28 October 2010

A Tale of Two Cycling Cities

"To stop at red would be French, or socialist. Possibly both.

A similar liberty with dress codes applies, also. I'm identifying as metropolitan middle-class, but of the knowing, dissenting, ironic subset thereof, and - god forbid -nothing like a not-know-any-better bourgeois.

It’ll soon be cool enough for my beat-up old Classic Softshell Jacket. I can't wait to wear it again – even if I'm the only person who’ll notice."

A Tale of Two Cycling Cities - Rapha

24 October 2010

Behind the Peleton

First, it was "Beyond the Peleton" with Cervelo.  Now it is "Behind the Peleton" with Ritte Racing, the Belgian brand that Jimmy Shinagawa highlighted for us back in May

Each video is short -- click through to Youtube to see some of the others.  I liked the wheel change "on the fly" during a race.  Effective low cost marketing?  Yes, if enough blogs highlight it.  Unfortunately, the UCI did not have much sense of humor about the Ritte Bosberg:

22 October 2010

Legal Update -- Earphones Banned by Prefectures; Bike Lanes in Our Future?

From this Monday's Daily Yomiuri:

Still "no statistics available" but one evolutionarily challenged student rides in front of a train ....

In other news, for Japanese readers, take a look at this item from Yahoo Japan news that a colleague forwarded to me -- a significant survey that concludes bike lanes of at least 1.5 meters width could be added to 6600 kilometers (out of 8100 kilometers) along 80% of major roads in Japan included in the study, significantly reducing the problems of bicycles commingling with pedestrians or cars and making life safer for all concerned.  Currently there are only 178 km of bike lanes.  The article notes that the number of bicycle/pedestrian accidents has increased by 3.7x in the past 10 years.

On my commute in to work on Tuesday, where Komazawa Dori crosses Yamate Dori, just below Nakameguro Station, I counted 15 bicycles waiting at the red light to cross Yamate Dori and head up toward Daikanyama/Ebisu -- nearly all commuters, mostly in their 20s and 30s, men and women.

18 October 2010


Golden autumn days in Bremen but temperatures are now steadily fixed in the one digit range. Time for long bib shorts (can bib shorts be long or are they becoming bib longs then?) and also time to try my new Assos Air Jack 851 - in orange of course.

I did the usual Wuemmewiesen - Worpswede - Fischerhude - loop with a twist. 75 km of cycling with almost zero accumulated elevation done in precisely 2:30 hr. When I rode along a "Schrebergartenkolonie" (allotment gardens, my dictionary tells me - by the way that guy Moritz Schreber was pretty crazy and his kids became really crazy), I saw the below sign reading "Vernunft" or rationality, reason, in English.

We Germans like to be "vernuenftig" (the associate adjective) and one of our philosophers, Immanuel Kant  even wrote at least two books about it "Critique of pure reason" and "Critique of practical reason". Not that I ever read them, neither do I know anyone who did. But for some reasons in Japan Germans are always associated with a few things: Beer and sausages for the simple minded, Beethoven and Arabesque for the cultural sophisticated and writers and poets such as Goethe, Schiller, Hegel and Kant for those who wan to torture us with their superior knowledge, as we really don't know much about these guys. Oh and I forgot Hitler and the war; impossible to count the taps on the shoulder after a few beers, sakes and a good plate of sashimi* "Next time, we together again, but without the Italians." I always found it amusing in the light that my mother is Italian by birth. 

When I was working for Schindler Elevator KK in the late Nineties at their manufacturing plant in Fukuroi (the only claim to fame of the city being the 27th of the original Tokaido stations depicted by Hiroshige)the place was so remote from the next train station that I normally called a taxi after work to drive me there. It took me another hour to arrive at our home in Hamamatsu but the worse part of the commute was, that apparently one taxi driver grew fond of me because of my German background and did everything he could to take me to the station. So when I opened the door and after the usual barrage of aisatsu, he immediately started with "In contrast to Kant, Hegel states that ...." or other comments. My Japanese wasn't that good that I could possibly have understood what he was saying but in any case, even if I would have understand his words it was still doubtful that I would have understood it's meaning. Pure torture for 20 minutes. Obviously I had to keep up the pretense that I was the sophisticated German he expected, but on the other hand I was just tired from work and wanted to go home.

Oh, after checking YouTube just now, it seems that there is even a worse song by Sandra from Arabesque: "Hiroshima" OK, little boy, next time with Sandra.

Oh sorry, I forgot: Nothing new otherwise from Bremen. I met two guys on MTB and one of them had a fantastic bottle holder for German recycle-PET bottles. Vilsa is also the favourite softdrink brand of my son.

I wrote that Ludwig with Tom on his wheel smashed my Togebaka record of Jerome's hill on the weekend, but looking at the blog that seemed to have happened already in June. Ludwig once told me that he could hardly believe that I was really that fast after he tried to break the record together with Gregg. So the fact that he is now much faster should add some cedibility to my original claim which was definitely not clenbuterolized.

Some more pictures from the autumn landscape, good night, next week I am off to Berlin.

Sunday run-out

Back from a business trip on Friday evening, I was recovered enough from jet-lag and found a brief window before the work left behind in my office fell back upon my shoulders, so decided to try a half-day ride on Sunday, taking advantage of perfect cycling weather.

Leaving home at 8:15, I made good time to Itsukaichi, where I stopped at the traditional 7-11 in Tokura, just before the climb up the Akigawa. There I met Nishibe-san, just emerging from one of the aisles in the store. I should have known he was there -- if I had just taken a look at the beautiful Colnago out front. In any event, we both planned to head up to Tomin-no-Mori. Tom S. stopped by, returning from a trip over the back of the hill. He had ridden on Saturday with Ludwig and his VLAAMs teammates, well into Gunma, and had been thinking about a trip to Enzan on Sunday, but after a very early start had been feeling fatigue and wisely cut the trip a bit short and was settling for a warm-down ride of 145 km.

Nishibe-san and I each pose with the champion:

Nishibe-san and I headed up the hill. I almost stayed with him to Motojuku, but quickly lost him after the timed "toge-baka" section started. It was my first trip to Tomin no Mori up the Akigawa this year, remarkably. There were lots of Japanesse cyclists already descending, many of whom looked as if they must do this ride every Sunday. The motorcycle moratorium of this Spring is definitely over, and they were out in force.

I climbed it in 74 minutes, 3 slower than my "toge-baka" best, but I was happy nonetheless since I had gone too close to full-throttle from home to the base of the hill, I was using the HED deep-rimmed, slightly heavier wheels, and I was not even tempted to pull off and rest on the way up. Two well-timed gels did not hurt. Nishibe-san made it in 65 minutes and was finishing his bowl of o-den when I arrived.

After some food (beef curry out of a package), we headed back down. I decided to push it a bit and see if I could make back some of the 9 minutes lost to Nishibe-san on the climb. Despite stopping twice for road construction, waiting patiently with the motorcycles and a few cars, I made good time on the descent. Reaching the Tokura 7-11, I hopped off, bought a chocolate monaka bar, and waited for Nishibe-san ... who came rolling in 11 minutes later.

It is hard to recall that only 4-5 years ago this kind of run-out would have been considered a major ride for us. Now it is barely worth a blog entry. Then again, my legs this morning are telling me that it was real, hard work on the climb!

P.S. Jerome was in Kobe this weekend ... rode with Moriwaki-san on Saturday. Nishibe-san and Jerome remind me that they want to plan a ride and post-ride meal for Oct 30, when their friend from Kobe -- moving to Tokyo -- will join.

08 October 2010

Chubu 1000 Brevet

UPDATE (by David L.):

Well, I made it to checkpoint 6 -- the Notojima Circle K just up the hill from the park where Tour De Noto ends Day 2/starts Day 3.  That was 520 km into the ride (plus an additional 10 km or so from train station to start and various detours). 

I finished my ride at a little after 4PM on Saturday, 32 hours into the event.  It had been raining off and on the last 16 hours straight. 

The new HED Jet 6 wheels worked great.  Definitely faster descending and faster (or at least less work to keep "cruising speed") on the flats.  I'll update my wheel selection post later.

Cervelo with the HED Jet 6 wheels and Brevet Gear at Checkpoint #1
The suburban sprawl of Route 8 through Sabae, Fukui, Kaga, Komatsu and on and on
but flat and with a nice shoulder for cycling, so possible to make okay time with minimal effort

The main issues were (1) the rain (which was really heavy during a solo stretch of the ride between 3 and 5:30AM to get to Wajima -- very solitary, just me and the frogs) and probably triggered lots of mechanical issues others were suffering, with all the grit that ends up on the bike when it rains, (2) I could not sleep, even though I pulled over a little after midnight, set up in a covered bus stop, and tried to for several hours, leaving me exhausted on Saturday -- a few cat naps helped, but not enough, and (3) no way I would finish Sunday night (as opposed to Monday morning) and so be able to get back to Tokyo for my business trip, so I called it quits Saturday 4:30PM at Notojima, went back to Nagoya/Ichinomiya that night to pick up my things, and came back to Tokyo Sunday morning.  ... of course, by Sunday morning the weather was beautiful again.  A real missed opportunity.
The "survival sheet" (what we used to call a "space blanket" and some tape
made an excellent bike bag for the trip back to Nagoya to pick up my gear

Jerome did not ride -- had a conflict.

I now have only 2+3+3+6+4 = 1800 km toward PBP, since I cannot get to Kyushu for their event later in October.  Probably not enough to get a spot for PBP, but who knows?  And after the last two Brevets I am starting to feel like I am back in shape ...  starting to get there, at least.



David and, if I am not mistaken, also Jerome have joined this weekend's Chubu 1,000 km brevet BRM 1008 orgainized by Audax Randonneurs Chubu. Quite a feat, considering that David and Jerome just completed a brevet of 400 km distance last weekend. For David it is a good opportunity to get to 2.600 km distance within one year which will allow him a place in the Japanese slot for the Paris - Brest - Paris Brevet hold in August 2011. This is the longest (1.200 km), hardest and most famous of all brevets and only organized once every four years.

David asked me to post updates he sents me via blackberry on the Positivo Espresso blog while he is riding which I am enjoying to do. The first one reach me today:

"270 km so far. Want to get closer to wajima tonight. Rain threatening. Battery running low so no photos or updates."

I sincerely hope that this will not be the last we heard from him and keep you updated.

Steak Restaurant Receipt

via Bike Snob NYC


Yes, it is Saiko time again! The race is taking place on 14 November.

This is always a nice place to race, especially when the weather is nice, like last year.

I have particularly fond memories of last year, because this is where I came First in a race, and where I ended the JCRC and Tour du Japon series as 2009 Champion (D-class).

This is also where MOB ended the 2009 JCRC series as champion.

And where James should end as S-class champion this year. Which is reason enough to go there and celebrate him!

I have stuck to my vows and have not entered a single race this year. This one will be my exception. Who else will be joining me? I have three 5,000 Yen vouchers left towards the entry fee of 7,000 Yen per race.

More details on the day can be found on the JCRC website (link on the right) or the Tour du Japon site to which JCRC is providing a link.

05 October 2010

Bremen on Clenbuterol

"Summer of the old hags" or in German "Altweibersommer", that's how we call a period of relative good weather at the end of summer or the start of autumn. Last Sunday surprised with temperatures up to 24 degree and blue skies. So I left my family in the chaos of our apartment, created by the arrival of a forty feet container from Japan with all our goodies and left to explore one more time the Bremen countryside.

Of course the ride was worth all trouble and hardship, especially when arriving back home again after the ride without proper announcement of the intended duration it took. But I felt mightily inspired by the feats of mighty Thor and with an equally mighty tailwind I made excellent progress in Northern direction along the river Wümme, the Bremian equivalent to the Tamagawa. As I didn't need to concentrate on pushing the pedals, I let my mind wander and an unbelievable story I have heard back in town came creeping up in my conscience.

