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National Championships

Masters Track Athlete Feature: Gary Hoffman & Steve Lehman

By: Jim Rutberg, TORRE  July 20, 2023

The top Masters Track cyclists in the US will converge on Rock Hill, South Carolina on August 8-13, 2023 to compete for coveted National Championship titles. One of four active 250-meter velodromes in the United States, the Rock Hill Velodrome also presents opportunities for racers to gain experience before September’s 2023 UCI Masters Track World Championships in Manchester, England.

Opened in 2012, the Rock Hill Velodrome is an outdoor, concrete velodrome that is the highlight of Rock Hill’s impressive cycling infrastructure. Not far away and also managed by the Rock Hill Parks Department, there is a closed 1.1-mile criterium course and professionally designed BMX track that will host the 2024 UCI BMX World Championships! These cycling-specific venues complement the vibrant road, cyclocross, and mountain bike scenes that utilize area roads, parks, and trails year-round.

Top-quality velodromes attract top-quality riders, which is why many of the best track racers in the country gravitate to places like Rock Hill, SC and communities surrounding the nation’s nearly two dozen velodromes. In South Carolina, that includes Masters Track Champions Steve Lehman and Charles Gary Hoffman.

Gary Hoffman

A competitive cyclist since college, Gary Hoffman raced as an elite amateur in the mid-1970s, reduced his participation in cycling due to injuries, family, and career priorities, and then returned to Masters road racing at the age of 35. Focusing on road and criterium racing, Gary developed a strong sprint that helped him win 20 Virginia State Championships. After years of commuting 5 hours each way to race at either the Valley Preferred Cycling Center in Trexlertown, PA, or the Rock Hill Velodrome, Gary seized the opportunity to move to Rock Hill with his fiancé, Cecilia. Shortly thereafter, the couple married in the infield of the velodrome in May 2021.

Although he was initially drawn to the team pursuit, forming a team that earned bronze and silver medals at Masters Track World Championships in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Hoffman shifted to sprint events in recent years. Even after decades of experience sprinting on the road, he found he had to learn the nuances of sprinting on the velodrome. “I was a roadie. I was used to accelerating in the draft and coming around, and it was no big deal. But on the 42.5-degree banking at a 250-meter track, it's harder to go up track to go around. I had to learn to sprint differently, and train differently, to get the leg speed and the technique down,” Hoffman said. The work paid off, however, leading to three gold, two silver, and three bronze medals across the 2021 and 2022 USA Cycling Masters Track National Championships.

Hoffman is actively involved in promoting racing at the Rock Hill Velodrome. He and Bob Reppert founded Champion Promotions, which is running the 6-event Track Champions Race Series at the velodrome this summer. “The series is modeled after the UCI Track Champions League races in Europe. The idea is to keep the races short and exciting for spectators. There’s something like 20 races in three hours, so there's just a lot of action.” The series includes sprint, keirin, scratch, elimination, and super sprint events.

Racers who want to gain experience racing on an outdoor 250-meter velodrome can participate in the Rock Hill Velodrome Summer Race Series and Track Champions Race Series. “I think it's a big advantage for people to race on a 250-meter track, but right now there's only Rock Hill and Los Angeles to choose from,” said Hoffman. “People should come early to ride and race our track. A 250 is a whole different ballgame. Nothing against the 333-meter tracks, but they’re almost like riding in a parking lot compared to the way that you race on a 250.”

Steve Lehman

Winner of multiple USA Cycling Masters National Championships across road, criterium, and track events, Steve Lehman was a longtime coach at the Valley Preferred Cycling Center velodrome and ran the American Cycling Academy there. “When I heard Rock Hill was building a world-class outdoor 250 track, my wife and I moved when it opened. The track is the best outdoor track I have ever ridden. It has served very well as a training facility and a National Championship venue.”

Talking about the nature of racing on a 250-meter velodrome, Lehman offered some tips for racers more familiar with 333-meter tracks with shallower banking. He advised, “When I lived in Pennsylvania, I trained exclusively on the 333-meter TTown track. When training there for a competition on a 250-meter track I practiced a more aggressive line not needed on the 333, but needed for a 250. For the Pursuit on a 250-meter track, I still used 175 crank arms, as you don't have to ride slowly on the steep banking. If you are doing mass start races or sprints, however, I would recommend using shorter crank arm lengths, like 167.5mm, for Rock Hill. And don't ride as slow as you would on a 333. I have seen unprepared riders catch a pedal and take the slide down track.”

Lehman’s own participation in this year’s Masters Track National Championships is up in the air. “In March I was diagnosed with and had surgery for bladder cancer. I am currently far from race condition, but if immunotherapy treatment goes well, you may see me in the 2-Kilometer Pursuit. My fingers are crossed.”

Everyone at USA Cycling wishes Steve a full and rapid recovery and we hope to see him competing again soon.

Rock Hill is more than racing

Tim Nissen, a longtime area resident and member of the Rock Hill Bicycle Club, was primarily a road cyclist before the velodrome opened and didn’t get catch the velodrome vibe until he and other club members volunteered during USA Cycling Collegiate Track National Championships in 2017. “For four days, I was a volunteer and I watched them race and that got me hooked. So, a week later, I went down and got certified and I've been riding the track ever since.”

Although he doesn’t race, Tim rides the publicly accessible velodrome one or more times per week for training throughout the year. “It’s a great facility, and I use it a lot for my endurance rides. I like it mainly because I can get myself in a groove and just ride and I don't have to worry about traffic or stop signs or climbing hills.”

Visit the 2023 Masters Track National Championship page for more information on this years event.