Velodromes, I love them and never cease to be fascinated by the men who create them. Last year we spoke to Czech Maestro, Peter Junek and this time we hear from another man who conjures up those speed bowls where history is made; Dutchman Sander Douma.
It remains pure magic for architect Douma, over and over again; the thrill of turning an empty building into a cycling track.
“It’s such a great moment when all the material is in the hall; up to 80 kilometres of planks and 400,000 nails.
“You see the local people looking expectantly. For them, nothing is happening yet.
“But first we must measure, determine the datum line and exact heights.
“I always see them thinking: ‘Is there something going on?‘
“Within a week the frames are up and you can already see the three-dimensional form of a beautiful cycling track. We place the furniture in it, as it were, like a kitchen in a house.“
In his office in Stompetoren in The Netherlands Douma (76) has designed dozens of velodromes over the past forty years, which he built all over the world.
From Alkmaar in his native Netherlands to Omsk in Russia, from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil to Mashad in Iran. Says the architect and former cyclist, leafing through a pile of pictures, patently in love with the images of his creations;
“This is Yichun in China. It’s a beautiful outdoor piste.”
Douma builds them in all shapes and sizes, inside or outside, fixed or demountable.
There are 500 metre, 333 metre, 250 metre and 200 metre creations. With tight, steep turns on the small tracks but flatter and wider on the big tracks. He’s designed in concrete, asphalt and wood;
“Wood is still the most beautiful, but one wood is not the other.
“Many indoor tracks were made of Siberian pine; we used it in Plovdiv in Bulgaria, Omsk in Russia and Jincheon in South Korea. It’s spruce or pine, a soft type of wood that will eventually become a bit harder as it matures.”
When Douma started renovating the Alkmaar track, almost around the corner from his office he opted for Northern European larch, also known as ‘Larix.’ Why?
“Moscow’s old 333-meter Olympic track was made of larch and I knew that it rode very fast.
“Larix is originally harder than pine and matures hard.”
It’s logical that Douma again opted for Larix when asked to build a track in the brand-new Omnisport Centre in Apeldoorn in 2008, but after six years of use the wood suddenly started to splinter, he explains:
“There was a problem with the humidity in the hall.
“It should have been between 40% and 60%, but it was actually only 25%.
“In those circumstances, Larix dries out and becomes sensitive to splintering.”
A legal conflict between the municipality and builder was narrowly prevented.
“I suddenly received a letter from an expensive law firm.
“I’m a strong person but didn’t want a legal battle.”
The solution lay in Georgia and China.
“Around the same time, we built a 200-meter track in Tbilisi, Georgia and the 250-meter track in Yichun in China, both were outdoor velodromes.
“Tropical hardwood was a material we often used, but that was becoming increasingly politically sensitive.
“I came into contact with a company from Arnhem that modified Radiata pine wood – also known as Monterey Pine. They called it Accoya.
“The Accoya wood production process takes sustainably-sourced, fast growing softwood like Monterey Pine and, in a non-toxic process, creates a durable and stable ‘modified’ wood.
“You may remember hardening ‘conkers’ – chestnuts – with vinegar as a child? This process works in much the same way.
“Due to the changed chemical structure, they could give a 25-year warranty, even in the open air.
“It looked beautiful in Tblisi and Yichun.”
Douma ultimately convinced the Apeldoorn politicians that to use Accoya was the solution.
“We talked for a long time, did research, went to the factory and the decision was made to re-board the track with Accoya.”
Is it expensive, building a cycling track?
“Eight or nine million in Euros. It depends on the extras that need to be added; a wide safety zone? a glass wall on the inside?
“I always say that if you’re building a track it’s better to spend the extra 1,500,000 Euros and up