Probably most of you have heard the story of the "Town Musicians of Bremen", a folktale recorded by the Grimm brothers in the last century. The town musicians, a donkey, a dog, a cat and a rooster have become world famous and act as a kind of symbol of the town of Bremen. However what most people do not know, that the original group of the town musicians consisted not of four, but of five animals. The fifth and actually most important animal was an elephant that was brought over from India by the owner of a circus. The elephant was however neither in possession of a proper visa, nor of a valid working permit and in order not to entice foreign animals to immigrate to Germany, the elephant was kept quiet bout. However the good people of Bremen built a monument in honor of the elephant which can be seen to this day quite close to the central station. For some reasons it is one of my favourite places in Bremen and I keep pointing out the elephant to my bored children every time we pass by. These are the thoughts of a cyclists that rides fast an aimlessly through the beautiful landscape North of Bremen.

After about 20 km I came to the small town of Ritterhude, where Ludwig has been trained as a paramilitaric (or was it a paramedic?) some twenty years ago. I was looking for a place called Pellen's Park where a cyclo-cross race was supposed to be conducted on Sunday and just by chance I found Ludwigs old training ground on the left side of the road to the park. By pure coincidence this is almost the only place within a circle with 150 km diameter around Bremen that features some kind of hills. It is, so to say, Bremens landscape on Stereoids, or should I better write on Clenbuterol? It isn't really hilly, but at least it seems that the landscape has been moved by geological forces somewhat in the last 5 million years. As opposed to the rest of the landscaped that has been cleared by a giant piece of blotting paper.

And then I saw the cyclo cross race. This was the first time I have ever been to a cylco cross race and anyway one of the first times I have been to a race that I didn't attend myself. Not sure if I will ever join a cyclo cross race after what I have seen on Sunday. For those who don't know I will highlight some of the important characteristics as I see them:
First, the season for cyclos cross races in Germany is not, as every normal human being would think, during the months of July and August, the only month in which one has a chance to occassionally glimse the sun and enjoy temperatures above 20 degress, but from
October to January. In other words the season where one stays at home and only the drunk and debile will ride on bicycles through muddy fields. Or stand there and watch others
ride through muddy fields.

Second, I have never come to terms with the idea of a road race the goes in circles. One arrives at the point where one has started, so what's the big deal? Shouldn't one uses it's power to ride from A to B? With the exception of the Tokyo-Ítoigawa fast run all races I have attended finished at the starting line. Bloody stupid anyway. David and Jerome perfected this nonsense when they rode 400 km on the weekend, just to arrive back in the same spot after 24 hours.

Ok, this isn't very logic. One would assume now that cyclo cross races are following the same weird logic. But they must be more "straight", as whereas road races have to follow curvy lines in forms of roads, the cyclo crosser just goes a straight line and crosses fields, rivers, walls, barbed wire fences etc. that he will find in his way. That's why he has a cyclo cross bike in the first place, right?

But no, cyclo cross track layout is even more stupid. Basically it is a patch of grassland, say 200 by 200 m of dimension and then the course ziczacs in all directions over the grassland. Not only that you are going nowwhere, from every point of the race you see other iders going in completely different directions, just guided by some red and white tape. The studidity that nobody is going nowhere is even more pronounced and visibale as for a road race.
And my last point is, that the raods in cyclo cross races are very bad. Some of them are even so bad, that they could be used for the grand prix Chantal Biya. But I am pretty sure that Chantal Biya will never attend a cyclo cross race.

OK, this was even a high class race, even with the world champion (German) attending. Does somebody remember this fantastic post about cyclo cross by James (Keyword: "Heckling - it is the aspect of the sport I've chosen to perfect")? Well, even in Germany we have Hecklers at cyclo cross races and it was a great joy to listen to their hecklings. If I am not mistaken, one of the hecklers was the offical and probably even paid heckler of the world champion. He even ran alongside the track to increase the time intervalls of intensive heckling absuses to which his rider was subjected.

But I didn't want to spend my whole Sunday standing in a muddy field and watching riders going nowhere so I jumped on my bike and continued in direction Farge on the river Weser where a pretty big U-boat bunker called "Valentin" is still standing. A nasty thing indeed and not smelling after 4711 eau de cologne. Ok, this is a very complicated joke, which needs further information for those of you that are interested: One guy on the TCC blog wrote that the German perfume 4711, used to be a long time favourite among the crews of German WW2 u-boats. This is an interesting perspective, as my personal impression of 4711 was, that it was that smelly liquid that my grandmother and other older women used to use on festive occasions and funerals. I am not 100% sure if my grandmother ever was a member of an u-boat crew during the war, but I am 99,99999% sure that she wasn't.

