Just Business? Drama Takes Over New England Velodrome’s Cyclocross and Track Racing

Pin It
Races between NEV and CycleLoft riders foreshadowed the conflict that has arisen this season. © Natalia McKittrick

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:

Jeff Palter

• 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)

Kurt Begemann

• 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?

JP: No.

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

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:

 

 

Cyclocross Magazine, Issue 22, Print and digital subscriptionsHave you subscribed yet? You're missing out if not. Get all-original content and your cyclocross fix throughout the year with a subscription and Issue 23 back copy, with features on Lars van der Haar, Jonathan Page, Elle Anderson and more!
Tagged as: , , , , ,
11 comments
Mark
Mark

I'm a pretty serious cyclist who has been hearing about the track for several years. The buzz has been increasing, and I was all set to go give it a try this summer.

Now I'm out. Consider me alienated. Also,consider me no longer a Cycle Loft customer.

RMM
RMM

J. W.:

I understand your position that "business is business." Under normal circumstances, I would also fall on this side of the argument (as I am not a hippy or a communist, despite claims to the contrary). But I think that Tony's time and effort in developing the venue give him a valid claim to the business.

Respect is hard won and long lasting. Tony earned our respect over 5 years; while Begemann and Palter have lost it forever in a few short months. We competitive cyclists in New England are a tight community. This is a big deal up here. People are pissed.

The CycleLoft move is divisive. If track racing in New England spends a few seasons in turmoil, it is clearly Palter/Begemann's fault. While they may have a better "plan," they've alienated enough seasoned track riders that they may have trouble filling out fields for years to come.

Obviously, I support racing. Obviously I want track racing in the region to develop and flourish. But sticking a knife in Tony Eberhardt's back to accomplish this goal is not the way to go.

If this is how Palter wants to act, he should go back to selling cars, where predatory behavior is respected and expected.

Molteni
Molteni

As an avid cyclist living here in New England now that had raced at Trexlertown in my younger days, I could care less who runs the velodrome in New England. I just hope that who ever is in charge can take it to the next level which I fell can be easily reached. Trexlertown is a well oiled machine with great corporate sponsors like Rodao Press and Air Products. Living just a few miles from Trexlertown was a great period of my life being able to train and ride with some of the worlds best like Nelson Vales, Eric Hiden and Marty Nostein to name a few. It's hard to believe that the most active velodrome in the United States is in Trexlertown, PA that is known for it's Pennsylvania Dutch cooking, cheep beer and restaurants that are rated by not how the meal tastes but how much food did you get for your money. I have been in training rides that have had two rainbow jerseys and multiple national jerseys in it. Trexlertown attracts teams from down under in our summer months. I guess I just find it hard to believe that there is not a larger venue of track racing in New England. My feeling is that whoever can take track racing in New England to the next level should be the one in charge. Personally I don't know who that person should be, but I just find it hard to believe that their is not a larger track racing venue up here in New England. "Someone please take charge and run with it"!

Dear track racers.
Don't get caught up in this debate. Keep racing the track. Sounds like entry fees are going to go down too which is great news.

"Ride Lots"
Eddy

H.G.
H.G.

Cold and calculated.... Thats business.... and that is the Cycleloft guys. Stay away from their track. Kurt is not a cool guy

zencycle
zencycle

Gregor - The land owner doesn't give a rats ass whether there's bike racing or strip mining on the property. He's interested in turning a profit. Reading both accounts as they have been presented thus far, Tony had a stable business in place albeit with an expired lease. To assume the landowner liked cyclelofts business plan better is quite a stretch, as even you concede no one is going to get rich off this venture. The landowner just wants a signed lease.

These points are not in contention:
- Cycle loft contacted the landowner, made him an offer, and the land owner accepted.
- Tony was not notified by the land owner that he was entertaining other offers until cycle loft inked the deal.

Since neither party disputes these points, it's safe to assume they're true. Tell us how you would feel gregor, if without warning, something you had been putting every spare dollar and spare minute of your time into for five years had been taken away, without compensation or recourse?

