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 second installment of our 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. Below we have an interview with Tony Eberhardt, who established the New England Velodrome.

Missed part one? Read the background of the controversy and our exclusive interviews with the Velodrome’s new owners, CycleLoft’s owner and president Jeff Palter and CycleLoft’s coach Kurt Begemann. Have an opinion? Drop a comment below.

by Natalia McKittrick

Background on Tony Eberhardt

  • 1985-present : 25+ years experience working for the Pro Cycling Tour on professional bicycle races, including the USPro Championship in Philadelphia, the T-Mobile invitational in San Francisco and the BMC Software New York City Championship
  • 2009-Present: Head coach for the University of New Hampshire Cycling Team. Coached the team to a fourth-place finish out of 52 teams in the ECCC (Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference)
  • USA Cycling Official and level 3 coach
  • Founder of the New England Velodrome & Cycling Park (2005) and President and co-founder of Lead Cycling Promotion, LLC (2004). Responsible for bringing track racing back to New England by successfully creating the New England Velodrome & Cycling Park, including the Velocity BMX race track and the Velocross race course. Also developed the Manchester Police Athletic League Youth Development Track Program, which teaches the basics of track riding and racing to children ages 5-17.
  • 1987-88 Creator and President of the University of New England Cycling Club Biddeford, ME
  • 1982-90 Member of Team Hill Philadelphia, PA. Racing emphasis on track and criterium racing.
  • 1981-90 Bicycle mechanic and salesman at Hill Cycle Shop, Philadelphia, PA

Cyclocross Magazine presents an exclusive interview with Tony Eberhardt, who’s run the program at NEV for the past five years.

Natalia McKittrick: How long have you been running the velodrome?

Tony Eberhardt: I started Velodrome racing in Keene, New Hampshire, in 2004. This was a nice track, but in the wrong location. In 2005 we subleased with Go Kart racing at the Londonderry Raceway. In 2008 the Go Kart tenants moved on, and we were able to convert the track to a full time bicycle venue and make changes to improve the grounds. I’m sure many of the riders remember helping us remove 3,000 tires, the fencing we cut and the old buildings we had to knock down!

NM: You expanded the disciplines offered at the New England Velodrome (NEV) to cyclocross and later BMX. Why not just stick to track?

TE: I wanted to develop a “Cycling Park” that catered to all cycling disciplines and at the same time supported and advocated “Cycling for All.” In discussing the long term strategy with Dick Ring, whose wisdom and years of experience he selflessly contributed, we thought the property was ideal for a permanent cyclocross course and BMX track.

NM: Were you ever afraid of spreading yourself too thin by taking on offering two other very different disciplines in addition to track racing?

TE: I was not afraid of spreading myself too thin. There were several people who in addition to me were always available to pitch in and help – Dick Ring, Phil Kenealy and Todd Crumb.

NM: Do you race cyclocross?

TE: I am definitely a novice, but love the bike handling skills acquired with cyclocross, and it’s a lot of fun!

NM: How did you meet Kurt Begemann and Jeff Palter? Did you have any business relation development with them?

TE: I first heard from Kurt in 2009 when he contacted me and stated that he and CycleLoft wanted to get involved with track. I then met with Kurt at my office in New Boston, NH, and we discussed in depth my plans for the cycling park and how CycleLoft wanted to be involved. It sounded great at the time, but over the following weeks it became apparent that we both had different ideas about how our business relationship would work. We thought they wanted to become a sponsor like other businesses, but they had other plans.

Their proposal was to have Kurt work at the track and provide riders with support, coaching and promote the CycleLoft bicycle shop at NEV. We thought this wouldn’t be fair to our other sponsors who helped us out financially and actually sponsored us in return for placing a banner, providing support and basically advertising their shops. Also, we already had coaches who volunteered a lot of their time. We didn’t feel it was fair to allow Kurt to be at the track advertising for CycleLoft and offering his coaching services without being an official sponsor. We created a cycling park supported by the cycling community. We were not willing to sacrifice the relationships of those who had been with us for years.

NM: Cambridge Bicycle and Wheelworks are prime examples of bicycle shop sponsors of NEV. Seems like it shouldn’t have been much of a problem to add yet another bicycle shop as a sponsor, no?

TE: The support we have received from Cambridge Bicycle and Wheelworks has been a tremendous experience and a give-and-take relationship that has really supported the cycling community.

We were again approached by CycleLoft in February 2010. They wanted to run a clinic, but without sponsorship. They made it very clear that they wanted to use the track to support their efforts without supporting us. I mentioned this to Jeff, and then he did offer to sponsor the track at some level, if he could run his clinic.

As long as the clinic was run as a collaborative effort, we were in agreement. We asked for a copy of the program syllabus and flyers that would be distributed to the participants using the facility. Jeff and Kurt were reluctant to provide us with the information we requested and made it very clear that they did not want any NEV staff to be an official part of the program.

This was such a different feel from the reception we’ve received from our other sponsors that, after discussion with our Board, we determined that this was not the kind of business relationships that we wanted, so we declined their offer. We explained our situation to Jeff, and shortly thereafter were shocked by the news that they were taking over the track.

NM: What exactly are you referring to as “bruised egos” and “vindictive” in your newsletter?

TE: It seemed to us that Kurt and Jeff were disappointed with the circumstances that prevented us from renting them the track. It comes off as strange and coincidental that shortly after we decided against working with them for a second time, we were contacted by the landlord.

NM: What kind of a business model is the Velodrome to you?

TE: As far as a traditional “business,” that was not our intended goal. Our main goal from a “business” standpoint was to get to the point where NEV was generating its own operating expenses. We never viewed this project as a way to generate income, but we wanted to make it a focal point for cycling.

NM: There is unconfirmed information that your lease was not signed on time, which essentially made it possible to take it over without your prior knowledge of it.

TE: I don’t know where this information is coming from. Since the beginning, when we first came to the Londonderry facility, at the landlord’s direction, everything was done with a handshake. He was a local guy who was outside of the cycling community entirely. As far as I knew, the last time I spoke with my landlord, we were all set to begin the season on April 1st.

Unfortunately, it appears as if the landlord was looking for more money. He called to inform me that someone had offered him more money and asked what we could do. We sent him our best offer and he came back to me and stated that the other party had come back to him with a higher offer. He led me to believe the other party was a Go Kart company, who typically charge more for racing and can offer higher rent. Having had previous coexistence experience with Go Kart, I was positive we could make a deal that would permit the cycling to continue. We did move forward to make another offer to work with the Go Karts, and this is when I found out the whole story.

NM: There is an opinion that CycleLoft’s motive behind taking control over the track is to take it to the next level of development, with the ultimate goal of benefiting the cycling community, which may happen faster and with a greater magnitude due to better resources and experience. Can you comment on this?

TE: I’m not really sure what it is about our staff’s knowledge and expertise that creates this opinion that they are so much better than us. We were able to build NEV from the ground up and have grown dramatically in scope. They want to go to the next level and they’ve made it clear that the next level for them at the Londonderry track is using it to try and fish for investors to build an indoor velodrome.

NM: It’s not a big secret that you have the same dream of building an indoor velodrome as well…What was your long-term plan in respect to the Londonderry track and cycling park?

TE: The long-term plan has always been the development of cycling. Not just track cycling, but all aspects of bicycling. As far as an indoor velodrome, it would be nice, but it appears to be the holy grail of velodromes. With respect to Londonderry, I am a local New Hampshire resident and my focus has been in this community. Even if an indoor velodrome becomes a reality, I believe having an outdoor cycling park in this area is great for the community. After all, many of us have put so much time and effort into the creation of the cyclocross course, the BMX track and improving the velodrome track to just let it slip away.

NM: Are you going to continue to contribute to the development of cyclocross culture as well?

TE: Yes. Before the cyclocross course was up and running at NEV, I had promoted several ‘cross races in Milford and New Boston, NH. I will continue working on new projects as they become available. I am currently working on a ‘cross event for the fall. I’ll give you details as soon as they are finalized.

What do you think?  Just business? Good or bad for cycling? Drop your thoughts below.

Missed part one? Read the background of the controversy and our exclusive interviews with the Velodrome’s new owners, CycleLoft’s owner and president Jeff Palter and CycleLoft’s coach Kurt Begemann.