So after having seen this, I turned to the East and rode along the beautiful landscape of Schwanewede, Eggestedt and, my personal highlight Osterholz-Scharmbeck, being non-charming at all, a city with a name like a female German minster of justice from the FDP party.

Now the landcape became even more interesting.
This photo is showing the landscape just after leawing the town of Osterholz-Scharmbeck.

And this one is shortly before riding into Worpswede.

While this one is between Worpswede and Worpshausen.

And this one shortly before Quelkhorn.

Please notice that I am not at least envious of all the photos of Nokogiriyama, Nippara, Gunma and Chihibu recently posted on this blog.

And after Quelkhorn comes Fischerhude, where a nice house is on the side of the road that I can afford to buy with my income as university professor. Autumn has surely come and the farmers have put on proud displays of their fruits of works along the road. To my surprise, I saw a lot of pumpkins, a fruit I have never thought of being home in abudant quantities in Germany, but hey, the times they are a changing. And I like pumpkins as they grow more or less inthe official team color of Positivo Espresso.

By now I have rode against a strong headwind for the last 30 km and I was relieved that I could ride the last 20 km or so without doing too much work. One nasty climb was although still waiting for me: At the fabulous "Platzhirsch" restaurant I had to cross the federal higway. I concentrated and put all what was left of my power into the pedals and barely made it with 30 km/hr over the top.

After 121 km and 4 1/2 hour of riding I was home again. I made no breaks except the one at Pellen's park (OK, I made 1 or 2 minute breaks inbetween, I admit) so I remained the last 100 km and 3 1/2 hour in the saddle. This is really the nice thing here in Bremen, the average speed is high, there are no nice spots neither convenience stores which would require breaks and as the road is straight, one can take photos, one can eat, drink and possibly relieve oneself as well.

As I have relieved myself from all ththoughts in my head right now.

More pics to be uploaded tomorrow - on this PC it just take endless time.

04 October 2010

"My first race in France"

I found this amusing write-up on Joe Papp's very good blog-site, Papillon (http://joepapp.blogspot.com). For those who do not know this site it is well worth reading. As a former pro cyclist who was caught doping and who came clean, he has some interesting insights to what is going on in the sport nowadays.
This is not quite Tim Krabbe's book The Rider but is a good read.

"Ok, the first rule of racing in France: Never ever, ever, ever believe a Frenchman when he says the course is "almost completely flat". To an Englishman flat is flat, with possibly a bit of a downhill finish. To a Frenchman, flat is at best "rolling" with a "small" climb of maybe 8% and, I swear I am not making this up, a finishing stretch of maybe 500m into the village along cobbles at 22%!!!! It also comes of the corner at the end of the circuit's climb, just to really spice things up.

Le Grand Prix de [small French town]. Thankfully, I rode the circuit first, and thankfully they wouldn't let me race Elite 1,2 and 3! Because I had only just registered with their association they made me ride 4 and 5. Police outriders at a local amateur race, a beautiful course, 10 laps making just fewer than 50k. Cat 4 and 5. Sounded do-able.

How did it go?

How can I put it?

Basically, I got raped. By 40 angry Frenchman. For an hour. Over and over again, whilst a new friend (the French cyclist who invited me to the race after giving me directions to go training earlier that week) laughed at my suffering. He said he hadn't been that entertained all year.

On the rolling section the peloton averaged 50kmph. From kilometer 0. Seriously.

Some wad attacked on the first lap, got about 20 meters on the peloton, and then we groveled for a lap, trying to rein him in. And as soon as we had, someone else goes (actually it was mostly the original wad attacking again and getting others to do the same), we rein them in, then someone else, and so-on and so-forth. By about lap 4 (I really had forgone the ability to count by now) I felt the inevitable happening. I was slipping back through the peloton. Losing wheels each time every f*cker and his dog stepped on the gas at the top of the climb. I just wanted to make sure I wasn't the first to get dropped. Surely someone else couldn't take this punishment for much longer too?

So as soon as I see the old boy next to me start to shake his head, I am onto him like a flash. My new best friend. Please Granddad, give it up. I'll keep you company. It'll be our own little grupetto. We can share our horror stories, tell each other about the injuries that have held us back today. Now I did say he was old, maybe mid 50s if I am being generous to myself, but f*ck he was stubborn. Every time I saw a gap ahead of him, I thought, "great we can relax now, and I can shake my head disapprovingly, point and blame you for being dropped". But no, he would summon up something from his leathery, ox like thighs and back on we would get. More pain, more racing heart, more burning lungs, more f*cking lunacy. Why am I doing this? I am on holiday!

And then finally, it happens. He looks down at his gears (the eternal fail safe excuse for an impending crack), mutters something in French, shakes his head some more, and he's gone. I am not going to come last! Well, not if I can beat him up those cobbles at the end, or knock him off at least. I then have a bit of a second wind, inspired by my "victory" over a retired Frenchman, I manage to find a few more wheels for half a lap, a few more dropped, and then I am done. I wait for a nice stretch of road with no spectators, and I gratefully sit up and wait for the stragglers, and hope they haven't got too much fight left in them.

But of course they do. And actually there are quite a few I hadn't seen. About 12 of us. So I spend the rest of the race trying not to get dropped by some other losers, and suffering the indignity of the final police outrider laughing at my pain, and then finally we hear the bell. Should I go early? Hope to give myself a head start for the monster at the end? I give it a go. I fail. I give it another go. I fail again. F*ck it guys, we are racing for last! I am a tourist. Give me a break! So I sit in, try to save myself. And I needed to. Then end was brilliant. One of the funniest and craziest things I have seen in a bike race. Guys just stopping dead halfway up the finish. Guys walking. Guys running. Guys falling. Shouts of "putain" and "merde" filled the pretty little street on the lord's day, accompanied by the childlike, joyful laughter of the spectators. There were still remnants of the main peloton struggling up it when i got there. I was in the 27", took it easy and I thought to myself, If I don't have to get off, I won't come last.

And I didn't.

As I coughed up what felt like the remnants of a lung, I flopped over the finish line, into the village square, received a kiss on both cheeks from a beautiful French girl as she put my finisher's garland round my neck, and then found a nice corner to throw up in. It was f*cking brilliant. Insane but brilliant. I can never return to racing in the UK with any real enthusiasm now. I had forgotten how well the French do all this. Every weekend! I had spent too long away from it. Too long. When i got home, after a two hour "nap", I began persuading my fiancée that we would be spending three months every year back in France so I could race "properly" again. Thankfully she had found the whole experience so funny, she was easily persuaded."

-contributed by a Pappillon reader

Mighty Thor

The nice thing about the living in Germany is, that one can see a lot of bicycle races on television, i.e. Eurosport. Combined with a very easy to use hard disc recorder provided courtesy of German Telekom it is easy to record all programs that include the word "cycling" and watch them later in the evening or during the weekend. I watched a lot of stages of the Tour de France. the Vuelta and the World Championship in Melbourne.
Perhaps I even spend more time before the tube than riding my bike.

I liked the course of the world championship with two hilly sections. All the races were exciting, however the women race on Saturday had the most exciting finish.

As a somewhat supporter of the Cervelo test team, I am delighted that a rider of the team managed to get a last, big victory before the team is defunct at the end of the season. This is a great guy and it is amazing that despite his stature and weight he is such a comparatively good climber and uphill sprinter. Of course the video here explains the source of his power in detail (please note the nice connection to the rainbow jersey of the world championship).

By the way, there is a dedicated page on cycling fans that shows which live resources including video live coverage is available for the bigger cycling events.

Beautiful Brevet

This Saturday Jerome and I joined the Kanagawa Oct 2 400km Brevet from Numazu to Karuizawa and back.

