The whistle blows. Cyclists crouched over their handle bars , whiz off waving at the spectators who yell and cheer. Volunteers follow them, carrying water bottles and refreshments. The Amateur Men’s Round, at the MVS Coimbatore Criterium, has kick started. At the race control tower, the organizers survey the file of cyclists snaking its way around the 2.2 kilometre-long race track. Ajay Krishnamani, time keeper from Madras Motorsport Club, says, “A transponder has been fitted to the cycle. It will emit a radiation which will be picked by the cable dug into the race circuit. We keep track of the lap time and the racing position of each cyclist, this way.”

Two hundred and twenty participants participate at Coimbatore’s first Criterium held at the Kari Motor Speedway. Organisers are from local cycling groups such as Biker’s Terrain, Coimbatore Cycling and the MVS cycle store.

Sanjay Balu, Managing Director of the MVS says cycling has picked up . “Today our store has accessories such as head gears, helmets, speedometer, water bottle cages, gloves, goggles and suits. That itself is proof the popularity of cycling. There are so many holiday destinations nearby. I have customers who mount bikes on their cars, and drive to Ooty and Coonoor to enjoy mountain biking.” Says Arjun Balu, another organiser, “Not many cities have a race track. We are lucky that Coimbatore is blessed with a safe one. That is why we want to make the Criterium an annual affair. The response of the participants and the sponsors has also been inspiring.”

Meanwhile, the children’s rally is happening on an adjacent track. Parents and coaches encourage them as they zip around, impervious to the heat and sun. The children from the Royal Sheraton Cycling Club, under the leadership of Swarnalatha J, have used the occasion to send a message. They have messages that read: “Dhruv dumps doughnuts” and “Vaibhav throws away his tab to burn his flab”.

“We wanted to promote exercise, pull the children out of junk food and create a culture of fitness,” says Swarnalatha.

Swarnalatha, who has a physical disability, follows the kids in her car during their weekend cycling rides. “If a kid tires out, he or she mounts the bike on my car and rests. I also carry water and food for them.” The youngest cyclist in their team is five-years-old.

It was great exposure to the children, she says. “They were awestruck looking at the high-end cycles and bikes, which they had never seen before. It is not just about winning the race. It creates a sense of camaraderie among the children.”

Professional cycling teams from Bangalore and Chennai such as Trek Firefox Racing, Specialized Kynkyny Cycling Team (SKCT), Madrascals and Wheelsports, are participating in the Elite round for the professionals.

“We are The Madrascals, mind it,” warns the jersey of Sachin Krishna, a participant. Sachin and his friends whiz in and around Chennai in their cycles. “On weekends, we cycle till Puducherry and Mahabalipuram,” says Sachin.

Vivek, the director of SKCT, says, “The difference in talent between different teams is just marginal. Winning is a matter of strategy and team spirit. Each contributes to the team in a unique way. For instance, the ‘sprinter’ will maintain the speed and the ‘climber’ takes care of the uphill drive.”

Suddenly, the air fills with the sound of the revving engines. Cottoncity Throttlers and their sleek super motor bikes grab the eye balls.

For the boys, Sundays are for long distance trips on their two-wheeled beauties. But today they have come to take part in cycle rally and show their support.

It was not easy, says Amith Bijoy, a member, who cycled in the Amateur Men’s category. “The terrain is uneven. The uphill drive tires you out. It is nothing like riding a bike. I had fun though,” he smiles.

Prem Nath, another participant and an IT employee, says he has urged his colleagues to join him on weekend cycle rides. “I thought we needed to do something to escape from our sedentary routine of working in front of the computers. From what began as a hobby, it has turned into our passion.”

Sixty-four-year old Sujani Balu is also a participant from Biker’s Terrain. She says there is nothing more refreshing than cycling. “Our group has been cycling in and around Coimbatore. We pedal our way to the outskirts of the city such as Chettipalayam, Sulur and Siruvani. Cycling is the best way to enjoy Nature, and discover new places.”