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Alpenrose Velodrome played an important role in my life. I’m sad to see it go

Alpenrose velodrome. (Main photo by Scott Kocher. Inset: Mateen Richey with Chad Klaas, courtesy Mateen Richey.)

Mateen Richey is an 18-year-old aspiring pro cyclist who was born and raised in northeast Portland. He previously shared a recap of a ride with a group he helped found, BikePOCNW.

Richey first visited the velodrome when he was eight years old.

Alpenrose Velodrome played an important role in my life. I’m sad to see the track go. I hope my story does it justice.

My good memories of Alpenrose Velodrome began on the other side of town at the Blazer Boys and Girls Club in north Portland, where an afterschool cycling program called “Rollers 101” was my favorite class. One day the Director of the club, Tim Sicocan, announced to our third-grade class, “A van is going out to the Velodrome.” I climbed aboard with no idea what I would see.

As we pulled into view of the place, a feeling of awe leapt into my heart. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. A bright concrete canyon painted with colored stripes opened up before us. A rail surrounded the chasm and supported boldly painted contrasting signs and flags flapping. It was a vast bowl of advertising. Somehow we were supposed to ride a bicycle on it.

As an eight-year-old, I was too nervous to ride high up on the wall. There was just no way I was going up there. I couldn’t, and wouldn’t until almost six years later.

As if we were on another planet, the only faces familiar to me were my friends from the van, and our coaches from the Boys and Girls Club. Mostly high school age mentors and a middle-aged person yelling invitations to come down to the “apron” around the “infield” at the bottom of the cavernous walls.

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On this first day, everything was easy. We walked around in pacelines, and rode BMX bikes on the flat part.

A young(er) Richey (left) and friends.
(Photos: Courtesy Mateen Richey)

Calling us in, they gave us rules for games that taught track etiquette. Pacelines were practiced on foot by walking in a line. Some kids rode a bicycle and tried to sprint up onto one wall. They encouraged us to play without pressure.

After a while of that, we all walked up to the hill above Corner Three to do yoga, and have lunch. The yoga was led by the high school kids. We did what they did. Then they served us Subway sandwiches and juice. We thought those guys were so cool!

Today I recognize Alpenrose Velodrome is a bastion of old Portland glory. Unfortunately, I can’t recall it’s history. My experience is small compared to the pantheon of stars who raced and trained there. In a 1968 photo I saw the colors on the concrete surface were blue and red, and the Olympian Steve Maarenen raced for gold on that surface.

I was not there to see Leslie Barczewski win the National Track Championships In 71.’ Nor was I there to see local TV stations filming, and spectators cheering. I would have loved to bear witness to the Alpenrose Dairy workers bringing out their big refrigerator filled with Alpenrose ice cream!

Our scrappy little squad began to gel as a team. It was the first time I felt like we could perform as a strategic unit. We were a victory-seeking machine.

It was just not my time, but I know I owe my time to them. Thank you to Franz Pauwels, and all who went before me. My time included much smaller crowds, slightly slower racers, and lots of cyclocross. Thank you Darryl Provencher, Tom Orth, and Dylan Wiggins, just to name a few.

At age 15, I raced my first Oregon Bicycle Racing Association Junior Track Championship. In the weeks leading up to it I spent a lot of time on the track preparing my time trial, team pursuit, and mass start races. It didn’t take long before I set my sights on the OBRA Championships.

On the day of the Championships, hanging out in the infield, we were ready. Bicycles hung from our popped-up tent, ice chests filled with cold drinks and ready for sitting on. We had yoga matts and fold-up chairs.

In hindsight, I’m glad we had all that comfort back in the tent, because the race nearly killed me. It felt like the hardest race I’d ever been in all my life. The elite Jerry Baker Junior Racing Team were there. McKenna Mckee and Karl Pratis were so fast! McKenna is probably an Oregon Hall of Fame caliber racer. She had just taken all the money from older women at the big professional track races up and down the West Coast, including the Alpenrose Velodrome Challenge.

Later in the day our team raced the 500 meter time trial, then the 2 kilometer pursuit, and then the junior sprints. My younger teammate Joshua Morris finished first in his age division in both the 500M and 2K. Our oldest Junior, Tasman Alexander, a fixie rider from Lincoln High School, won in the 2k pursuit in a surprise showing against the Elites. In my age-graded division of 14-15 year olds, I won the OBRA Jersey for the 2K time trial.

Those championships became life-changing events for our little junior squad. In the weeks to come we would race in the Junior Track Cup Scratch races on Tuesday and the category 4/5 men’s evening points races on Thursdays. Our scrappy little squad began to gel as a team. It was the first time I felt like we could perform as a strategic unit. We began to recognize each other as bona fide teammates. Each of us was a specialist. We were a victory-seeking machine.

Joshua could get away, and I could counter-attack when they caught him, then stay out there for a few laps. Tazman would sprint with the finishers and then hold his own.

It was a great strategy. It put us junior racers up with the older men. When we raced the men in the 4/5s, our strategy was to put Tasman 2nd or 3rd on the weekly podium. The men would compliment us after races.

Good things kept happening to me at Alpenrose. My Junior year in High School, Tom Orth, a race promoter, hired me to set up the timing clocks and starting mechanisms. It was the highest-paying job I had ever had. Walking around with electric chords and PA equipment made you the third most official person on the infield before the races. Behind the OBRA Official and The Promoter, the guy setting up the clocks to time the finish, was essential.

Alpenrose was a place that nurtured me to be brave, work hard, dream of college, and believe I could get there. One night, after doing my task list for Tom, I talked to a rider my coach picked out from some beginners standing around. We talked about practicing to win an upcoming two-man time trial. The rider’s name was Chad Klaas.

Chad Klaas was a 20-year-old about the same speed as me who was about to go back to college at Dartmouth. My coach asked his father to install a 48×15 gear like mine on his son’s bike. From then on Chad and I pedaled the same cadence. We moved in sync on the track. Chad was heading to the Ivy league and I was his lead out man. One way or another we were both headed for victory!

Even riding across the track covered in mud, I learned from Alpenrose.

Chad and I were having fun and learning fast. Darell Provencher, a 50+ Master racer took an interest and raced the team pursuit with us. Darrel gave me a special “track bag” for carrying my chainrings and tools. My top speed doubled during those few weeks that summer.

Alpenrose Velodrome taught me a thousand lessons; like sometimes winning wasn’t everything. And you can have a great time during a race and still finish at the back of the pack. I found this out not during a track race, but during a Cross Crusade cyclocross race in the winter.

It was a warmer winter day. Everything felt fine until the race started. I lined up with the elite juniors behind the category 1/2/3 men and the race started too hot for me. Everyone was flying down the course crazy-fast. My bike was also slowed by a freshly messed-up derailleur. After switching bikes, I was quickly off the back.

Soon I was caught by a locally-famous adult cyclist named Dylan Wiggins. Dylan challenged me to a friendly competitive race inside our two separate races. I saw his camera and knew he was recording. So I decided to have some fun. Our race moment was as spicy-and-dicey as ever. Clowning around with Dylan, I began to catch up to the juniors who had previously dropped me. I found a way to not give up, and ride even faster.

Even riding across the track covered in mud, I learned from Alpenrose.

Social life mattered in this concrete-and-banked-corners metaphor for life. We trained hard, rode fast, then slept well. There was yoga at the end of the riding. There was food. It was a place that gave hope and order to my life. People cared there. Alpenrose Velodrome put a lot into the legs of the cycling community.

Thank you Alpenrose.

— Mateen Richey, @Teen503 on Instagram
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