400+ km.  4870 meters of climbing (really).  23 hrs 57 mins.  Please click through to "View Details" via Garmin Connect:

Completed in just under 24 hours, with many stops, including a steak dinner at a family restaurant in Saku, Nagano (complete with after dinner nap); too many brief rests slumped over my handlebars in the dark on the middle of the last two long climbs, completely exhausted; and 30 minutes or more passed out in a 24-hour McDonalds on the Southern edge of Kofu, Jerome and I the only customers other than a group of attractive women in the smoking area who looked as if they had just gotten off work at 2:45AM Sunday from one of the local establishments.

There were some familiar riders -- a few from the Chubu 600; Tsuchida-san from the Saitama 300 km event in March, the ex-Keirin star who rode with a much younger guy (perhaps his son? protege?) as an assist; Daisuke S. from the Positivo Catteni club team; Jose, a Philippine expat who Jerome and I met just 2 weeks ago in Oume; and some of the Kanagawa organizers.  We rode the last 75 km with an English speaking Brevet-crazed freelance software engineer from Kobe, Moriwaki-san.  He did the Cascade Pacific 1250 km this summer, an identifying tag from the event still attached to his seatpost, as well as a series of three 1000 km Canada events (one day off between each in the series!), and said he had done a German 1000 km Brevet in a prior year, starting out of Munich.  And no doubt he would have zoomed ahead of us, but for the fact that he waited with Jerome 30+ minutes for me at Lake Shoji-ko after the last long climb, and he must have been saving himself for next weekend's Chubu 1000.  All that, plus a mechanical problem (dying bottom bracket) that required him to make an unscheduled repair stop at a bicycle shop in Saku.

As with last time, Jerome had not registered and was an "unofficial" entrant.  He did commit to the organizers that, next time, he will register in time and pay the modest fee.  He had a late meeting at work that went to 11PM on Friday evening, and so went straight to Shin Fuji on Saturday morning, planning to meet me 25 km into the ride or so.   We missed our rendezvous, as I got through the first 25 km very quickly -- a tailwind making it possible to zoom down the coast line at around 40 kph without undue effort, and Jerome stepped into a family restaurant for breakfast.  In any event, I continued on, knowing he would catch me somewhere up the Fujikawa. At least he did not need to wait for me until we were well over 100 km into the ride.  Then he waited at the top of (or down the other side of) each hill, each wait longer than the last.

As with other events longer than 300 km, there is way too much to put in a blog entry at 1AM.  A few highlights:

1.  The climb to Shinshu Toge went through some beautiful country.  Somehow I was expecting stark, harsh terrain (like the approach from 411 to Kamihikawa), but there were nice farm villages and valleys, and even some downslopes to mix with the climbing from Nirasaki (360m elev) to the pass (1460m elev).  Most of the gradient was reasonable - just a few km of 10%+ climbing near the top.

2.  The "surprise climb" of the trip was from Saku (low point 670 m elevation) to Naka Karuizawa (1003m elev).  I somehow was hoping that the turnaround point -- 60% of the way from Saku to the center of Karuizawa (well, the Shinkansen station), would be at the same elevation as Saku.  No luck ... and plenty of slow, suffering riders to witness after we started back down the hill.

3. We saw the sun rise over Mt. Fuji as we passed through "Asagiri Kogen" - Morning Mist Highlands.  A beautiful site ... the scene not captured on film, as I was at that point descending at a good clip and has zero energy to stop and take photos.

4.  This was a really well-thought-out course, especially compared with the Brevet at end of August.  The Fujikawa was very nice, the route out through Minami Alps/Nirasaki avoided much of the "sprawl" of Kofu, and travel on "main roads" -- 141 from Saku back to Nirasaki, 20 through Kofu, and 358 up to Mt. Fuji -- was mostly during the dark of late night and very early Sunday morning, when traffic was almost non-existent.  ... until buses, cars and trucks started roaring up Rte 358 before 5AM Sunday.  Our only suggestion to the organizers was that they try Rte 2 instead of Rte 141 between Koumi and Saku on the outbound leg, as the truck traffic on 141 can be heavy.  Also, the course had the benefit that all of the hard work is done before the last 50 km, which includes a 30km+ downhill stretch that starts just after passing Motosu-ko.

