Developers may bulldoze Britain's oldest velodrome

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BRITAIN'S OLDEST velodrome has been closed amid fears that it has been earmarked for commercial redevelopment, ending more than a century of cycling history. The Herne Hill velodrome gates were locked last week after its landlord, the Dulwich Estate, failed to extend the lease.

The velodrome - in a prime residential area in south London - was the venue for events in the 1908 and 1948 Olympics and remains a mecca for track cyclists. Built in the 1890s, it is among the few venues left in the capital that were sites of Olympic competition.

The 2004 Olympic gold medallist Bradley Wiggins learnt to ride there as an eight-year-old, and Tony Doyle trained there before winning two world championships in the 1980s. "It would be an absolute disaster to hear it closed," Mr Wiggins said. "There's another Bradley Wiggins waiting to be discovered and if the track goes he will not be found."

A spokesman for British Cycling, the sport's governing body, also said closure of the track, one of only four off-road venues in London, would be a disaster for the sport.

For years, the site was leased to Southwark Council, which rented it to cycling clubs. A year ago, the London Velodrome Trust was formed to fight for its long-term future.

After the original lease expired in 2002, extensions were granted while the trust put together a pounds 7m regeneration plan, installing a covered, all-weather track, a gym, indoor climbing wall and health centre. But the plans, backed by London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, have failed to secure funding because of uncertainty over its future.

On 1 February, the Dulwich Estate refused Southwark Council's request for a five-year extension and started negotiations with an unnamed commercial leisure company.

The track's closure could mean the end of track cycling in the capital just as Britain is producing a new generation of medal-winning cyclists at Olympic, world and Commonwealth championships. A velodrome is planned for east London as part of the 2012 Olympic bid but if London is not chosen, it is unlikely to be built.

The velodrome opened in 1892, to cater for the boom in Victorian cycling. By the 1920s, crowds of 10,000 or more would watch riders race on its banked 450-metre track. Sam Mussabini, the Ian Holm character in Chariots of Fire, lived near by and coached cycling and athletics there until his death in 1927.

The track, which fell into disrepair after the 1948 Olympics, was resurfaced in 1992 although the facilities still need refurbishment.

The 101st annual Good Friday meet, which attracts stars of the cycling world and was seen by 5,000 people in 2003, is threatened.

In a statement, the Dulwich Estate said it would explore alternative leisure uses for the site.