On Saturday, May 30, some of the best cyclists from across the country will converge on the exquisite Eko Atlantic Beach, Lagos, to strut their stuff in what has been described as the potential biggest cycling championship in West Africa.
The Criterium, as the championship is known, is the product of a process that has seen Nigerian cyclists and administrators travelling far and wide to learn and be part of the best races in the world.
Organised by Cycology Riding Club, which is the premier recreational cycling club in the country, the competition will feature professional riders from five states, including Lagos, Ogun, Kaduna, Imo and Rivers, as well as some of the top recreational club riders in Nigeria, both male and female.
Explaining the format of the competition, Captain of Cycology Riding Club, Ladipo Soetan, a lawyer, said, a “Criterium is a high-intensity cycling race held over a course that is closed to all foot and vehicular traffic.
“Participants go around the course several times, with the winner being the first to complete the required number of laps. It is a fast-paced, exciting competition with riders constantly attacking and counter-attacking.”
He revealed that the event, which will begin by 8am, will feature four different cycling races, including male pro, female pro, male enthusiast, female enthusiast. It will also feature exhibitions of trick cycling, best of music supplied by a DJ, food and drink, as well as kiddie events.
He disclosed that members of the club decided to begin an international standard competition in Nigeria after participating in some of the best races in the world.
According to Soetan, members of the Cycology Club have been in various competitions across the world, including events in neighbouring Ghana and the Cape Argus Tour in Cape Town, South Africa.
“Some of our members just finished taking part in the Gran Fondo in New York, while others are billed for Wales for another event.”
Having been exposed to these international cycling events, he said the club felt that it could also establish a professional cycling event in Nigeria, which would support Nigerian professional cyclists in their development.
“This desire led us to approach Lagos State late last year to put together the first Lagos Criterium.
“We also have the support of Eko Atlantic, Etisalat, DSTV, SuperSport, Access Bank, PHD Media, Eterna Plc., Cocoon Homes, Homebase Mortgages, Ovaltine, LTC-JWT, Valmont Water, Vitamin Water, Chicken Republic, Fig Health Stores, U-Loc Storage Central, Ebony Life TV, Beat FM, City FM, Classic FM, Vantage Sports, Cycle Hub Plus, Pathcare and Bridge Clinic.
“Others are, Bey Clinic, Strategic Education Advisory Services and IL Bagno.”
The first prize money for both male and female winners is N250, 000, for all, he said, explaining that Cycology is gender neutral.
He also explained that May 30 was chosen for the competition, because it comes after the Democracy Day.
“We assume that May 30 will be a public holiday, because the Democracy Day falls on a Sunday and our expectation is that people will come out en masse to watch the races.
“We also have side events to entertain the spectators. There will also be vendors to cater for all the guests. We plan an interval of 20 minutes between the races when entertainers will come out to entertain the guests. It will be a carnival-like atmosphere,” he said.
Soetan said the club expects between 6,000 and 10,000 people to attend the event, adding, “it is a number we can cater for because we want it to be a family-friendly atmosphere with clean toilets and other conveniences.
“Once we reach that number, we will close the arena, because we don’t want any mishap.
He disclosed that the purpose of the competition is to promote cycling In Nigeria and also spread the joy of cycling to more people.
Soetan said the club, which was formally registered in 2012 as an NGO to promote cycling as recreation, a sport and as a means of transportation, has been in the forefront of the campaign to make cycling the primary means of transportation in Nigeria.
He said: “It is interesting now, because even on facebook this morning, a friend of mine was saying with petrol now N145 he is going to join Cycology. Very soon, all of us will start riding bicycle. A few of our members have already started riding their bicycles to work.
“For example, one of our members, who lives in Lekki and works in Oregun, rides to Oregun everyday. His wife, who works in Victoria Island, rides her bicycle to work three times a week.
“The club now has about 200 members all over the world. We have few from Japan, Indonesia, Chile, Australia, South Africa, England, America and people are joining every week.”
Soetan revealed that cycling clubs like Cycology have changed foreigners’ perspectives about Nigeria. “These are people who didn’t think they would have the opportunity to ride bicycle in Nigeria because of the bad impressions they had about the country.
