Angry cyclists protest against Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve closure

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Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve could be open to cyclists on some summer days after all

About 50 angry cyclists attended Montreal City Hall's council meeting Monday evening to protest against the city's decision to close the racetrack this season and possibly part of next summer too.

They booed during question period and had some heated exchanges with officials.

"We received a two week notice and we're very surprised to see there was no negotiations on our end. Nobody was asked anything. It came as a big surprise to us," said cyclist Daniel Jurkovic.

"Given how things were handled, we're very, very surprised and shocked."

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Jurkovic, along with dozens of other cyclists, gathered at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve just before the council meeting. They did three laps around the track before biking over to City Hall, where earlier today Projet Montréal presented a petition condemning the planned closure to Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre.

The 4,000-name petition claims the Coderre administration "prioritizes the interests of private promoters over those of Montrealers."

It comes after last week's announcement that construction on neighbouring Île Sainte-Hélène to create a 65,000-seat amphitheatre at the request of event promoter Evenko will displace the events that normally take place there.

Those events will be pushed over to the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve on Île Notre-Dame for the next two summers, forcing the racetrack to close from May 8 to Sept. 4 this year.

'Mismanagement, mishandling' of plan

Uros Vukov, a member of cycling racing team Clan Knox, said he heard about the closure through a Facebook post.

He said while he believes members of the athletic community wouldn't mind if the track was closed sporadically for specific events, closing it for the entire summer amounts to a "mismanagement and mishandling of the situation."

He said hundreds of people use the track on a typical summer evening. Training on Montreal roads isn't a viable option because they're in "terrible" shape, and while there are options off-island, it's not the same, he explained.

"The main appeal of the circuit is that a lot of people who work downtown didn't have to commute to go anywhere and train. They could basically get on their bike and be on the racetrack within minutes," he said on CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

Safe place to train

Vukov says the race track is often used by high-speed cyclists and triathletes, who find it's the only suitable place in the Montreal area to train.

"It's a controlled environment where people feel safe," he explained. "A lot of people have been complaining about how cyclists are taking up a lot of the road, they shouldn't be on the road, it makes things more dangerous. That's fine, but at least give us a place where we can train."

Opposition city councillor Alain Vaillancourt agrees.

"It's not just people who train here. There's families who come here. There's para-cyclists who come here, kids. It's a safe place to cycle," said Vaillancourt, Projet Montreal's sports and leisure critic.

"They can keep it open between events. They can decide to make sure that the setting-up of the events is really quick, that the setting-down is really quick, hire more people, minimize the impact for everybody, and between all of that, give us a track."

The city says there were safety concerns for cyclists this summer; STM buses will be using part of the track as a detour during construction.

Park belongs to all Montrealers, Coderre says

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre told reporters Monday afternoon that said the park belongs to everyone.

"The reality is that the park belongs to all Montrealers, and there is development there."

"There is an economic impact too. What are you going to say to the 65,000 people from Osheaga who are coming? And most of them are from outside Quebec. That's good for Montreal," he said.