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Swiss cycling centre throws open its doors

Trainees practise under the velodrome's inflatable roof.

(Keystone/Fabrice Coffrini)

The futuristic new home of world cycling in the western Swiss town of Aigle has been officially inaugurated in front of the sporting world's top brass.

The likes of the International Olympic Committee's president, Jacques Rogge, were at the opening ceremony along with the former president, Juan Antonio Samaranch.

The celebrations started on Saturday with an open day and a cycling "hall of fame" - an exhibtion, which featured 44 former cycling legends from a variety of disciplines ranging from Anquetil to Poulidor.

Top class sporting facilities

Built at a cost of SFr 26.5 million ($15.9 million), the World Cycling Centre combines state-of-the-art architecture with top class sporting facilities. The complex also houses the new headquarters of the International Cycling Union (UCI) which completed its move from nearby Lausanne at the end of last year.

The centre-piece of the new site is a 200-metre domed cycling track, sheltered under a high-tech inflatable roof which is aimed at maximising the amount of daylight flooding into the velodrome. Constructed on the banks of the Rhone and in close proximity to the alps, the centre is also ideally located for road, mountain and cross-country cyclists.

"Every day I come to work with more and more pleasure," beamed UCI president Hein Verbruggen at a pre-opening media conference. "We have been based here for three months now, and everything has gone according to schedule. Indeed the first group of trainees have already started their programmes."

Developing future talent

The UCI is placing a great deal of emphasis on the World Cycling Centre's role in the development of future talent. As part of the programme, nine-month scholarships funded by the International Olympic Committee will be offered to promising riders from poor nations.

Verbruggen says he's confident that the scholarships can help to reduce the gap between rich and poor countries and has even predicted that a black African cyclist could win one of the classic races within the next few years.

The opening festivities are set to begin on Saturday evening with the inauguration of the Centre's Hall of Fame, which pays tribute to such cycling legends as Eddy Merckx, Miguel Indurain and Ferdi Kübler.

The official opening ceremony is then due to take place on Sunday with IOC president Jacques Rogge and his predecessor Juan Antonio Samaranch both expected to attend. The Swiss government will be represented by sports minister Samuel Schmid along with his predecessor and current UN sports advisor Adolf Ogi.

swissinfo with agencies

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