“Now, we have a significant number of non-Nigerians riding with us; 18 per cent of our membership is female. It is a wide demography, that is, between the ages of early 20s and early 60s, but most of the riders are in their late 30s to late 40s. These are middle age people, who have discovered fitness as alternative lifestyle. Our oldest member is about 64 and the youngest is about 25.”
Apart from the Criterium, Soetan revealed that the club has four official regular events, one of which is the male ride that holds every Saturday morning from the club’s secretariat situated off Awolowo Road, Ikoyi.
“The ride starts from about 6am, but sometimes, we start riding as early as 4am if we are going to do a very long ride, which we call Tour of Lagos (TDL).
“It starts from Awolowo Road on to Ikorodu Road and all the way down to Ikorodu, Imota, Itoikin, Epe and from Epe back to Awoyaya up to Lagos Business School and Lekki and then back to Falomo Road. It is about 170 kilometres and it takes about 10 hours to complete.
“So, if we want to do the TDL, because of the sun, we wake up about 3am and start riding by 4am.
“Most of our other rides on Saturdays start around 6am or 6.30am and end around 11am. The distance is usually about 70 kilometres, but we have different categories.
“You cannot join us today and go on that 70 kilometres ride immediately. The beginner starts with about 10 kilometres ride and as he builds his stamina and interest, he moves up to another group. Right now, we have about six different groups of different speeds. We also have Sunday rides.”
One of the joys of being in a cycling club, according to Soetan, is that it gives the rider the opportunity to explore different parts of his community and other beautiful places. “Because of Cycology, we have been able to exploit some of the beaches many of us had never seen before. When you ride from Jakande all the way to Eleko, you will see beaches that no one knew of their existence. We also have the off road biking and the mountain biking. We used to do a couple of cycling events in the Omoku Forest in Ogun State, but now we do most of our mountain biking in Epe. There are so many beautiful places in Epe, including historical monuments, some old Epe walls, trenches and other incredible sites,” he enthused.
While many people see Lagos as a chaotic place, where motorists have no regard for other road users, Soetan revealed that riders get more sympathy from commercial bus drivers than from private road users.
He added that Cycology Club is planning a campaign, called ‘Share the Road,’ which is meant to enlighten road users on the need to obey the rules and respect others, including pedestrians and cyclists.
“Share the road will remind us of the rules of the road and the Highway Code. Cyclists are safe when you give them 1.5m gap from your car. The people we have the most problem with are the motorcycle riders, who think they are better than cyclists because their cycles have engines.
“To protect us against bad road users, we have what is called ‘side vehicles,’ which follow us on our rides. Usually they are SUVs, which also carry tired riders and their cycles along the way.”
Aside riding for fun, Soetan said most of the riders have taken to cycling because of the health benefits, explaining that cycling as a form of exercise is less impactful than jogging.
“First of all, you know this one as a fact… when you go to your doctor for a check-up, he will tell you to exercise, reduce your alcohol, increase your vegetable and reduce your meat. So, there is no doubt that exercising helps to keep one healthy.
“The difference between jogging as an exercise and cycling is that if you want to jog, you usually have to check how you run; whether you pronate or under pronate or you go neutral. And then if you run with the wrong shoe you will have pain in your shin and your knees. Even if you don’t have those kinds of problems, over a period of time you will find out a symptom of wear when you are running. The impact of the running begins to affect your knees; you begin to feel pains, particularly when you are a middle-aged person.”
He added that there is no impact on the knees of a cyclist “because you are moving in a circular motion. So, you still get the exercise without the possible damage to your knees. Some of us that were diabetics are now pre-diabetic again and have cut down on their medication. People who are hypertensive are now competing often because one of the ways the doctor tells you to reduce hypertension is to lose weight.
“If you lose weight, your heart would do less work and then you get better. Even if you are eating heavy food, riding 60 to 100km a week, 400km a month, just know that your body is doing more exercise than it used to and you will lose weight with the amount of calories deficit. In other words, the amount of energy you are burning is more than the amount of energy you are taking in.”