29 May 2011

Reconstruction - Miyagi

A rainy weekend in Tokyo, the usual rainy season plus a typhoon thrown into the mix, moving up the Pacific coast of Honshu from the West and expected to pass just South of the tip of Izu on Monday morning.  (No Memorial Day or bank holiday here in Japan -- work as usual on Monday).

That pile of junk in the foreground represents the fruits of our labor -- cleared from a wide area and ready to be hauled away.

At least the weather forecast (now proving accurate, for once) meant that I would not miss much of a cycling opportunity by joining one of my office's volunteer trips to Tohoku.
Watari-cho: North of Soma,
South of Iwanuma,
Route 6 runs through it
Our group left from central Tokyo around midnight Friday, went by bus to Watari-cho in Miyagi Prefecture -- a farming town about 80-90 km North of the troubled, leaky Fukushima nukes.

Watari-cho is on the wide, flat plain to the East and South of Sendai.  Here the tsunami did not have the drama of some hilly valleys to the North where it built up to 30+ meters as it entered a bay like water into a funnel and destroyed everything in its path.  Rather, the waves spilled out over the vast plain, coming inland much farther than anyone would have thought possible, over 2 kilometers here, and destroyed mostly houses, cars, smaller buildings, and green houses, leaving massive garbage piles in its wake.

We arrived very early in Miyagi.  The center that manages volunteers does not open until 8AM, so after a break at a (fully stocked and functioning) Seven Eleven convenience store our bus driver swung around and drove through some of the nearby tsunami-damaged area, though we stayed about one kilometer inland.  I felt a bit like a "disaster area tourist". 
A vast plain, mostly farmland, strewn with lots and lots of junk.
Houses survive -- no damage on the second floor, but the ground floor must be completely rebuilt.
A former convenience store, stripped of its branding, and just about everything else, down to the bones.
Note the huge pile of junk that has been gathered to the left rear, 4-5 meters tall and wide as a football field.
A real mix -- some houses look like new again, but many are not yet restored or even cleared.

After the bus tour, it was still well before 7AM when we got to the center.  At least in Tohoku Saturday morning was still dry and cool, but not cold, so I could use my Brevet survival skills, get out of the bus and lie down on a flat hard surface near the entrance to a building with my rucksack as a pillow and sleep for awhile.  This was much more comfortable than sleeping in a bus full of people.

Once you get beyond the tsunami damage -- everything
looks normal -- except for the energy conservation efforts
The Watari-cho volunteer center is a fairly impressive and large clean-up operation, with very large supplies of wheelbarrows, shovels, pitch forks, metal rakes, boots, gloves, goggles, etc. being checked out, mostly to smaller groups of 4-5 volunteers -- sometimes several couples together, sometimes groups of friends from a workplace or neighborhood -- and with license plates from Omiya and Tsuchiura (Saitama), Yamanashi, Utsunomiya (Tochigi) and elsewhere.  It was buzzing with purposeful activity by 8:15AM, and again when we passed through around 4PM. I did not see any other groups of 20 or more (at least none arriving by bus) here, but saw others at the rest areas on the expressway, heading to other towns.

Next door was a large building where food and other supplies were being stored for people who had lost their houses -- stacked up almost like a Costco.  And across the street, almost unnoticed behind a high chain link fence, was a large parking lot where row upon row of beige temporary housing (ka-setsu jutaku) had been built.   This temporary housing was right in the middle of town, right across from the supplies and close to friends and neighbors for anyone from the area -- and so does not obviously suffer from the problems that have been reported in the media -- temporary housing build in inconvenient locations, far away from the refuge centers where elderly get support from their longtime friends and neighbors, support that disappears if they win the "lottery" and move to temporary housing.

While there was, inevitably, some waiting around for the volunteer center to open, and more waiting at the end of the day for someone to come pick up the tools at our work site, there was no extra speechifying, no briefing or other nonsense.  We quickly loaded our tools into a minivan and our bus followed the minivan and driver to our work locations, half our group to work at one house, the rest of us going to a second.   We worked on site from 9AM until around 3:30, with a break for lunch.

My group was assigned to work at a farm house where the "new" house was still standing while the "old" house had been totaled/destroyed by the tsunami.  The other group finished their job quickly and walked over to join us for lunch and the afternoon session.

The cleaned up foundation on the right half of the photo, the fields being cleaned up beyond and toward the left.  Water logged once-and-future rice patties both to the far right and way back were far beyond our efforts, the bog hiding more of all kinds of ... junk.

We were to clean up the ground around the foundation of the "old" house and the adjacent fields.  There was all kinds of junk, on the surface and buried 15-30 centimeters or more.  We cleared broken roof ceramic tiles (kawara), cement blocks, lots and lots of glass of all sizes, random pieces of metal, plastic, lots of wood, deteriorating clothing, and all kinds of other stuff -- I found one cellphone, a few intact water glasses, some pots and pans, even some greeting cards.  The master farmer (age 60) said that they had been at home during the earthquake and saw the tsunami warning on TV.  He had thought "we should be okay this far inland", but his elderly mom insisted, 「逃げろ」 ("let's flee") so they hopped in the car and drove to visit friends on higher ground.  (Their other 4 vehicles were lost to the waters, along with the "old" house).  They said that just about every nearby house older than 15 years had been carried away, and the only the newer ones remained -- each of which had flood damage up to a level at least 2 or 2.5 meters above the ground.

The family were very appreciative of our efforts.  By the end of the day, the farmer's wife asked us if any of my younger, Japanese colleagues were single, and started talking up the charms of her 29-year old daughter (who was not around, perhaps off living in the city like their son who, I was told, once did a homestay in Delaware).  I almost wanted to give a speech about America being a "tomodachi" of Japan.

Then it was back to the volunteer center, a quick stop at a day-trip hot spring to clean up and soak the muscles a bit, before getting back on the Tohoku Expressway, another quick stop for dinner, and back to Tokyo around 11PM.

After - the junk is gone

More after - we pack up to head out.
There is still a lot of work to do, but Watari-cho is well on its way to recovery.  And even though there may be another big tsunami here in 10, 50, or 500 years, I really don't see any reason why people would not rebuild and keep on farming the same land.  This plain is perfect for the lower density mix of farm and communities -- rice patties, strawberry, vegetable and potato fields.  And given the warning systems, and the ample time to escape for those who pay heed, the risk of a tsunami here should not be so different than the risk of floods suffered by communities near the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers in the U.S.A.  At least that will be the case until everyone who remembers the tsunami of 2011 passes away, and their descendants again assume "we should be okay this far inland".
Still more work to be done ...

27 May 2011

Cycle Blog of the Year

Loving the bike dot com has started the vote for the best cycling blogs in 2011, the 2011 crank honors. 

Can we vote en masse to promote the Positivo Espresso blog perhaps? You can vote once a day until June 1st. Check the "Vote for best ROAD cycling box and write "Positivo Epresso" in the box at the very end. We deserve it.

Before the endomorp;hins kicked in...
I also checked out the nominated blogs from all categories. Some of them I know like Fat Cyclist (not what it used to be), Bike Snob NYC (surprinsingly no surprises), La Gazetta della Bici (oily) and Fyxotomatosis (for the asthetics). One I didn't know and which I find outstanding is:


The first thing I read when the apprentice wrote about racing on the weekend was:

"Another day, another disappointment.  There’s not much use in over-analysing it here, the answer comes down to three simple words: Not. Good. Enough.

Unfortunately it’s now abundantly clear that cycle racing can join the long list of sports (football, snooker, cricket, squash, tennis, skateboarding) in which I’ve mined a shallow seam of mediocrity before reverting inexorably to clunking ineptitude."
I haven`t stopped laughing since.. He provides a viewpoint of cycle races attendance I have always looked for (nihilistic) with an excellent writing style. Somebody who writes....

"It quickly became clear that my mind had written a cheque that my legs couldn’t possibly cash…my speed dropped to 27…then 25…then 23…then the first rider from the bunch headed me as we neared the spectator area. "

.... can't be a bad guy. So please vote for him if you don't for PE.

26 May 2011

NeilPryde sponsor Laurent Depus at "Paris to London Bike Ride"

After the Earthquake and Tsunami that devastated the North East of the country back on March 11th, 2011, like many people I felt frustrated and helpless after the event and really wanted to do something that would make a difference. I got involved with JEARS (Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support) and adopted a 3 year old beagle, I got involved with the group Second Harvest but still I wanted to do more.

When I found out that my friend Laurent was raising money and awareness for the victims of the Earthquake by riding the Paris – London Bike Ride I decided I would do what I could to help, having lost my job recently monetary donations were out of the question, I had basically become a victim myself as the company I worked for collapsed due to the loss of revenue.

So I decided I would do the next best thing.... use my network in the cycling industry to see if they could help.

I sent out individual mails and literally within 5 minutes Mike Pryde of NeilPryde bikes came back asking what he could do to help and support Laurent.

So I’m very proud to announce the NeilPryde sponsorship of Laurent Depus at the "Paris to London Bike Ride" charity event, which is a sporting and charity challenge organized by Société Générale, Laurent will be sponsored with an Alize frameset.

The event will take place from 16 June to 18 June in 3 stages:
16 June: La Défense - Beauvais (88km / 55 miles)
17 June: Beauvais - Dieppe (108km / 68 miles), Dieppe - Newhaven in ferry - Night in Newhaven
18 June: Newhaven - London (109km / 68 miles)

With 305 km to ride, the Paris to London is a sporting challenge, but also a solidarity event: each participant agrees to raise at least 750 € of online donations to help fund the CARE programs for access to education in Bangladesh and, in Laurent's case, for the victims of the terrible earthquake in Japan.

Please follow the link to read Mike Pryde’s very touching response as to why he is sponsoring Laurent and the people of Japan, here.

The frame will be auctioned off atthe end of the ride!

