(ATR) For track cyclists, priority number one is always a fast track.
British six-time Olympic gold medalist Jason Francis Kenny (ATR)
After that, additional priorities – at multi-sport events like the ongoing European Games in Minsk, Belarus – include comfortable accommodations in an Olympic Village, good food and efficient transportation to and from venues.
Cyclists competing at the Minsk Velodrome said they are fortunate to have all of the above at Minsk 2019, the second edition of Europe’s continental Games.
British sprinter Jason Francis Kenny – a six-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time Olympian – was highly complimentary of the 250-meter banked track and sleek European Games venue.
“The track is really high quality, rock solid and the set-up here is really impressive,” Kenny, 31, tells Around the Rings
following his heat victory. “Everything is well organized and the venue is nice, neat and tidy – it’s immaculate here. It’s a really nice place to come racing.”
Kenny said the level of competition and caliber of track cyclists in Minsk is top notch, although the event is not an official Olympic qualifier, but with class one points available, it is a progression towards Tokyo 2020.
“It’s a really high standard – the world champions in the sprints are here, so it’s definitely a good measure as to where we’re at,” Kenny said.
Francesco Ceci of Italy (ATR)
Italian sprinter Francesco Ceci echoed a similar sentiment about the Minsk Velodrome, which was designed by a German company and opened in December 2008. The powerful Italian cyclist competed at his first major international event at the venue in 2009.
“I think it is one of the most beautiful tracks in the world,” Ceci said. “The type of wood and the well-designed corners make it a fast track.” The two corners have 41-degree angle inclines.
The 29-year-old Italian is also living “La Dolce Vita” in the Olympic Village, complimenting the conditions and cuisine.
“The sensation in the village is really good and the lunch and dinner are perfect,” Ceci said. “For sure, I had some pasta and it was good. I see some slices of pizza, but I will wait until after competitions for that.”
“The bus to come to the track is really good and the organization is perfect,” the Italian added. Ceci’s only complaint was that “the beds are hard.”
Dutch cyclists Jeffrey Hooglund and Harrie Lavreysen clocked the fastest two times in the men’s sprint qualifying round, but refused to speak with media afterwards. However, Netherlands team manager Geeske Van Wijk noted the two athletes are extremely pleased with the first rate sports facility and the Olympic village.
“Conditions here are really good – we come here every year for World Cup so it’s really nothing new for them,” Van Wijk said.
Czech cyclist Sara Kankovska (ATR)
“Everything is organized very well here – for example we can have food 24 hours a day,” she said. “There is a really good transportation system, which makes our work really easy and the riders feel like the only thing they need to do is race.”
Czech Keirin racer Sara Kankovska, 21, is a starry-eyed young athlete in Minsk taking everything in, while competing at her first multi-sport event.
“The European Games are very high-level, it’s nice living in the village and competing in big races, so for me, it’s my Olympic Games,” Kankovska said.
Kankovska also discussed life in the Minsk Olympic Village.
“The food is different than Czech, but very good,” Kankovska said. “It is a little bit hot sleeping there though.”
Media close to action at Minsk Velodrome (ATR)
Back at the Minsk Velodrome, cyclists warm-up and technicians tune bikes in close proximity to the media working area on the floor inside the stylish 250-meter long, 7.5-meter track. The compact layout provides an awesome vantage point for journalists as aerodynamic cyclists blaze past at speeds approaching 80-kilometers per hour, just meters away.
Adding to the uniqueness of the venue design, there is a small commissary for media, athletes and officials to eat, situated directly under a straight-away of the track. Media and athletes also share the same rest rooms, something not usually seen at sport venues. The venue holds 2,000 spectators, with many seats very close to the athletes speeding past.
The Dutch team manager Van Wijk said that the athletes are much more comfortable riding at high speeds on the track, as opposed to the Minsk city streets, which are not very biker friendly.
“Some of them are training on the road and not too happy with that,” she said. “Big roads, but cars are driving fast and close to the cyclists, so not the best situation.”
Kenny’s only minor complaint about Minsk 2019 was getting caught in the rain on a few occasions, naturally without his bike in tow to outrun the soggy weather.
“We keep getting soaked – one minute it’s boiling hot and the next minute it’s pouring down,” he said. “We’ve been stranded in the food hall a few times and that’s about as entertaining as it has gotten.”
Ceci said that it has been an extremely positive week in Minsk, not only for him personally, but also for all Italian athletes and the nation too.
“I think for CONI it is a very important opportunity,” Ceci said about Milan-Cortina’s winning bid for the 2026 Winter Games. “We have good mountains – Cortina is a really beautiful place, so I think all will be very good.
“It is very exciting for us.”
Written and reported by Brian Pinelli in Minsk
For general comments or questions, click here.
25 Years at #1: Your best source of news about the Olympics is AroundTheRings.com, for subscribers only.