The view North while crossing the Fujikawa on Rte 300, 75 km into the ride

The view South.

The view West.

03 October 2010

Riding With The Russian

The title for this blog came to me while cooking tonight (a delicious ragout with fusilli which was very good even though I say so myself). I was listening to the B.B. King & Eric Clapton album called 'Riding With The King'. Now I am not suggesting my riding partner Laurent is regal in anyway other than perhaps being The King of The (Quick) Drink After Work. We met by the river at 7:15am and headed off while discussing the day's route. In contrast to the official Positivo style where a route is planned and then ignored, we didn't start with a plan. Both of us set out from our homes feeling tired and expecting a shortish ride but then The Russian mentioned a drive up to some caves he did with his son earlier in the summer and we started to think bigger. Along the way we met Pro Dave (James M) who was waiting for Mossad's man in Hachioji, Yair. They were to do the last ride before Pro Dave headed off to ride the Tour of Cameroon with his team. We rode for a few km before our paths split and sent Po Dave off with our best wishes and the warning of non-male-borne diseases in Africa for which we do not even have names.
Nowadays we ride along the road by the river rather than on the cycling/jogging/dog-walking path and this was definitely a good thing on this day as there was the 30km and 50km marathon walk going on. There were many hundreds, if not a couple of thousands walkers on the path. The variety of dress was interesting: some in T-shirts & shorts, others in jeans and collared shirts while others were decked out in full hiking gear with boots, gaiters, two cross-country style walking sticks, ruck-sacks, compression tights and GPS watches. And don't forget those bells to warn bears of your presence! I saw it all except for ropes and crampons. We arrived at Ome and paid our respects to the Aurora Bakery by buying a Royal Milk Bread each which we devoured sitting outside. it was on our last visit here that Laurent was cleverly unmasked as a Russian by an American agent pretending to be a stoned, mid-30s, shoplifting loser. Great disguise which had us all fooled.
We rode on to Okutama and then turned up Nippari Kaido, a new road for me. It climbs gently up to a shrine and some of Japan's longest caves. Much of this road is even prettier than the wonderful Yabitsu Toge. On the way up we met Steve ' Montezuma' Tallon who I had not seen since the Tokyo-Itoigawa ride. He was looking to blow off the cobwebs of jet lag with a warm-up climb up Nippari Kaido and then Nokogiri and Kazahari. On the descent we tried to explore roads leading off the main road but they went nowhere far before turning into rough tracks. Having briefly rejoined Ome Kaido we turned off up Nokogiri, another first for me. This climbs up 650m to 1,000m at the top. Almost all the way my Garmin reported a gradient of 9-10% with stretches at 13%. It is interesting to see how much stronger I felt now the temperature and humidity had dropped compared with August. I was surprised by how good I felt on the climbs considering not having had a good night's sleep for a few days. We were actually chatting on the way up unlike the near death experiences The Russian and I endured only a few weeks ago going up places like Shiozawa Toge. The descent however was rough and much time was spent on the brakes. Parts are already slippery with moss and wet fallen leaves are just beginning to accumulate. A fast run from Honjuku to Itsukaichi was interrupted by an ice cream stop at a tofu store. Tofu flavoured soft cream is definitely recommended.

Just as I was preparing myself for the uninspiring ride from Itsukaichi back towards Tokyo The Russian, no doubt utilising his orientation skills learned in an elite but secretive academy back in Moscow, led me on a great road through villages, paddy fields in which old men were hanging out the rice hay to dry, shrines and under highway underpasses until we popped out at Fussa. From here we made our way back to the Tamagawa road and raced with a powerfully built man in an ugly jersey who was up on the cycling path. After we pulled ahead of him I felt we had made our point and so did not bother when we got held up at a traffic light, but The Russian kicked hard to pass me saying that we cannot let this guy go. Therefore, after riding 160km already we found ourselves riding into a slight headwind at 40km just to overtake someone we did not know to prove a point - what point though I am not sure.

At the outset of the ride I think we were both a little tired and perhaps were hoping the other would suggest an easy ride but in the end we had a great ride in wonderful weather and had a lot of laughs. 190km, 8 hours and 1,900m of climbing.