30 January 2010

Miura Loop

After James had bailed out of riding on Saturday because of his entire family catching the Noro virus on Friday and MOB because his adult family caught too much alcohol that same evening, and Tom indicated he was keen to join his VLAAMS team sortie rather than doing another Miura loop with me, I was left to explore the peninsula all by myself.

I left home to ride to Machida where I wanted to get onto the cycling path along the Sakaigawa river leading all the way to Fujisawa. After a small unintended detour in Machida which took me through endless social housing areas, I found the river. I quickly understood why Tom had described it as "not that nice and certainly not fast but best alternative". It starts like one of these small rivers running through western Tokyo (e.g. Sengawa): deep river bed with only a creek flowing inside, small paved path on both sides, houses of various beauty on either side. But the landscape kept varying the further I went, and it never got boring. Eventually, Sakaigawa becomes a bigger river running through fields, and one feels like cycling through the countryside. After crossing route 246, it becomes an official cycling road, and becomes altogether more fast paced. Nonetheless, there are the occasional road crossings, sometimes with quite some traffic. Traffic on the cycling path is rather modest and nothing as bad as along the Tamagawa.

The cycling road ends without much of an indication in Fujisawa, and from there it is another few kilometres until one hits the coast at Enoshima.

I took route 137 towards Misaki, making a small detour through Hayama to avoid the heavier traffic on the main road.

It had become quite warm and I felt I was dressed to warmly for 13 degrees in the sun. Mount Fuji loomed nicely behind Enoshima, though not as clearly visible as otherwise because of the humidity.

In Misaki, I crossed half of the bridge to Jogajima, to enjoy the great views of the harbour below and once again Mount Fuji further afar.

It was still relatively early for lunch (not yet 11am), but I was hoping to drop by Tom's favourite restaurant just outside Misaki, along the coastal road towards the east. Alas, I missed it and by the time that became apparent, I did not feel like cycling back. Had I actually visited the restaurant, I would have just left it when Tom would have arrived with his VLAAMS team. Too bad we missed each other - but I could not know as Tom had declared he didn't want to do Miura again...

The views of the radish and cabbage fields as well as the sea and Boso Hanto (Chiba) further afar, distracted me from the head wind I was now facing.

Cycling through every corner of the peninsula, I eventually made it to Kannonzaki, a historical place from where Edo had been protected from potential invaders.

Now I had to head north, on the less interesting side of Miura Hanto. Initially all was well and I was sailing in nice backwind. But then I hit route 45 and things became ugly. The road is double-laned, but rather narrow, and in the frequent short tunnels, the lanes become really narrow. Traffic is heavy and fast, and many drivers took exception to a cyclist blocking their progress at the speed of only 35-40km/h. I was quite angry being honked at frequently, and didn't feel save being harassed by cars getting excessively close.

Beyond Yokosuka, I turned off towards Kamakura - up a short but steep pass and down into the town. I realised I hadn't been to Kamakura in ages and never seen many of its nice temples. I stopped briefly at Hachimangu where a guide was very keen to speak to me in English and try to help me with the way. Unfortunately I was better off with my map than him explaining to me that I should ask for the way again a few kilometres down the road...

I made it to Ofuna from where things should have been easy. However, my map was outdated as it missed newer roads and there were never any road signs whatsoever! I got somewhat lost, ending up in a residential area up a hill. It was time to pull out my BlackBerry, connect it to my GPS (via Bluetooth) and find out where I was. Actually close to route 1 and not that much off track.

I found route 1, made a U-turn on this monster road, went down into Totsuka, turned onto Chogo Kaido, then Kamakura Michi, which led me eventually to Nakahara Kaido. From there it was another 30km to Kannana, and another 10km home. I got briefly lost very close to MOB's home - maybe that was some telepathic attempt of his to lure me to his house, which I was keen to avoid as I would have otherwise hit darkness on the way home.

A relatively easy 207km (maymyride says 800m of climbing, but I think it was more as the many smaller hills in urban areas don't get captured well), but overall quite stressful with so much traffic around me, for all but the 30km along the Sakaigawa cycling road. My face was rather black when I got home.

A fateful day out

Last Sunday was quite a fateful day, for many, as it would turn out. And not only because we sighted an UFO in front of a shop after descending from Wada Toge...

James, MOB and I met at Tamagawahara bridge for a late start at 8:00am to help MOB overcome his jet lag. As we were chatting, a group of Positivo Catteni riders passed, so we hurried to catch them and show them who the A team - excuse me, the B team (according to our new rules) - was. I had them in no time, James soon after, and MOB eventually after he had recovered from his jet lag. I don't know how Catteni recovered from this fateful shock - we never saw them again.

From Kunitachi we were sure we were invincible and slowed down to a leisurely pace to make sure the social side of our ride wouldn't get a short thrift. Once off the Tamagawa and on the way up to Itsukaichi, I pulled up the pace - I just find it hard to take hills or mountains slowly.

We took our first pit stop at the convenience store (see PE rules for definition in case this is not yet clear to everyone) just beyond Itsukaichi. Steve from TCC was doing the same thing, and after some chatting which James found hard to end, we invited him to join us for a slightly more demanding ride than he had had in mind for himself. This had the added advantage of having a guide to the entry to Daigo Rindo - though it was really not hard to find.

Daigo Rindo was a first for the three of us. Hard to understand why we had not "discovered" it before. I only learnt about it recently from Tom's blog. It is a very nice rindo following a low river valley. No traffic except for the occasional hunter car. There is a stretch where the road is unpaved, but quite manageable to cross with normal racing tyres.

Unable to go slowly as usual, James and I put quite some distance between MOB and us, Steve being closer to us than MOB. As we waited somewhere for MOB, he arrived showing us proudly the below photo of a forlorn toilet in the middle of the forest, which we had missed noticing, but which served as a decent excuse for falling behind.

The rindo becomes increasingly steep, and James and I raced up the last few kilometers to the top, keen to get in some exercise.

The descent was very nice, and soon we found ourselves on the rindo approaching Wada Toge from the north. No hints of snow or ice, and all the autumn leaves gone. James and I went for our second training race. I didn't have to wait long for him at Wada Toge, but this time Steve and MOB took quite a bit longer than the first time. The witch and her husband gave us some distraction as we were waiting.

We descended Wada and stopped at a store where we saw this UFO. Actually, many of them. So many that Steve couldn't finish them all by himself and we had to all help. How much we were longing for a convenience store!

We continued climbing through the golf courses and then up to Kobo Tunnel. Down the other side, we waived goodbye to MOB who was clearly not yet back in form and decided to head for Itsukaichi, and after fixing a flat tyre by replacing it with another leaking tyre, for Hachioji.

The three of us attacked Kazahari Toge. I had promised Steve we would ride together on such a long climb, but found myself unable to keep my promise, longing for a heart rate of at least 155. The faster pace afforded me with a nice view on top.

The descent to Okutamako was incredibly cold. It was barely above zero and the 600m descent felt incredibly long. James claims he clocked 79.9km/h somewhere, but I find this hard to believe since no stretch is steep and long enough to reach such a speed without pedalling, on a standard crank (which he does not have).

More likely that this guy was speeding at that speed when he hit the railings of a bridge.

This was the sight that presented itself to us as we were only a kilometre away from the end of the road. The driver was sitting on the bridge a few meters away from the car, wiping off blood from his head. He was surrounded by lots of friends who had parked their cars not far from the site. Being a trained paramedic, I examined him briefly, and he seemed quite OK. An ambulance had already been called. Later we saw him walking around, examining his wrecked car while smoking a cigarette. It seemed no other vehicle was involved, and he must have lost control over his car on one of these crazy racing excursions up Kazahari.

They've banned motorcycles from the road (and indeed it was a lot more peaceful than before). Now it is time to ban cars too!

After the first police car arrived, we left the accident. It was 3:30pm, and the natural choice would have been to cycle to Okutama, maybe Ome, and return home by train from either place.

