the things we would like to do is make an apron, one way or another, to create a slightly better racing surface.
There will definitely be the New England State Championship; a full complement of races. We are including pursuits and Madisons in the program this year. There will be pursuits series for all racing demographics. There will be a Grand Prix, if not two of them, which will be held on weekends other than those reserved for States Championships. We hope to hold weekly series as well.
JP: In respect to cyclocross, come September we are planning on putting on cyclocross programming.
Check back tomorrow for Part II of our story and our interview with Tony Eberhardt. Have an opinion? Drop a comment below.
Fore more info: