Against the backdrop of the Jura mountains, and across the street from BMC’s global headquarters in Grenchen, is a huge construction site. There, crews and cranes are in the process of building Switzerland’s fourth velodrome, which is scheduled to open in April, 2013.

BMC Tempo caught up with Andy Rihs, founder of BMC and prime mover behind this effort, to discuss his vision for this spectacular new venue. Mr. Rihs is the president of the board of directors for Velodrome Suisse, and it was Mr. Rihs who put into motion an idea of former Swiss competitive cyclist, Hans Ledermann. Rihs, who is active in many ventures, is passionate about cycling, and his goal is for Velodrome Suisse to be the fastest track in Europe, as well as a multi-function center. His hope is that, with this velodrome, a new generation of Swiss competitive cyclists will emerge who have the potential of winning medals at world and European championships, and even the Olympic games. With these lofty goals in mind, a foundation under the name “Velodrome Suisse” was founded in Grenchen to ensure that these goals become reality.

Mr. Rihs, when did you first have the idea to build a velodrome?
The idea is based on an earlier project that was begun several years ago by Hans Ledermann. But, for various reasons, primarily financial, the project was unable to be realized. In Switzerland there are already three velodromes, the most well-known of which is Zuerich-Oelikon which has a track length of 333 meters. This track is not covered so it can only be used in nice weather. The velodrome-suisse-issue1-inset1 Andy Rihs discussing the Velodrome Suisse project. Photo: velodromesuisse.ch other well-known track is in Aigle, where the UCI is based, and has a track length of 200 meters. This covered track is very well used for both national and international racing. Lastly, there is a track in Geneva, but it only has a length of 167 meters. Our planned velodrome will have a length of 250 meters, in accordance with Olympic standards, so that competition for international titles can take place, and training programs for the traditional distance can be created.

Is this why you picked up the idea?
The Renaissance of the idea came about because I saw that nations like England and Australia were having international success with their road racing cyclists who, in large part, came from a background of racing on the track. The most immediate example is this year’s Tour de France winner, Bradley Wiggins, an Englishman who had focused on track racing up until the 2004 Olympic games.

What are the advantages of training on the track?
The talents and skills necessary for road racing can be learned and refined by training on a track. A good cadence is just one example. Training on a track is also good for endurance, handling skills, and the ability to quickly react to situations. Additionally, training can take place whenever: whether that’s in the middle of winter when there’s a lot of snow, or when there’s rain or hail. Velodromes are also good for group training programs for youth, which means that male and female talent can be identified at a young age. In the enclosed environment, coaches have the advantage of being able to continually see and report on their riders, something they don’t really have on the open road.

So new generations of cyclists was also a reason for putting the idea into practice?
Absolutely. The idea is perfectly clear. Thanks to the track, future generations of Swiss competitive cyclists can be created. Recruiting young talent has become much more difficult in the last decade or two. The velodrome will change all that. Grenchen will become the center for competitive cycling for all of Switzerland.

As your idea of the velodrome matured did you become so enthusiastic that you were willing to build it at any cost?
No. An essential element was, of course, the costs. For me it was important that Velodrome Suisse made financial sense: one could velodrome-suisse-issue1-inset2 Velodrome under construction, December 2012 Photo: velodromesuisse.ch build a velodrome for 200 million Swiss Francs, one could also build one for 10 million Swiss Francs. But, at the end of the day, we had to build a 250-meter track, nothing more and nothing less, and these are the more expensive versions.

Was it clear from the very beginning that this venue would be built in Grenchen?
From the very beginning Grenchen was my wish for this project. Grenchen is central to major European highways and railways. Also, Grenchen airport is nearby. For regional public transportation there is a strong network of bus connections.

During my first talks with the city of Grenchen, I had many sympathetic supporters. The City has passed legislation to make land easier to develop. Thus, Grenchen, which has a rich tradition of watch-making and precision industries, will become the navel of Swiss cycling sport, and because of that the Swiss Cycling Federation will move its main office from Ittigen, in canton Bern, to the Suisse Velodrome. This was simply the logical thing to do since, in principle, it’s the job of the Federation to grow future generations of cyclists.

What are the costs for the construction of the velodrome?
We are doing our best to be very economical and figure between 15 and 16 million Swiss Francs. We already have 70 percent of the funds in place.  The Swiss Federation is underwriting the construction with a generous figure in the millions of CHF. Additionally, the City of Grenchen, the sports commission of the canton of Solothurn, and myself as a private individual have each committed two million Swiss Francs. At this moment our management committee is working on additional methods to acquire donations.

After opening, annual operating costs of 1.2 million CHF will need to be covered. Can the velodrome break even?
We’re going even further. Velodrome Suisse must be run like a business, and must deliver a profit to the foundation. To this effect we’re on a good footing. velodrome-suisse-issue1-inset3 Artist's rendering of the Velodrome Suisse Photo: velodromesuisse.ch The venue will be adaptive for clubs and other interests. Next year, it will feature as the finish of stage three of the Tour of Romandie, as a Swiss exposition center, and as an center for various exhibitions, to name just a few planned activities.

The centerpiece of the velodrome is, of course, the track. Were the majority of funds invested in the track?
No, the track will result in about 10 percent of the total costs. The biggest expenditures were the building’s shell and the infrastructure (multiple-use rooms, hotel, restaurant, etc.).

It’s been said that the track of the Velodrome Suisse will be the fastest in Europe. Is this correct?
With the German track design and engineering firm VeloTrack we can build one of the fastest tracks. The specialists at VeloTrack are of course very proud when each track is better than the last. But building the fastest is their job, and our goal.

What is your impulse to constantly be involved in the sport of cycling?
I simply can’t stand it when I have nothing to do! Cycling is near and dear to me. It’s simply exciting to have a sport that so many people can be active in. Just by climbing on a bicycle and pedaling people can make themselves healthy and mentally stronger. And, cycling is not without its dangers. Recently, the Swiss business journal, Bilanz, asked the question, “Why do executives participate in extreme sports?” { Worthy of Note: Their conclusion was the same as mine: one has to participate in sport to remain healthy and fortunate later in life. }Their conclusion was the same as mine: one has to participate in sport to remain healthy and fortunate later in life.

The Velodrome Suisse is independent of your bike company, BMC. In spite of this, one has to ask: how can BMC as a bike manufacturer profit from Velodrome Suisse?
It’s of course great for BMC that the velodrome lies right on our front doorstep. We can leverage it for test rides and design refinements. And, of course, BMC Racing Team riders can use the velodrome for testing, for example, to improve aerodynamic positioning. But the advantages are not available just to BMC or the BMC Racing Team; rather, they’re available to all other manufacturers who can come to the velodrome, just like BMC can. I’m convinced that this possibility will be taken advantage of.

Which riders would you most like to see at the velodrome?
All of them! At some point there will also be events. In early 2014 we’ll hold a 6-day race. This won’t be concurrent with Zuerich’s six-day event, but in addition to it. Further in the future we could, for example, hold the Swiss and even European championships. We could even hold the world championships.

What are your expectations from Velodrome Suisse?
I expect a dramatic increase in serious cycling. That once again, new generations of riders and eventually Swiss champions are created.

Figures:

  • 80,000 Square Feet
  • 250m track
  • 270 track boxes
  • 14 hotel rooms
  • Grandstand seating for 2,000, and an additional 2,000 in the in-field
  • Length: 120m, width: 70m, maximum height: 13.5m

Facts:

  • Offers training for beginners, professionals, and amateurs
  • Bike rentals
  • Restaurant and catering on-site
  • Press center
  • VIP lounge
  • Infrastructure for numerous other sporting events
  • Meeting hall for international congresses and businesses
  • Cultural center for concerts and exhibits
  • Physiological testing and fitness centers
  • Modern building techniques using minimum energy requirements