If cycleloft was under the impression that Tony, his staff, and volunteers would simply roll over and smile they grossly miscalculated the nature of the community involved with the track. Whether cycleloft is taking the track in the 'right' direction is moot. The fact is they surreptitiously pulled tony's passion out from under him under the pretense that it was a business move. It wasn't. Cycleloft had no vested interest in the success or failure of the track, they had no competing interests. They simply took it over because they didn't like the way tony ran it. Business had nothing to do with it.

Cycleloft has absolved themselves of the courtesy one would expect as member of a community as small and intertwined as cycling in new england. This in and of itself is, in my opinion, the most disturbing aspect. It shows a complete lack of respect for the efforts of tony, his staff, and the volunteers (their platitudes not withstanding). It shows they are taking the customers of the track for granted. There was no compelling cry from the customers of the track that they were unhappy with the structure or programs. Kurt may not have been happy with it, but I don't remember any vote where he was selected to represent the interests of the track customers. It's a simple formula - If you build a product people want, they will pay for it. People seemed to be happy with tony's track. He had a stable consistent customer base. Kurt may in fact have a better product, but the ill-will he (and jeff) has fomented are not going to help his business plan.

The only thing we can fault the land owner for was not giving tony the right of refusal, or the opportunity to counter offer. This issue isn't about the landlord, it's about the 'business' practices of two people who should know better.

J. W.
J. W.

I think Gregor summed it up nicely and without the inherent bias of anyone with skin in this game. I agree that Tony's gripes are not completely unfounded, but in the end it comes down to a landowner who wanted Palter/Begemann to be his tenant and not Tony. Could Palter/ Begemann have gone about this more openly? Almost surely. Could Eberhardt have done a better job of keeping his landlord happy? Clearly. That is not meant to take anything away from what he has done to build the NEV - he and others sacrificed a great deal to create what is today is a decent fledgling cycling operation with tons of promise (albeit much of that promise remains unfullfilled). I don't blame them for being upset that all their efforts now feel for naught, with the Loft 'swooping in' and taking over. But I likewise don't blame the Loft for believing they are the right ones to take the track to the next level.

I believe my perspective to be fairly objective - although I have enjoyed cyclocross training nights at Tony's track, and I also enjoy club discounts at the Loft.

RMM writes: "Stealing a business out from under someone jut because you think that you can do a better job running it is no excuse for doing so." I won't bother to debate his use of the word 'stealing', but what he describes is the very essence of free market capitalism. If he is arguing with Palter/Begemann assuming the lease, then he is arguing with the very foundation of what built this nation.

Further, RMM writes: "If this is "just business," as Palter and Begemann claim, I encourage Eberhardt to seek legal counsel to explore the options for seeking financial redress." I would be rather amused to hear what legal counsel would say about Eberhardt's options. He either couldn't renew his lease, or chose not to. The landlord wanted another tenant, and chose Palter/Begemann. What possible legal recourse could he have??

This last tidbit should not be taken as fact, because I heard it from someone a bit closer to the Loft side of the story... nonetheless, the story is that Eberhardt had failed for several months to sign a renewed lease for 2010. The landlord gets offers on a regular basis from go-kart businesses who would love to assume a lease on the property. The go-kart people can offer significantly more rent than a fledgling cycling operation. But the landlord is already a wealthy man who is less interested in rent increases than in a sustainable tenant who will keep the neighbors happy (they have complained loudly in the past when go-karts were run on the track). Having no confidence that Eberhardt would be able to fulfill a lease obligation in 2010, he accepted Palter/Begemann as tenants. Again, take with a grain of salt, but this story makes perfect sense to me. Further, I was told that Palter/Begemann are paying the exact same rent that Tony was.

