Bicycle racing a 'wheel' part of Northbrook's history
Though hosting a stage of the Intelligentsia Cup on July 28 will be a first for Northbrook, bicyclists rolling into and around town are nothing new for the Village.
It's no secret that Northbrook and bicycle racing have had a strong connection since at least the early 1960s thanks to the Ed Rudolph Velodrome at Meadowhill Park. But ... more on that unique facility later.
Following a three-quarter-mile route through the downtown area, the Northbrook Grand Prix will serve as the seventh stage of this year's 10-race Intelligentsia Cup events, which feature criterium races -- cyclists competing over a closed-circuit road course. For some longtime residents, this event may prompt memories of when Northbrook hosted the National Amateur Bicycle Championships eight times from 1963 to 1979.
As described in "Northbrook, Illinois: The Fabric of Our History," the 1963 event had never before taken place in such a small town (Northbrook's 1963 population was pegged at 15,000), but the official crowd estimate for the Saturday night racing finals was 5,300. In addition, one report said that "several racers commented ... that they never had visited a more friendly community."
In 1966, "the event was highlighted by a 125-mile race over a 22.5-mile course through the streets of Northbrook and Northfield."
It really was the Ed Rudolph Velodrome that put Northbrook on the bicycle-racing map. Rudolph, who founded the Northbrook Speed Skating Club and served 28 years as a Park District commissioner, was a key figure in the success of medal-winning Northbrook speed skaters in a number of Olympics. And he was well aware that cycling is a natural summer activity for speed skaters.
So, when construction of the Park District swimming pool at Meadowhill Park began about 1960, Rudolph led efforts to use the excavated clay for the pool to create 18-degree banked turns for an adjacent 382-meter bicycle track. For many years after that, the velodrome was flooded during winter to provide an outdoor speed skating practice rink.
For nearly 60 years, many of the top cyclists in the nation have been competing at the Ed Rudolph Velodrome -- along with countless local cycling enthusiasts. Amateur racing continues on Thursday nights during the summer at the velodrome under the guidance of the Northbrook Cycle Committee.
USA Cycling now lists only 26 velodromes in the United States, and the Northbrook track, which is owned by the Park District, faced an uncertain future during the early 2000s when it was in dire need of repairs. However, fundraising efforts led by the Northbrook Cycle Committee proved successful, and the track was resurfaced in 2004.
That enabled the historic Ed Rudolph Velodrome -- as well as Northbrook -- to continue in their roles as special destinations for area bicycle racers of all ages and abilities.