However, I thought I knew a faster route home. Only the other day, two women in a hamlet approaching Kosuge had confirmed the newly built tunnel below Matsuhime was open. Earlier signs near the entrance of the road had said the construction works would finish in November. So rather than climbing up all the way to Matsuhime Toge at 1,250m, we could just cycle to the tunnel entrance - just about 150m higher than Okutamako - sail through it and then descend to Otsuki, from where we could catch a fast train back. I convinced Steve this was the easiest way for him to get home. James was up for anything.

When we got to the entrance of the tunnel road, however, the road was still closed. We still went onto it, but after the first small tunnel, the road simply ended, with no signs of any construction to connect it to the longer tunnel (which we know exists because it can be seen from the other side).

It was 16:20 by now - making it impossible to get to any train station in day-light. Steve opted for Okutama - more or less all the way downhill, but also with many flat stretches and at least 30km to go. He was prepared with lights for the last bit in the dark.

I opted to climb up Matsuhime Toge with James. A rare chance to do Matsuhime in winter, and knowing we would not arrive at Otsuki much later than Steve at Okutama.

The ascent was very quiet. It was zero degrees and the air was very crisp, affording great views of the surrounding mountains in the sunset. We both still had sufficient energy for the climb, but were nonetheless nervous to make it up, knowing that any minute would count against the impending arrival of darkness.

It was 17:05 when we reached the top. The view was stunning - much nicer than usual when humidity or even clouds obscure the view. Even Mount Fuji was peaking out nicely behind a mountain range.

We put on everything we had and took the plunge of 950 vertical metres down to Sarubashi. The initial part was again freezing cold. I soon caught up with a noisy sports car making its way down. All my tailgating with flashing lights was to no avail - he would not let me pass. Beyond the tunnels where the road loses its steepness, I could no longer follow and waited for James instead.

Now already deep into the valley, it was getting really dark. I was equipped with a small flash light for the front - strong enough to be seen, but not strong enough to see anything. James didn't even have a front light. The stretches between hamlets became guess work. Fortunately, having descended the road a couple of times, I knew quite well what to expect - even remembered where the bigger bumps were in the road. James appeared to be less confident and didn't want to stay close to my rear light for too long, so I had to wait for him every now and then.

Eventually we made it to Sarubashi where we took a rest at the convenience store (since Otsuki has only a shop on the way to the station, no convenience store). When we got back onto our bikes, we were both shivering like mad - even the pedalling in the lower parts had not warmed us up that much and downing lots of cold drinks did not help to warm us from the inside.

We felt much better after the short climb to Otsuki, and were lucky to be able to jump onto a well warmed train quickly.

170km with almost 3,000m of climbing - not bad for a cold winter day. Fate had served James and me well. I just feel sorry for everyone else we encountered that day.

29 January 2010

Positivo Espresso Team Rules, Draft #1

1. Orange (or other brightly colored) kit is strongly encouraged, but under no circumstances should a member feel obliged to wear the Dutch national kit.
2. Training = Ride lots.
3. Gym (or any indoor) training should be done "on the quiet."
4. White bibshorts not encouraged.  Too homoerotic.
5. No beards, except during December through February, or while recovering from (1) an accident, (2) loss of a U.S. Presidential election (must have been candidate of a major party in the general election -- primaries do not count), or (3) white collar criminal indictment.
6. If male teammate insists on wearing a necklace or chain of any type, must be kept hidden.
7. Official recovery drink is beer, especially for returns to Tokyo via train.
8. No sleeveless jerseys (a.k.a. "wife beaters").  Exception for Jerome only in July/August.
9. No "short shorts."  Exception for Jerome only, March to October.
10.  No discussion of mountain bikes except to compare unfavorably to road bikes.  (The "keep James quiet" rule).
11. Tradition requires at least one futile diversion per ride with Michael K.  Permitted examples:  (1) Mitake-san cable car entrance, (2) Nenogongen hilltop temple, (3) Shiroyama Dam, (4) Rte 76 spur South of Doshimichi, or (5) Matsuhime bypass tunnel (only prior to road completion).
12. No copying the "Eurocyclist" rules.
13. At least one JCRC Champion each year -- D Class or better.
14. Aurore Bakery, Oume.
15. Members are encouraged to take team kit -- at least jersey -- on overseas trips for photo opportunities in exotic locations.
16. Shin-nen-kai -- Restaurant Davis, Takanawa.
17. Recruit women riders, please!
18. No mention of rides less than 100 km, unless (1) race warm-up, (2) post-race warm-down, (3) time trial, or (3) involves climbing more than 2000 meters elevation.
19. For morning departures as a "train" of riders heads out of Tokyo - Ebisu, Futako, Sekidobashi, etc., no more than 5 minute wait.
20. Convenience store policy -- Seven Eleven only.  (Exceptions to come).
21. Never buy anything from the witch of Wada Pass.
22. Please eat at kind Mrs. Watanabe's countryside establishment.  Examples -- the cafeteria at Okutama-ko (add link), the ramen shop just over the west side of Otarumi, past Takao, the Manjyu-shop on Rte. 35 SW from Uenohara, (others).
23.  Assos, Rapha and F2P?
24.  When discussing Positivo Espresso, always refer to the "B" team.  There is no "A" team.  We also have a "C" team.

27 January 2010

Tour de France 2009 - Résumé / Highlights

"The final stage is all about enjoying the arrival in Paris and then contesting the bout for stage honors but by the time the peloton reaches the French capital the fight for the yellow jersey had already concluded. Alberto Contador would end the 21st stage in 97th place but first overall. He is the second Spanish rider to claim more than one titles in the Tour de France, successfully backing up after his previous appearance and victory in 2007. The final stage, however, provided Mark Cavendish with another chance to show that he is indeed the fastest man in the world when it comes to sprinter. If you ever doubted it, watch the finale of stage 21 and again and count the time it takes for the rest of the riders to cross the line his nearest rival was the Australian lead-out master Mark Renshaw who celebrated an emphatic victory, the sixth for the Columbia team all of them claimed by Cavendish."

Dominic sent me this link and I thought it was too good to not post. It was pretty good last year. A resurgence. This year will be better. Can't wait.

Genius And Informative?

A Periodic Table of all of the main cycling events for 2010! Perfect for those of us that dream of riding while at work or just want to look super intelligent while also trying to remember when the "Tour of Flanders" is.

Print it out, laminate it and bring it to class boys and girls~!

26 January 2010


The Powercranks are here and on the bike!  Initial impressions ... will be added in comments.  David L.


What say you Mr. Litt?

25 January 2010

Positivo Espresso Rulebook

Good point by Ludwig. And further elaborated during our club ride yesterday in the mountains of ...somewhere. We definitely are in need of a Positivo Espresso Rulebook so that we know what we are talking about when we say "Convinience Store " [defined as approved 7-Elevens, Lawsons and Family Mart] as opposed to shops [Daily Yamazaki et al.]. I suggest that we all come prepared with some good proposals to the club meeting on Thursday and combine them into a thick volume.

23 January 2010

Tsukino Ride Report

Just thought I would let you know Tsukino has posted a ride report on the blog here.

Normally on the weekend we ride about 20km along the river that runs through Tsurugamine but recently I have discovered a closed road that is less than a year old and totally devoid of traffic, also at the end of it is a huge car park again totally abandoned and perfect for Tsukino to train without the worry of traffic.

Anyway head over to the blog to get the full ride report and more photos.

22 January 2010

Who's in for a little Miura Loop tomorrow?

Miura Loop tomorrow?

Since our group is so dispersed, I propose to meet at 10:00 (or I would be comfortable with 9:00 like on the picture too...) in front of Enoshima Bridge...

The idea is to do a slow ride circumnavigating the peninsula.  Therefore even members out of shape (MOB, etc.) or still far removed from peak form (James, etc.) are welcome to join this one.

"Can I help you sir?"

Who are you honking at? from Keri Caffrey on Vimeo.

21 January 2010


1. Image and style shall be the primary concerns of the Euro Cyclist. When suffering, one must focus first on maintaining a cool, even composure and second on performance. Winning races is an added talent, and only counts if said Euro Cyclist wins with appropriate style.