Trackback
Trackback

Trackback message
Title: Social comments and analytics for this post
Excerpt: This post was mentioned on Twitter by PedalPowerPhoto: you wanted more light on Velodrome issue? Here you go, part one from CycleLoft: http://tinyurl.com/y8nextx
Blog name: uberVU - social comments

cx fan
cx fan

as a cyclocrosser, track racing represents great cross (and 'cross) training, but the most important to our scene was the training series. thankfully other land (public and private) can support training series, so we hope that regardless of the management change, someone steps forward to offer an even better training series (and location for velo-cross). some lights, good terrain, and close to burritos or pizza and perhaps some beer, and we're all happy, right?

Bill bob bike boob
Bill bob bike boob

Velodrama.... Save it for your momma... Money talks I guess right ... Place looked like a junkyard with a go-cart track in the middle anywAy... Maybe choose a different site save everybody the headache... May the best track win?

Gregor Rohda
Gregor Rohda

as an outsider who has never raced track and has no history with any
of the parties, this sounds to me like a situation where everyone
involved cares about NE track racing, but the two different groups
involved had different visions of how to move it forward. Apparently
there were some attempts to collaborate, and for whatever reason those
attempts failed. Clearly, the local market is not (yet) big enough to
support competing tracks, and it sounds like the cycleloft group put
together a plan and approach that was more attractive to the property
owner than what tony was able to do.

i've worked in the bicycle world some and think I can safely say that
the cycleloft group isnt going to get filthy rich doing what they are
doing. and I've been in business long enough to know that people dont
put serious money and time into something just to piss somebody else
off. the decisions we are reacting to are business decisions - and
(perhaps sadly) it is business that most efficiently moves things
forward.

from where I am sitting, it sounds like the cycleloft group put
together a more stable and clear plan to invest and develop the track
location, specifically, and to develop the track scene, generally, and
that the property owner chose to go with them because of it.

i'm not saying tony didnt get screwed, and that he and all the
volunteers that got it to where it is dont deserve more credit and
compensation - and obviously without both teams 5 year plans on the
table we cant make any judgements about who was taking track in the
right direction. seemingly the only person in that situation was the
property owner, and as the person who had access to the most
information from and experience with both parties, I think we need to
give his decision a certain respect.

but again, I'm an outsider here. grain of salt.

RMM
RMM

While I appreciate the Cycleloft/Palter/Begemann have broken their silence on the matter of the management "transition," this interview confirms the calculated nature of their actions. At one point in the interview, they waffle on whether they are paying more rent to the land owner, stating that the number is "irrelevant." How is it irrelevant that you may or may not have secretly offered the landowner more rent?

Stealing a business out from under someone jut because you think that you can do a better job running it is no excuse for doing so. If this is "just business," as Palter and Begemann claim, I encourage Eberhardt to seek legal counsel to explore the options for seeking financial redress. Furthermore, for most of us, the NEV was not just a business. We volunteered to make it work. We made sacrifices. It was never about money.

But actually, this is all beside the point. Begemann came to the velodrome with a chip on his shoulder, complaining about everything. Seriously, the guy was trying to find fault everywhere he looked. He undermined Tony and the NEV staff at every opportunity. From solid sources, I understand that Begemann had contacted USAC in the middle the 2009 season to complain about the NEV's events. Honestly, I tried to stay away from Begemann, because he was such a negative influence. Coming from me, that's really saying something.

Clearly Begemann and Palter had been scheming before they were presented with the opportunity to "take over" the NEV.

While I support the idea of track racing in New England, I am hesitant to support this venture. This interview has done nothing but confirm my worst opinions of the cabal that has unethically and cynically stolen a viable business from a great guy who put his heart and soul into making the NEV a venue that we all could enjoy.

Stay up to date:

Search for a product, review, race or racer:

Visit these cx-loving companies:





Become a CXM Supporter:

Like the content on cxmagazine.com? We're just a tiny two full-time person operation with big aspirations. Help us continue to bring you awesome cx content: Become a CXM supporter today:

Polls

What do you do in the off-season?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Support CXM at no extra cost to you: