Heffron Park Criterium Track

Heffron Park Criterium Track - finish straight

No catalogue of Sydney bicycle racing would be complete without its spiritual home, Heffron Park. Over many decades, Heffron’s concrete surface has been kissed by the tyres of some of the best riders Australia—and the world—has ever produced.

Summary

  • Always windy
  • Challenging surface
  • A complete test of criterium skills                           

The course

Heffron Park Criterium Track is a two-kilometre dedicated racing circuit in Maroubra. The track sits among an extensive suite of recreational facilities including football fields, netball courts and an aquatic centre.

Heffron Park Criterium Track map

Heffron is such a part of Sydney cycling folklore that it has its own nomenclature.

After leaving the start line at the clubhouse, it’s a wide right turn onto a straight that goes past the toilet block. Head west towards the squircle—not quite a square, not quite a circle—at the track’s southwestern corner. Its four tight corners allow the breakaway to look back and gauge their gap to the peloton.

After passing the tennis courts, head northeast up the first pimple, rapidly down the other side and over the second pimple. On an otherwise flat course, the pimples give gravity just the slightest impact on the race: enough to drag on the pedals and steal a little momentum.

It’s then a fast, downhill left-hander past the netball courts followed by a U-turn that’s uphill, forcing you to pedal through the corner (watch your inside pedal). A curving right-hander takes you onto the finishing straight where the line beckons 400 metres away.

Wind

It’s always windy at Heffron—or so it seems.

Maroubra is famous for the Bra Boys and the beach, but a coastal location means coastal winds. With expansive sporting fields all around Heffron Park, there’s nothing to block westerlies from blowing over the Pacific and straight across the criterium track.

As a result, it’s common to see the peloton strung out in the gutter along the finishing straight. If you’re not near the front, prepare to hold on for dear life in the crosswinds.

Surface

Equally notorious is Heffron’s unforgiving concrete surface. According to reputation, it’s a cross between a goat track and low-grit sandpaper, with bumps and grooves that take you on a rougher ride than Paul Kimmage.

Hyperbole aside, the surface does make you fight a little for each pedal stroke. Vibrations through the handlebars become the soundtrack to your race. You never feel fast at Heffron.

It’s booby-trapped, too: keep an eye open for cracks, seams and manhole covers, which lie in wait to devour your clinchers.

Local knowledge – Q&A with John Sunde

John Sunde has been involved in Heffron’s Tuesday Night Racing since competing in the very first race in 1985. Now, he’s the handicapper for Eastern Suburbs CC. He’s seen hundreds of races at the crit track, so if anyone can tell you what it takes to succeed, it’s Sunde.

B Grade Cyclist: What does it take to master Heffron Park?

Sunde: Perseverance is number one. And then the ability to pedal and keep the power down … that’s what everyone forgets, is the people that ride well at Heffron are the ones who keep a medium range of power on the pedals at the same time. So, you never back up so much that you stop pedalling, but you never exert yourself so much that you blow yourself up: it’s the ability to pedal efficiently under power around the whole circuit. Because once you learn how to do that, it’s actually quite easy.

BGC: What makes Heffron Park iconic?

Sunde: I would kind of split it in two. Location and facilities are one. Centrally-located, and there’s good facilities out there. You can park your car, it’s not on the f—ing side of the road in Woop Woop with no toilets. There’s a swimming pool there, there’s a shop there. No, we’ve got really good facilities with the clubhouse.

The three things from a competition point of view are the gnarliness of the surface, the location of it which is exposed to the elements, and the third thing is all the corners. You really improve; you know what they say: “if you can win at Heffron, you can win everywhere.” That’s true.

You can say there’s ten corners, I guess. I’m just counting loosely, of course. In a 2k circuit. But they’re fast corners… they’re not dead corners, they’re fast corners. That’s where the skill comes from, learning how to pedal through those corners.

BGC: What would you like to say about Heffron to our readers?

Sunde: Come and try it!

Of all the circuits that I used to race at, I just find that if you can–and everyone’s always said this over the years–learn how to commandeer and master Heffron, all the other courses seem easy by comparison.

That’s one of the reasons it has that sort of unique aura about it. And it’s not just one thing, it’s not just “oh, the track’s terrible”. It’s not the track. It’s the weather. It’s the corners. It’s the speed, it’s all of it… you really have to master so many things.

The people that win at Heffron are genuine… you just don’t fluke a win at Heffron.

Gallery

Racing

Randwick CC runs graded scratch races year-round on Saturday afternoons. If you’re new to Heffron Park Criterium Track, these races are an ideal introduction: plenty of sunlight, smaller bunches and a relaxed, newbie-friendly vibe.

During summer, Eastern Suburbs CC hosts the famous Tuesday Night Racing, a handicap race involving three grades. It’s not for the faint-hearted: with up to 100 competitors, picture large bunches passing each other at speed through tight corners. Nonetheless, it’s one of the most popular club races on the Sydney calendar, sometimes attracting Aussie pros while they’re home for the off-season.

Sydney Uni Velo Club and Waratah Masters CC run graded scratch races on Sunday mornings about once a month.

Getting there

Riding to the race is recommended. According to Sunde, part of the reason Heffron Park Criterium Track is so popular is its accessibility by bike.

“It’s relatively central and easy to get to for anyone that lives in a 20-kilometre radius of the city,” he says. “That’s from the city out towards Lidcombe, not hard to get to. From the city up to the northern suburbs, not hard to get to. Obviously, from Centennial Park down to Maroubra. But then, you know, even for guys from St George and the Shire, it’s not hard to get to.”

Those travelling from further afield should take the train to Redfern station. It takes less than 30 minutes to navigate the inner-city bike paths and back streets to Heffron.

Driving is an option for those willing to brave Sydney’s weekend or peak-hour traffic. Parking is available at Des Renford Leisure Centre off Robey Street and along surrounding streets such as Jersey Road.

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