2. Training shall be based solely on feel, while racing shall be guided by sensations and instinct: that is to say, “soul.” The Euro Cyclist will never accept tried or tested scientific training methods.

3. The Euro Cyclist shall NEVER, under any circumstances, wear plain black spandex bibs (shorts, regardless of colour are BANNED) or ANY team kit
containing non-prominent logos. Shorts will extend approximately 2/3rds of the way down the upper leg and will contain a compression band at the bottom (distinct in colour). In NO CONDITION shall they extend any further!

4. Legs shall be SHAVED year-round. ABSOLUTELY NO EXCEPTIONS. Certain hair removal creams are endorsed only on a case-by-case basis. One shall never show up to a race (be it large or small) with ANY amount of stubble visible on one’s legs.

5. A prominent line where one’s kit ends and where one’s deep tan begins is essential to one's image. Artificial tanning is BANNED. The tan shall reflect the level of training commitment.

6. The socks of the Euro Cyclist shall extend to within two (2) cm. of the main bulge of the calf muscle, and shall never extend further than one (1) cm. past said primary calf muscle bulge. All socks SHALL BE WHITE in colour with prominent logo placement.

7. Cycling shoes shall contain at least 80% white!
The following exceptions apply:
i) Colour combinations such as world cup stripes or Olympic gold for which the title has been EARNED.
ii) Shoes which are custom-made for specific riders by companies endorsed by this group. These shoes shall be accessible to the particular cyclist only, and shall follow the preceding rules.

8. If white cycling shoes are not available where the Euro Cyclist resides, white booties (or “shoe covers”) with prominent logos shall ALWAYS be worn. When booties are worn, socks shall protrude approximately seven (7) cm. above the ankle, and shall always protrude at a minimum one (1) cm. from any booties worn.

9. One’s bike frame shall contain between two (2) and four (4) colours IN ADDITION TO WHITE. All colours are acceptable as long as they combine tastefully and elegantly. In addition, wheel selection must also match frame and fork.

10. One shall race only on Campagnolo Boras or Lightweights. Fulcrum Racing One, Corima Aero+ or Zipp (404 or 202) wheelsets are considered stylish enough to be used as training wheels ONLY. Irregardless, ceramic bearings shall be used at ALL TIMES on both training and race bikes.

11. ALL wheels shall be equipped with tubulars, regardless of one’s ability in gluing them.

12. Ridiculously stylish eyewear (see endorsed products list) is to be worn AT ALL TIMES without exception. Glasses are to be worn over helmet straps at all times.

13. Hair shall be kept neatly short, and matching helmet shall be worn (again with prominent logo placement). The helmet shall be predominantly white. Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES shall a clashing helmet colour be worn with one’s euro kit. Helmets are not to be worn when venturing indoors AT ANY TIME. It is, however, acceptable to wear one’s helmet while outdoors on a patio (see rule 34).

14. In certain RARE cases, it shall be deemed acceptable to have long hair. In this event, hair shall be neatly slicked back in a severely euro style, and helmet SHALL NOT be worn. It is IMPERATIVE that rule 12 is followed in these special instances.

15. When riding, sans helmet (with short hair), a team issue cycling cap (white in colour), shall be worn. The bill shall remain in the downward position at all times. The cycling cap may be worn forwards or backwards to coincide with the specifics of one’s current hairstyle. During spring training, cycling toques shall be worn at all times in place of caps.

16. Kits must always be freshly washed, and one shall ALWAYS have applied a subtle quantity of eau de toilette (or “cologne”). It is, AT ALL TIMES FORBIDDEN to ride in an unwashed kit. This is severely detrimental to one’s image.

17. Saddles shall be white in colour ONLY and shall be manufactured in Italy or France. Exceptions may be made in the following cases:
i) Saddles containing World Cup Stripes or Olympic Gold when it is EARNED
ii) Italian flag colour combo when rider is ITALIAN (born in Italy)

18. Handlebar tape is required to be cork as well as WHITE IN COLOUR. Bar tape shall be kept in pristine white condition. This state shall be achieved either through daily cleansing or through frequent replacement. These jobs must NEVER be performed by the cyclist as one must maintain one’s image.

19. All stems must be a minimum of 120mm long and of a rise no higher than -10 degrees. Stems shall be positioned no more than 0.5cm above the top of the headtube. ALL stems shall ALWAYS be oversized, made out of ALUMINUM, and airbrushed in kit/frame colours. In certain cases (Mario Cipollini) it is advised that one airbrush a buxom young woman onto the top of one’s stem.

20. The Euro Cyclist shall ALWAYS have liniment applied to his legs before appearing in public.

21. Facial hair shall be restricted to (at a maximum) a goatee, and even this is discouraged. Moustaches, beards, and any combination thereof are EXPRESSLY PROHIBITED in all instances. Stubble is, however, advisable in virtually ALL euro-situations. It is important to note that this DOES NOT apply to the legs.

22. Campagnolo shall be THE ONLY acceptable component and it is hereby deemed superior to ANY Shimano product in ALL circumstances and situations. The Euro Cyclist is expected to have nothing less than an ENTIRE campy grouppo. Crank substitutions are NOT permitted. There is, however, a case by case exception for SRAM Red.

23. One shall NEVER, under any circumstances, acknowledge the presence of a cyclist riding a bike costing less than 2000€ in ANY public place. This may be severely detrimental to one’s image. If such a situation cannot be helped, it is CRITICAL that the Euro Cyclist regard his “acquaintance” with a patrician mixture of disdain and SEVERE condescension.

24. One shall NEVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE, associate with triathletes. This cannot be overemphasized! It is FORBIDDEN to have any number inked onto one’s body before a race.

25. Any physical activity other than cycling is STRONGLY FROWNED UPON. This includes any form of running or swimming and their derivatives (this includes walking). The ONLY TWO other sports with a recognized degree of euro are: cross-country skiing and long track speed skating.

26. Mountain bike gloves are FORBIDDEN in all instances. Cycling gloves shall be slick, white (in accordance with kit), and have minimal padding. Padding will be beige or white in colour. Wearing NO GLOVES is entirely acceptable and encouraged. In the case of a Euro Cyclist wearing a leader’s jersey special gloves shall be made to match the colour of the jersey while simultaneously blending the colours of the team kit.

27. In a circumstance where any cyclist (or TRIATHLETE) ever displays aggression or disrespect towards a Euro Cyclist, he is required to ride up uncomfortably close to his foe and slap them in the face with his team issue gloves.

28. In the event a motorist disturbs one’s ride: one shall proceed to ride up beside the car, form a clenched fist and bang the boot of the car while doing one’s best to sound irritated in Italian. Wild arm and head gesticulations are strongly encouraged to help enhance the apparent rage. It is permitted to throw a bottle, if the perpetrator was a commissaire on a motorbike.

29. One shall NEVER rearrange one’s package while riding. Adjustments regarding seating/hanging comfort are to be done in private in order to preserve image.

30. ABSOLUTELY NO FORM of seatbag, frame pump, mud guard or mirror shall come within two (2) metres of one’s bike.

31. Gearing shall be restricted to a titanium Campy Record 11-23 cassette with a ABSOLUTE MINIMUM of 42-53 up front. One must never be seen pedaling at a cadence greater than 90 rpm in order not to detract from one’s calm/smooth factor, or “Suplesse.” The use of 25-toothed cog is acceptable for severely mountainous training situations.

32. ALL BIKES shall feature personalized nameplates next to one’s home country’s flag, located on the top-tube within ten (10) cm. of the seat-tube ON THE DRIVE SIDE ONLY.

33. Pedals MUST be either Look or Time. No other pedals are to be considered. As always, ANY form of Shimano product is STRICTLY FORBIDDEN.

34. Espresso is a NECESSITY and as such it must be consumed normale or ristretto on a patio (preferably in Italy) in full kit; All other coffee shall be brewed strong and taken BLACK. The only milk permitted may appear frothed on top (if at all). The euro cyclist shall, if possible, develop a fondness for the triple ristretto. For extra Euro, consider ordering inconvenient multiples (e.g. a triple or more). The irony of increasing the number of shots pulled while simultaneously decreasing the volume per shot will enhance the experience for all parties involved. Sugar is FROWNED UPON, and in all cases SWEETENERS ARE BANNED.

35. All podium shots (“pictures”) shall be taken while wearing one’s team kit and appropriately matching casual euro shoes (such as Pumas). Socks shall remain within the guidelines above. One is expected to display an appropriate degree of bulge while receiving kisses/trophies. The bulge may vary according to the outlandishness/impracticality of the victory prize (e.g. livestock and/or enormous cheese wheels).

36. All pre- and post-race activity SHALL be conducted under a gazebo (this includes massages, interviews, seductions, and looking fantastic) leaving one in reasonable distance of the Euro-sun to top up one’s enviable tanlines and pose for photos.

37. Post-race, one shall be tied to one's mobile phone, receiving endless calls from:
i. One’s attractive girlfriend, or
ii. Important ad executives concerning modeling contracts. This shall be done under the protection of the post race gazebo.

38. Team bikes will be built up so that they violate the UCI weight limit in order that weights might be attached to the frame to demonstrate its superiority and lightness.

39. Motivational music during training shall consist of late 90s trance or progressive house, hereby known as 'euro beats.' NO EXCEPTIONS.

40. Water Bottles shall be referred to solely as "Bidons" and shall have a volume NOT EXCEEDING 500ml. Bidons shall always match team/kit colours. It is NOT ACCEPTABLE in ANY CIRCUMSTANCE to leave one’s bidons on the bike for more than ten (10) minutes post-ride OR while transporting bikes via bike rack.

41. Naked black ALL CARBON water bottle cages (manufactured by ELITE CAGES) shall be used on ALL BIKES. Exceptions include:
i) Special edition 24k gold cages, acceptable in certain cases such as photo shoots, prologues or where colour coordination dictates (e.g. gold cage with Olympic gold/white team kit).

42. A gold pendant on a very long, thin chain bearing some form of religious icon is STRONGLY recommended for mountain races.

43. While soloing in for a victory, one shall ensure that one’s jersey is FULLY ZIPPED and ALIGNED so that all title sponsors are clearly visible. One shall then smile and flex one’s arms while pointing sky-wards. The projection of one’s fatigue is EXPLICITLY FORBIDDEN IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES.

44. When appearing in a photo spread for a sponsor’s products, the Euro Cyclist has the option of appearing fully nude, in team kit, or in a full Brioni three-piece suit (nothing else). Smiling is PROHIBITED in these instances.

45. When appearing in documentaries, one must be seen walking around the hotel in one’s kit at all times. It is also recommended that one constantly be eating something in front of the cameras.

46. When asked "how are you?" while riding one must proceed with one of the following...
i. Complain about coming off a sickness
ii. Explain that one is peaking for bigger races later in the season
iii. Mention that this is a "recovery ride"
iv. Explain that one is at the tail end of one’s daily six (6) hour training ride

47. If one feels the urge to relieve oneself during a race, one shall gracefully meander to the back of the pack, seat oneself sideways on the saddle, and pee into the sunflowers. It is the DUTY of the Euro Cyclist to ensure that no camera crew catches the act, for it could be severely detrimental to one’s image. Under no circumstances shall one dismount from his bike in order to urinate.

48. When climbing anything with a gradient above twenty (20) percent OR lasting greater than four (4) kilometers, the Euro Cyclist shall fully unzip his jersey and let it flutter freely in the wind.

49. When dropping out of a race, one shall avoid the embarrassment of entering the official broomwagon and shall instead wait for the team vehicle. When asked the reason for dropping out, one shall cite mechanical problems or oncoming sickness in order to avoid any negative speculation in regards to one’s fitness.

50. If in doubt, the euro cyclist shall mention in an interview that his pollen allergies are acting up, and that he’s not sure that he’ll win the Giro this year. In this situation he must note that the sensations are otherwise good, and that he will eventually win a beautiful stage.

51. Team-building motivational camps shall be held annually in the off-season. These are to place team members in as ridiculous a setting as possible. Photos shall be widely reproduced to demonstrate team cohesion.

52. During the pre-race medical checks, star riders of each team are strongly advised to play doctor with each other while shirtless. Photos taken must strive to be as HOMO-EROTIC AS POSSIBLE.

53. In order to avoid the harsh European winter, one shall:
i. Flee to the warmer climates of Mallorca/South Africa/Canary Islands/etc.
ii. “Train the mind, body and soul” with Kreitler-brand rollers

54. In the event of a crash, regardless of the gravity of an injury the Euro Cyclist shall mummify himself in fishnet gauze. The act of gauzing oneself (in order to continue racing while injured) is looked upon with respect by other Euro Cyclists as a statement of commitment and of strength of character. One shall use white gauze to bandage injuries; however, world cup striped gauze and/or national colors may be used in addition to white in select circumstances.

55. No form of large or obtrusive tattoo shall be printed onto the skin anywhere on the body. Small, discreet tattoos of the Virgin Mary or Olympic rings (assuming one has participated in Olympic games) no larger than three (3) cm. by three cm. shall be considered tasteful if AND ONLY IF located out of sight while one wears regular kit.

56. If a rider’s sponsors do not make quality parts, then the rider shall buy better parts and superimpose his sponsor’s stickers over them (e.g. Quickstep's past rebranding of Time products as Specialized).

57. No rider shall wear any shorts with any type of hole showing skin below unless said hole and or opening was from a recent crash DURING that training session and/or race. Wearing ripped shorts is allowed ONLY while one is struggling to the finish and/or to the correct place to wait for the team car to take one out of the race.

58. When cresting the summit of a climb the Euro Cyclist will sit up, zip his jersey, and reach into his pocket for a snack while simultaneously looking back to see who will be accompanying him on the descent. Note that while coasting to allow another rider to catch up (in order to work together on the way down) is allowed, coasting in order to rest is FORBIDDEN.

59. The Euro Cyclist shall own a sizeable parrot and will ensure that he is seen walking around photo shoots with it perched either upon his casually outstretched index finger or upon his shoulder. Hair should be slicked back for maximal effect. The parrot should either be white or it should contain three (3) or more colors found within the World cup stripes. One must always smile when pictured with the parrot. The parrot should speak fluent Italian. In certain cases it is deemed advisable that the Euro Cyclist possess, in place of a parrot, SEVERAL young pumas.

60. The Euro Cyclist shall never ride deep carbon wheels with aluminum braking surfaces, with the exceptions of Mavic wheels and the Ghibli disc. Aluminum braking surfaces detract from the seamless transition of black carbon to black tire that makes the Euro cyclist look so devilish upon his race wheels. Deep carbon wheels shall have prominent decals upon them UNLESS they originate from Carbonsports in Germany.

61. When the Euro Cyclist wins a race or a grand tour he shall stylishly uncork the bottle of champagne and spray it around the podium. If the rider is ravenous, slightly overweight and German he shall place the opening of the champagne bottle close to his mouth and drink (heavily) with puffed out cheeks and a smile. If the rider is truly Euro he will take the ENTIRE bottle of champagne in his arms and parade about the finish area with it. Champagne bottles must be COMICALLY OVERSIZED. One should spray the podium girls. Especially if they are dressed in white.

62. At the finish of a Grand Tour the Euro cyclist shall celebrate by cycling around the finish area decked out in team kit and proper Euro casual footwear. If married, the Euro cyclist shall have his child in his arms. The toddler may rest upon his handlebars, or in the event that the Euro cyclist achieves a podium spot, accompany the rider onto the podium. The child should have its own victory salute that will be used in conjunction with that of his/her father. In some cases the child is permitted to wear an entirely-too-large team jersey. This rule shall be upheld by ALL riders save for Mario Cipollini, who would be unable to comply due to the sheer number of offspring he has fathered courting supermodels over the past two decades.

63. It is highly recommended that the Euro cyclist utilize any opportunity to humorously don equipment that failed during the demonstration of superior physical strength. This serves the dual purpose of mocking one's sponsor and, in addition, providing a public display of why said rider did not finish the race on the podium. Breaking equipment due to power output is generally the best way to finish a race outside of winning it. If no spectators are present, the Euro cyclist shall prominently wear the broken equipment during all post race interviews. If the Euro cyclist suffers more then two mechanical failures of similar nature in rapid succession, throwing a petulant tantrum is strongly suggested.

New Blogger

Just thought I would let you all know that I have started a new blog covering my riding here in Japan and the highs and lows of training and racing in the 2010 season.

I will also make updates of Tsukino's progress as she has shown a strong desire to compete in the 2010 racing season as well and with Pro-Lite covering here during the course of the year we should have a pretty exciting 2010.


Please feel free to contect and post comments.

16 January 2010

Exploring the frontier of snowland

It was only 1 degree when I left my house today at 6:30am, just before sunrise. The air was very crisp, and the views of Fuji stunning.

When the views are so great, and people out and about on a cold winter morning relatively few, it is actually fun cycling on the Tamasai.

If only the wind wasn't blowing so strongly exactly against me!

I found it hard to push myself beyond a heart rate of 150, and not only because of the demotivating head wind. The cold air is taking its toll.

Ome Kaido was almost free of traffic, from the junction with Yoshino Kaido somewhat less so - dumb (dump) trucks were as busy as always. (I have stopped using Yoshino Kaido because of the trucks - Ome Kaido is much more pleasant and truck-free until that junction.) And road works every now and then, all along Ome Kaido. They never stop.

By the way, have others also noticed that these days traffic lights have become in almost complete disuse at road works - there are always two people managing the traffic, no matter how tiny the road.

From Okutama onwards, there was almost no traffic at all, and not a single motorbikes - what a difference to the other three seasons.

Okutamako looked pretty and peaceful. The surrounding mountains were snow covered on their northern slopes, free of snow on their south. The road was free of snow and ice thanks to all the sun it was getting, except for some icy patches on the side which the sun was unable to reach.

I was hoping that Imagawa Toge which connects Tabayama and Kosuge would be passable and headed towards it. Route 411 to Tabayama was passable, but as I got closer to Tabayama, some short icy parts appeared, now in the middle of the road.

The fields around Tabayama and parts of the village were covered by snow. The first steep ascent out of the village towards Imagawa Toge was covered in part with snow and ice, but I managed to cycle around the worst parts. Another kilometer later, the road started being completely covered by salted snow and ice. I was able to ride on it, but the bike quickly collected lots of snow and it was clear I could not continue like this another 250m upward.

This was the time when I wished I was riding a cyclocross. Well, one day!

I turned around and headed back to the Okutama Lake. It was clear climbing up to Kazahari would be equally impossible. But I wanted to see at least what the new traffic restrictions for motorbikes looked like. Would there be someone making sure motorbikes would not enter? Would there be a camera? Would it say that bicycles are not allowed either? I cycled the 3.5km from the entrance of the road to the point from which motorbikes are banned.

Nobody patrolling the road. One camera, but unclear whether this was good enough to actually catch number plates etc. - probably not, and just a camera that had been in place even earlier. A sign that shows that motorbikes are banned - but nothing about bicycles! We should be fine riding up - and what a pleasure this will be when all the motorbikes are gone!

I turned around and headed towards Kosuge, hoping that I could perhaps cross Tsuru Toge or the new Matsuhime tunnel. But Tsuru Toge is at 870m, even higher than the 750m at which I had turned around earlier. And the tunnel must be at least at 750m, and on the Otsuki side, there would be a long descent on a road that was most certainly not always blessed with sun.

Half way to Kosuge, I started hitting ice patches covering the full road whereever the sun was not able to reach to road. I chatted with two ladies working in front of their house after one of these patches, and after confirming the road would not get better, decided to turn around once more. No escaping from Okutama valley!

I returned as I had come, only to find that by now the wind had turned - and was once again blowing quite heavily against me! Cycling down towards Ome sometimes felt like cycling up another hill, so strong was the wind.

To build some variation in the ride, I decided to cross Umegaya Toge (aka Jerome's Hill) which at 310m was entirely free of snow or ice.

The Tamasai was now much more crowded than in the morning, and there were lots of road racers who quite obviously had only gone out in the afternoon. I stuck to one of them, a tall foreigner riding what looked like a converted cyclocross, for a while. He was rather fast, and my back was once again in high pain, so I eventually gave up pursuing him and took a rest for my back.

I was home well before sunset (for a change!) and cleaned my bike, which was solidly covered by a thick crust of salt (so where my shoe covers - they were basically completely white!). I had a hard time getting the stuff off - it was literally baked to the bike and in no comparison to normal road dirt or mud.

210km with 1,400m of climbing


The central Tokyo-ites depart Ebisu stn 7:30am tomorrow, 8am Futago Tamagawa, up the river(s) to Takao, looping back to Tokyo via Sagamihara and the Tank road, with the aim to be back by 12:30pm, which unfortunately may preclude any double mocha skinny frappuccino macchiato vente stops. Sad, but true.

11 January 2010

Championship memoirs

As I was climbing up to Moto-Hakone at the Ekiden ride the other day, setting a new best time and not allowing even the fastest Odawara-Hakone runner ever (yes, that was this year) to narrow the gap to me, and still not going at full power, it occurred to me once more how far I had come within just a year of cycling. Last year, I lost my power in my legs and the last third of the climb was really quite painful. I barely made it before the runners to the finish.

My own racing career started similarly miserably. In my first ever race on the Gunma track in October 2008, I couldn't keep up with the pack on the very first hill (which is ridiculously short and flat) and was left cycling on my own for six laps before being overtaken ("lapped") by the peleton in the seventh and thus being disqualified. Half a year later on the same track, I would come in at 4th place and qualify for D-class, another few months later I would win the sprint prize on the same track. And yes, ultimately, I would win a race and become both JCRC and Tour du Japon Champion 2009.

Here is how I got there.

When we were small, my brother and I dreamt of owning expensive racing bikes and studies catalogues and bike shops. But we never bought a decent bike and I settled for riding a normal touring bike over modest distances (100km max). I mostly rode to school on nice days, and in Oxford bought a (heavy!) touring bike to get around the city (and sometimes even London). The highlight of my cycling career were rides with a like-minded friend through the countryside outside Oxford. Once in Japan, I touched the bicycle brought from England hardly at all, not wanting to cycle in crowded Tokyo and believing the countryside was far too distant.

One day in Spring 2008, MOB told me to my greatest surprise and equal delight that he was cycling regularly and trying to become road-race champion of the season. I was fascinated and it awoke old childhood dreams. I begged to be allowed to join a ride, and indeed, a few months later (July 2008), MOB invited me to a ride organized by him and David L. for beginners (two of David's colleagues and Juliane also joined). We cycled along the Tamagawa and Asakawa to Takao, crossed Otarumi and scaled up Yabitsu, all in gruelling summer heat and humidity. I was completely exhausted afterwards (my heart kept pounding until at night) and I was too ill to go to work the next day. But I had to try again... And now I knew there were other people I could join on rides.

So I bought a rather nice road-race bicycle (Canyon Ultimate CF 8.0) on a trip to Germany and brought it to Japan. Getting bored on short trips inside Tokyo, MOB finally made some time between his busy racing schedule in October and took me on a trip to Izu. It was a hard 100km from Mishima to Shimoda, but I managed to keep up without annoying MOB too much. We started doing more rides together in the mountains west of Tokyo.

Initially I thought "let's make the most of it before the winter sets in and more cycling won't be possible". But then it became clear that winter was no barrier to cycling, and as I started seeing my performance and endurance improving, I wanted to stay on the trajectory. From January, I switched to riding twice a week, almost no matter what. I think I managed to keep this rhythm perfectly until the concurrent onset of the rainy season and tons of professional work, mostly in Osaka, made regular weekday rides impossible.

My first race had been a misery. MOB invited me to a second one, around Saiko, and I did much better. It was a strenuous race and I was not able to keep up well in the uphill section. But somehow I still made it into finish just seven seconds behind the winner (in the E-class). This gave me some confidence that if I improved my performance, I could keep up in races and repeat what MOB had done that year: win the championship by mere attendance of every race and avoiding to be disqualified. Little knew I then that the rules were to be changed for 2009 and that the bar was to rise significantly. Ignorance can be the mother of opportunities.

JCRC Race No. 1 and Tour du Japon Race No. 1 - Kawagoe (15 March)

This is a point race on a short and completely flat racing track in a park (i.e. points are awarded for being among the top three in every second lap, then additional points for the overall finish). It should be relatively easy to keep up with the peleton. Ideally I would somehow manage to do so well in the sprinting that I would be among the first six and be able to move up into D-class.

JCRC awards a fixed number of points for finishing a race, and additional points for winning one of the top spots. Participation points vary by class, winning points don't. For finishing an X-class (entry) race, one gets no points. For finishing an F-class (lowest class) race, one gets 20. For E-class, 40, for D-class, 60, and so on up to S-class (the highest). For being first, one gets 30 extra points; 25 for second, 22 for third, 20 for forth, 19 for fifth, etc.

Until 2008, finishing meant literally finishing a race, i.e. not crashing and not being lapped. From 2009, the rules were tightened and not only should one not crash and not be lapped, but one must also finish no later than 10% behind the time the tenth rider of the race made into the finish. So even in short races where the chances of being lapped are low, losing the benefit of the peleton could lead one to finish a race without any points.

When moving to a higher class, one carries forward all points awarded to date. Because those already in the higher class have had a chance to collect higher participation points for longer, the later one moves up, the smaller the chance one can actually win the class. But it is also hard to make predictions, because the best riders tend to move up themselves and thus out of one's class, and because most people do not participate in all races.

The Kawagoe race started badly before it had started. As I was watching an earlier race, two riders crashed just after sprinting through the finish right in front of me. I decided to wear my thicker, long-sleeved jersey instead of the PE jersey. As we assembled for the warm-up lap, someone in the still ongoing race had a tyre blow-out right in front of us.

My race was no better. People had difficulty keeping the line through the long left curve followed by an immediate right curve just after the start. It was scary. Then someone crashed on one of these nasty bumpy wire covers that run in places across the track. I narrowly avoided running into the heap of riders, by breaking sufficiently hard to slow down and then navigate around the
mess, yet not hard enough to have others crashing into me. But by that time I was very scared, and became so careful that I lost contact with the peleton. I managed to catch up again driving my heart rate to unknown peaks (170 at the time). Another crash, though not right in front of
me. No chance to even think of sprinting in the even laps, with so many riders in front of me, the course being so narrow and a tight curve just before the finish.

In the final lap, just before the last
curve, I saw the left side all wide open, so zoomed through it as fast as I could, taking the final curve as narrow as possible. I sprinted in vain trying to catch up with the leading riders, but still finished a respectable 10th, which translated into 15th on the point ranking. 39.49km/h over a flat 12km (total race time of 0:18:14).

I left the place to ride home, swearing I would never ride there again.

JCRC Race No. 2 - Shuzenji (21 March)

The opposite of Kawagoe - the steepest race track in the JCRC season (except for the Shiobara hill climb). With far fewer people participating, and probably those participating being far more talented at riding bikes, and the not so good ones falling behind quickly on the climbs, this should be a safer ride. If it wasn't for the fact that someone had died on this very tra
ck, crashing into a tree. But this was, as I realized only later, when racing into the opposite direction which has many downhill curves (JCRC Race No. 7). Nonetheless, this is even a dangerous course in anti-clockwise direction, due to the high downhill speeds, as the arrival of a doctor helicopter during the race showed.

MOB and I had visited the track a few days earlier, and I had done a full lap in a decent time, despite being on my own and on a heavily equipped bike. I felt confident I could do well, maybe even still get into the first six.

The first lap worked out well. I kept up with the leaders even though the climbs were gruelling. But in the second, I couldn't keep up any longer on the final long climb and came in 8th, 42 seconds after the winner. But this was good enough to be now leading the E-class in points. 31.33km/h over a mountainous 10km (0:19:09).

Going to races outside Tokyo is always a good opportunity to do some nice riding in a new area afterwards. Of course this only works if one travels to races by trains and bike (sometimes including overnight accommodation), avoiding carrying anything unnecessary.

After this race, I cycled from the Shuzenji race track to Hakone and then on to Odawara. Very nice views of the Izu mountains, the Hakone mountains and Fuji-san all along (if only the weather had been better), and quite some climbing to keep working on my performance (races themselves are too short to have much impact).

JCRC Race No. 3 - Gunma (18 April)

The course of my very first race, with quite some up and down, including a slightly longer climb. But having survived Shuzenji quite well, I felt I could keep up with the peleton in this race. My goal was to come in as 4th, the idea being that this way I would get maximum points without being forcefully put into the next higher class (D-class). Having missed the opportunity to make the D-class in the two previous races and therefore being behind in total points (the higher the class, the larger the number of participation points awarded), I thought I should focus on becoming E-class champion.

All worked well - and I became 4th! 35.24km/h over a hilly 24km (0:40:52).

What a great feeling to be in the award ceremony for the first time, get a certificate and even a prize: two inner tubes. Little knew I that the rules had changed and with the 4th place I was now automatically in D-class and no longer had a right to decline, and little knew I how valuable those tubes would prove to be. And of course little knew I that ending up in D-class was for the better!

Hardly seriously exhausted from four laps on the track, I ventured to discover the mountains of Gunma. The plan was to cycle to Minakami and then all the way up to Konroku Toge at 1,600m, then return via route 120 to Numata. The Tone River valley up towards Konroku Toge proved to be stunningly beautiful, especially the higher I got. But that was partly because the higher I got, the more snow there was! Having ignored an earlier barrier, I found myself on a road with increasingly high snow on each side, soon reaching over one meter. The road itself had been cleared. Eventually I reached a point where the road continued in 1.5 high snow, so I had to turn around.

On the way down I ran through lots of little creeks of melt water running over the road, and going through one of them I hit a sharp stone that caused me my first and so far only puncture of my road-race cycling career. How glad I was I had these extra tubes just won at the race - otherwise I would have had to fiddle with patches which would have been less pleasant as it was getting again cooler.

I vowed to return after the next Gunma race and make it up Konroku Toge.

With almost two months to go before the next race, there was plenty of opportunity to discovery new territory, all over Japan. When my parents visited around Golden Week, I had them man my support vehicle which allowed me to do some great rides in stunny scenery.
Misaka Toge up from Kawaguchiko, followed by a climb up from Shosenkyo above Kofu to Tokusa Toge (1,700m) which is part of the Crystal Line. Shiretoko Toge (700m) at the north-eastern tip of Hokkaido, still mostly in snow. Via Hacchou Toge and Jukkoku Toge all the way to Sakudarai, my longest ever ride at the time. Killer climb variations of Otoge and Matsuhime Toge, or Yanagisawa Toge, Kamihikawa Toge and the old Sasago tunnel. The Itoigawa race up to the Yatsugadake hills and Suwa.

JCRC Race No. 4 and Tour du Japon Race No. 2 - Miyakejima (14 June)

This race takes place on a small island 300 kilometers off Tokyo. The island is basically one big volcano, which exploded 20 years ago and led to the evacuation of the island. The islanders are now back, but there are still frequent gas scares - though nobody has ever been harmed, by the initial explosion or since.

Access to the island is by daily ferry from Tokyo. There are also daily flights by an ANA daughter, and I wanted to be clever and use my miles to go by plane instead of suffering on an overnight ferry arriving at 5am.

What ANA or Lufthansa didn't tell me is, that at least half of the time, the plane never takes of from Haneda because the air at the other end is deemed to be potentially too poisonous. I ended up going in vein to Haneda and thus missing the first part of the race, a short hill climb. Lufthansa and ANA still dispute that they carry any responsibility for not telling me, equating this with the extremely rare cancellation of a plane due to bad weather.

I took the ferry to Miyakejima after all, just one day late. It was a 24-hour day-trip to the second part of the race: leave home at 20:00, ferry leaving 22:00, arriving 5:00, cycling to the village on the other side of the island where the race was to be held, race from 10:00, solo ride around the island thereafter (a bit over 30km with some up and down and heavy wind in places), back at the village at 12:00, on the ferry at 14:00, back in Tokyo around 19:00 and home by 20:00.

Only 120 or so riders make it to Miyakejima, which is about a tenth of some other races. The event feels more like a family party and it is easy to make friends with other riders.

My D-class race had 11 riders of which three gave up mid-race. The pace was gruelling, and with so few riders the benefit of drafting was low. The peleton fell apart after the 5th lap, and I managed to hang on to 2-3 other riders, eventually drafting one of them through the final lap and overtaking him and another rider ahead on the sprint up a steep slope into the finish. I was 5th, and with so few riders in the race had the option to decline going to C-class which I took advantage of. I was now leading the D-class - and would continue doing so until the end of the season.

33.29km/h over a hilly 20km (0:36:03).

JCRC Race No. 5 and Tour du Japon Race No. 3 - Hitachinaka (28 June)

Another flat race, this time on a long oval car-testing track. Another blood bath. Just fortunately not in my own race, just some scary scenes - lucky once more.

Apart from sheer crash-free survival, my goal was to end up with as many points as possible without getting among top six. This is hard to manage in a race where the final sprint decides everything and it is harder to control one's own position just before the finish line. So I decided to make it my goal to win one of the so called JCRC prizes for being among the top three in the penultimate round. Another rider who seemed to have rather too much power left broke out from the field 500m before the finish line and having just waited for something like this to happen, I was swift to follow him and draft him at amazing speed to the finish line. We were both exhausted and let the field catch up with us for the final lap.

I wanted to do the same thing again in the final lap, just make sure I wouldn't get in similarly well placed. The same guy broke out again and I followed, but then regretted as it was the wrong tactic. I let myself fall behind and caught up by the field, but was then too exhausted to keep up with them, ending up only 26th (but just three seconds behind the winner!). 41.39km/h over a flat 30km (0:43:29).

After the race, I rode south through rural Ibaraki to the large Kasumigaura Lake, intending to ride once around it (which by itself would be over 100km). Unfortunately, the weather worsened and I ended up in heavy rain, having to abort my trip half way around the lake and taking an endless train trip home.

JCRC Race No. 6 - Gunma (19 July)

Six laps around a by now very familiar course, but this time in D-class. Would that make a big difference? Indeed the pace was slightly faster, but I felt well equipped to keep up throughout, including the longer climb.

I went for the same goal as in the previous race: get the JCRC prize. This time I managed to be first and could call three pairs of JCRC socks my own, as well as a nice photo shot with the race winners.

But just like in Hitachinaka that sprint cost me energy which I needed for the final sprint. I came in 14th, seven seconds behind the winner. 36.32km/h over a hilly 36km (0:59:28).

After another race in Gunma, this was now the chance to finally assail Konroku Toge (1,600m) and then try to make it up Konsei Toge (1,800m, up from 700m) to reach the Nikko lakes and eventually Nikko. It was again a very nice ride up the Tonegawa valley, this time without any natural barriers. By the time I had reached Katashima village at the other end, the weather had worsened significantly, and I ended up climbing the 1,100m to Konsei Toge in heavy rain, at 16 degrees. I saved myself the rain cover for the long downhill to the lakes and into Nikko, when the rain had stopped, but being soaked, I didn't feel exactly warm... Still it was worth the trip, and the lakes worth another visit a few months later, after the Shiobara hill climb race.

JCRC Race No. 7 - Shuzenji (23 August)

I imagined this to be the toughest race of the season: six laps on this tough mountain course, at the very hottest time of the year, and now in D-class. Earlier in the year, I had barely kept up in just two laps one class lower. Outlooks were made worse by unpredictably and often rainy weather throughout the summer, making it hard to train adequately.

I left for a week of boot camp at my parents' home in Germany. Earlier in the year, I had bought another Canyon for use in Germany and beyond, whenever/whereever I could visit. This was the first opportunity to take real possession of the bike after a friend had collected it from the manufacturer a few months earlier. This was the cheapest road racer Canyon has on offer: Roadlite 5.0 - aluminium frame with Shimano 105 components, Mavic Aksium wheels. I immediately felt very comfortable on it. In fact, the stiffness of the frame made me feel more comfortable going downhill at over 70km/h than I do on my carbon Canyon. The 105 brakes and gears work perfectly, the Aksium wheels run just as well as my more expensive ones in Japan. If only the bike was a bit lighter (8.7 vs 6.9kg) and the crankset (Shimano R600 - the only crime on the bike) not showing so much resistance (I have since ordered FSA MegaExo as replacement).

I did 650km in a week. On the 210km ride, the extra resistance and weight showed, and I felt more exhausted than I would in Japan. However, part of it may also be due to insufficient eating and drinking, as Germany lacks the network of convenience stores and drink machines which I so much benefit from in Japan.

The training paid off. I felt fine on the climbs and was able to keep up with the fastest riders. But it was tough - my average heart rate of the full race was 169, and 13% of the time I was between 175 and 180. I had never been able to keep anything as high as this for so long.

The field fell completely apart before long, not only because of the tough climbs, but also because of the dangerously curvy down hills which made me be careful - I didn't want to be the second person ending up on a tree and dying there (or just crashing, as happened again plentiful to others that day). I came in 11th, 1:26 behind the winner. 30.72km/h over a mountainous 30km (0:48:50).

Being in Shuzenji offered another opportunity to explore yet inknown roads and passes on the Izu peninsula, including the famous Izu Skyline.

JCRC Race No. 8 - Shiobara (4 October)

This is a one-way race on public roads through the valley of Shiobara Onsen and then up a steep hill of 459m over 6.9km. I did not know what to expect. Surely I would be able to keep up with the peleton up to the start of the steep section. How well would I do on the climb?

Unfortunately, it started to rain lightly as I was cycling up from the hotel near the JR station to the start of the race. Not a good way of getting warm! The rain stopped again and the race started on yet wet roads. Only one lane was blocked for us, and we were facing traffic on the other - amazingly dangerous when racing in such a large field!

I kept up well with the field, but shorter climbs felt more strenuous than usual. Something was wrong. The hill climb was tough, and half of the field passed me pretty much immediately. I caught up with some later on, but felt not at the full height of my energy throughout, ending 20th, 2:24 behind the winner, but still comfortably within 10% of the 10th, below which no points are awarded (new rule from 2009). 23.86km over a rising 19.2km (0:48:16).

At that point, I did not understand what caused my slightly weak performance. I had trained well in the meantime, completing a ride from home to Karuizawa, and riding from Chino through the southern Alps to Hamamatsu. And I felt sufficiently strong to add a long ride after the race, which took me through the Kawamata area over Yamao Toge (1,700m) to the Nikko lakes and eventually close to Utsunomiya.

Two days later, I left for New York on a business trip, and started feeling ill as I was about the board the plane. It seemed I was getting a flu, developing a high fever. Eventually it turned out I had developed severe, acute prostatitis. This was exactly the kind of disease which I did not want to have - no more sitting on a saddle for a while! After more travel through Germany and Portugal, I ended up back in Japan the day before the next race - jet-lagged, tired, untrained and still pumped full with antibiotics, yet at least almost symptom-free.

I couldn't just sit back and let the race pass, and my performance deteriorate further. I undid the cancellation of my minshuku reservation and went to Gunma on the same day I had arrived at Narita.

JCRC Race No. 9 - Gunma (18 October)

This is the toughest of the three races in Gunma, because it is the longest: 12 laps of a hilly 6km in D-class, 72km in total. My sole goal was to keep up with the peleton and make it into the finish to collect my points. In the worst case somehow keep cycling for as long as possible and get some training into my body.

I ended up in between. I was still too weak and struggled to keep up on the longer climbs, and after them didn't get the power together to do some catching up on the down hills and flats. I lost the peleton in the 6th lap, with still more than half of the race to go. This was a tough situation to be in: without the benefit of the draft and the motivation to keep up maximum speed, I would continue to fall behind, and risk being lapped eventually. Knowing too well, I powered through on my own, and made it into the 12th lap, probably just half a minute ahead of the peleton getting into finish. Now I was safe from being lapped, but I still was in danger of not coming in within 10% of the 10th (who would have been in the peleton) and thus not gaining any points. As long as I kept my speed, I was safe - the 13th so to speak of 12 laps should be shorter than 10% of those 12 laps. I kept it up and finished ahead of the cut-off, as 37th, 10 minutes behind the winner. By far my worst performance, but I had secured another 60 points, and with them I was far enough ahead to win the championship even if I crashed in one out of the two remaining races. 33.09km/h over a hilly and mostly lonely 72km (2:10:33).

No ride after this race - 72km on the track was sufficient training and I was still not sure whether I had done my prostate a favour.

JCRC Race No. 10 and Tour du Japon Race No. 4 - Yokkaichi (25 October)

Another hilly street course, far away from Tokyo. I checked out the course after registration on the previous day and completed it at a relatively leisurely pace in a decent time. I was confident I was back in form and would be able to keep up with the peleton on the long climb soon after the start and do the same once more in the second lap. In any case, all I needed was to arrive before the cut-off - with the minimum points I would be unassailable JCRC Champion 2009, even without participating in the remaining last race.

Indeed, everything worked smoothly - except for someone slipping twice right in front of me, in the tight corner just before the finish sprint. I managed to avoid them each time, and entered the final sprint in a leading position (except for two riders who had broken out some time ago). But I did not want to end up among the first six! So I slowed down during the sprint and made sure a few riders would pass me. Being unable to time this perfectly, I ended up 9th, 17 seconds behind the winner. 37.00km/h over a hilly 18km (0:29:12).

I was JCRC Champion! A dream had become true.

I left for a celebration ride, intending to make the most out of my time in Yokkaichi by crossing into adjacent Shiga-ken and from there through another mountain pass further north back into Mie-ken. This turned out to be quite an adventure. Buhei Toge was shown as a national highway on maps, but when I had climbed it half way up through a side road, further access was blocked. I asked a cyclist coming down on the forbidden side. Yes, it was possible to ride up another 3km or so, but then there was a huge landslide, impossible to pass. Normally I don't take this for a word and know that almost any landslide or construction can be circumvented, but this time somehow I sensed this was different. I cycled up with the firm intention of turning around and returning to Tokyo early.

The landslide was indeed massive. So massive that it was clearly impossible or at least extremely dangerous to attempt to walk over it. But then I noticed a hiking path that seemed to lead around it, and indeed, having carried my bike for five minutes up a steep hill (I know why I'm using SPD pedals!), I ended up back on the road, beyond the landslide. I had a well built-out kokudo all for myself, up to the tunnel pass, and then all the way down into Shiga-ken.

After a lunch break in the first village, I crossed over north along the lower slopes of the mountain ridge I had just crossed. Quite a bit of up and down, but very scenic, and very quiet. Eventually I reached the next kokudo that would lead over Ishigure Toge back into Mie-ken. According to the maps. Somehow I found it strange that there was relatively little traffic on this national highway, despite the one further south having been closed. Soon I reached a sign saying that the road was closed further ahead, due to landslides... Oh no! If this was really true (for a change), this meant real trouble, as going even further north to the next pass would take so much time that I would never make it back to Yokkaichi (where I had left my luggage) in day-light.

I asked a shop owner and she swore the road was really closed, but when pushed said that some hikers had managed to get through, but that it had been very tough. Hmm, that didn't sound very reassuring. But I felt I had no choice as the alternative was not appealing.

As I cycled up, a police car overtook me. I was hoping they weren't going to check whether I was going to enter the forbidden section. I passed repeated signs that the road was closed and it was not allowed to proceed, but no actual barriers, so I went on. No police car in sight. I was all by myself, climbing through a very long construction site. "So this is where the landslide was... As so often, already totally ready to be passed..." Back on the old road, I approached a new tunnel being drilled through the mountain. I took the old road to climb up further, despite worrying signs warning of landslides and road closure. Indeed, I came across what looked like small landslides that had been tidied up recently. And then the police car approached me, from ahead! I nodded friendly, and they didn't stop. It felt reassuring to see the police allowing me to go that far, and apparently even further.

After lots of curves , I finally reached the pass. Well, what used to be a pass. It was blocked by concrete blocks, making it impossible for anyone but pedestrians, or a bicycle, to pass.

I went down on the other side. The road was in horrible condition. And after the first bent a big landslide covering the full breadth of the road, having torn away parts of it.
I walked over it and rolled down further. The next landslide. The same spectacle would continue, countl
ess times. But there was a hiker going downhill on the same road... I was reassured tha
t if that person could get down, so could I, if need be on foot. An
d so I made it through landslide after landslide, none too scary not to pass over them.

Eventually, I got to the other side of the newly built tunnel, and from there it was a fast autobahn run down into the valley, and another 35km back to Yokkaichi.

JCRC Race No. 11 and Tour du Japon Race No. 5 - Saiko (8 November)

As I was already JCRC champion for 2009, I could have skipped this very last race of the season. However, it offered the chance to go for an outright race win, something I had to avoid before not to be upgraded into the C-class and possibly not have sufficient points any longer to become champion (though in retrospect it turned out I had more points than both the C-class and B-class champions). Also, there was still the Tour du Japon rating where I was only a distant second and with the last race offering double points, a very strong showing by myself and a mediocre one by the leading contender could still make me Tour du Japon Champion.

So the dream was to win the race and cash in not only a first prize for a race, but also two championships. But dreams become rarely true - in so many races I
had started thinking I could do well and ended up not quite where I wanted. In this race, it was all down to saving energy for the first 19km and then having the right tactic for the final sprint, on an uphill section. My tactic was simple: never go first, always draft behind others, and switch always behind the fastest riders pulling ahead. All of this on an uphill section where hopefully not all riders could keep up with the pace (or as it turned out would crash!) so the field would become thinner, making it easier to find space to switch places.

Somehow it worked out exactly as planned. All I had to do is to pull together all my energy without going into overdrive and running out of steam too early, and then sprinting away over the last 200m. I could not believe it! Another dream, and this time a really unexpected one, had become true! And how nice to hear my name being announced over the loudspeakers - "a foreigner had won, what a surprise!" 41.19km/h over an almost flat 20km (0:29:08).

I was showered with medals, award certificates, winner jerseys and other presents for the bike in the subsequent ceremonies. What a nice feeling when one has never ever won anything in sports before. My results at school were always embarrassingly bad; I was never a star on the football or basketball pitch.

But now is the time to bow out of racing. Not only is it quite demanding to make sure one doesn't miss attendance of these eleven races all over Japan, racing is also quite dangerous. I have seen many people crash, and at best nice bikes being ruined, at worst ambulances take away riders. Flat races in particular were orgies of blood, because they attract many riders who are too unskilled or inexperienced to ever be in a race. There are fewer of them in hilly races, and the remaining ones mostly fall behind the peleton and thus pose less of a risk to others. I was both sufficiently lucky and skilled to avoid any crashes (sometimes escaping sliding riders by a few centimeters), but I do not want to count on my luck for longer.

Instead I shall focus on riding purely for pleasure, and discovering new mountain passes and areas of Japan. It is becoming increasingly difficult to discover anything new in the vicinity of Tokyo, where I must by now know almost every mountain road up to 150-200km away from Tokyo. Most of my rides take me that far and thanks to the very efficient public transport system, I can easily return home by train, having packed up my bike in a small bag that I always carry with me (it's like a parachut, letting me bail out whereever I want, as long as there is a train station).

In the 15 months since starting, I have ridden 14,000km in total - which compares to something like 16,000km which I have ridden in my previous 39 years (I've kept records!). I do want to fall back to the pace of my first 39 years, but I'm also unlikely to keep up this year's pace. As long as I get sufficient exercise, discover new passes and have good company (not all necessarily always at the same time!), I shall be happy.

With my greatest thanks to MOB, without whom this would have never happened (starting it, buying the right gear, using it the right way, cycling the right roads, learning the right racing strategy, getting prepared for races, etc. etc.) and the larger PE and even TCC community,