25 May 2011

Haute Route Launches 2011

I just got an email invitation for another Cyclo Sportive -- the Haute Route -- 7 days from Geneve to Nice.  It is a first time event in 2011.

It looks like "Transalp Lite" --  17000 meters climbing and 730 km.  So about 2500 meters elevation and 200 km distance less than Transalp this year.

Then again, Day 4 is an uphill TT -- so that explains some of the shorter length. ... maybe "Transalp Lite" is a bit harsh.

A much snazzier website, and they offer a "comfort package" and a "premium package" for accommodations.  But no "Camp" option!  No breakfast included in the price.

No pasta parties. ...  Wait a minute, yes, there are pasta parties, just like Transalp.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

And looks like it conflicts with Paris-Brest-Paris this year.

But perhaps worth trying some year?  Maybe when we are too old for Transalp.  Too weak for Transalp.  When we no longer ride among the hard men of cycling.

Then we can try the "Haute Route" and stay in some nice hotels?

Look back in anger

While the Positivo Espresso Japan Chapter was attending the Tokyo - Itoigawa "Race", all members of the Bremen chapter plus associated friends opted for a start at the Velothon Berlin Race 2011 last Sunday.

It is a good things to have fixed things in life. Just like the seasons are constantly changing, spring-summer-autumn-winter ( a much better and detailed description by Chancy Gardener can be found here), we welcome recurring events that provides us with reference points: Oh, it is already April and I forgot the birthday of my aunt Christa again! (February 28th). Last year in May I had already 4.000 km in my legs! Before the war everything was better and I was faster (Angola Independence Uprising 1976)! When it comes to cycling, my personal reference point was the JCRC Saiko race, held every year in early November close to mount Fuji. I attended that ridiculous race over a whooping distance of 20 km every year between 2003 and 2009. It was always the same: Riding in the grupetto for 19.8 km, then sprint for the finish. My best finish was 14th in 2008, followed by the celebration of the JCRC D class "serise" champion title 2008. The worst finish was in  2007 when I started under a pseudonym and crashed. Even if you cannot understand Japanese, that shouldn't be so difficult to find out.

Now living again in Germany, I have the pleasure to have found my reference point very soon: The Velothon Berlin Race. It is May, the weather becomes nicer and I travel to Berlin and stay with Kathrin, Fabian and her family in their posh uptown apartment. Even the Waldorf School scheduled their summer school party to coincidence with the race on the same weekend. Theoretically I could have visited the party as well, but I was there last year where the overall theme was fluffy and soft: No, I don't mean parents in human lifeforms as lawyers, therapists and CEOs of bio-software upstarts acting awkwardly in corduroy trousers and Levis jeans jackets behind grills, females of all ages, playing recorders (Blockflöte) of all sizes, no. I mean that last year the theme was to sell mobiles, aviaries and other self-made objects made out of wood and wool, whereas this year, according to Kathrin, the theme was wood and metal, which resulted in the promotion of many blunt and brutal objects: battle axes, flails (Morgenstern) and halberds were among the most sought after goods. Fine, but there was still no beer available on the school grounds which prevented a proper preparation of the race.

Another subject about I also wanted to write about and which doesn't fit into this post as well as in any other: When I was in the catholic Kindergarten in the late Sixties, the one that led me to the catholic primary school Marktfeldstrasse (you know, the one that shared the school ground with a municipal primary school on the other side, having a thick white line drawn across the whole yard in the middle and dare you bloody heathens from the other side to set foot on our scared grounds)....well, in this kindergarten the material of choice were wool and pearls. One of the few things I remember from this time is that for endless hours I worked on doilies and other handicraft stuff. We never ever had a summer party on the kindergarten grounds and to this very day I suspect that the teachers were supplementing their meager income by selling doilies made by innocent children.

Sorry, I got lost in the nooks and crannies of my life.

On Saturday morning at 6:30 AM, after a very long and exhausting week in the office in my new capacity as dean of international business at the HIWL, we assembled our family in Bremen, loaded our team car and headed out for Berlin. The female part of my family headed straight for the skating rink while the male part was dropped at the Brandenburg gate to register for the race. The whole organisation is quite impressive. Many bikes, wheels and spare parts are sold by mobile hawkers to desperate riders who seriously believe that better material would result in better race performance. Here we met Fabian and had French fries (terrible), a proven technique of essential fat-loading before any race.

We headed straight for the Kyllmann-flat of the B family where the kids were ready for the Waldorf school party. Fabian had flown in from Stuttgart in the morning and not content with the exhaustion of the race has chosen to a) sell ice cream at the Waldorf b) to have a rehearsal with his band c) play a gig with his band at midnight and d) manage a team of window cleaners in his apartment among other things. I tried to shift (a) to my son Henri as I believe he should gather some experience with "One Euro Jobs" in preparation of his adult life but I wasn't able to convince him.

We fixed all the bikes for the race and then Fabian was out on his rehearsal, so Henri and me went shopping at Bio Lüske, the fabulous  grocery where one can buy bio-bananas and protein bars for proper cycle racings. After that I rode to the Grünewald station to meet Fabians brother Anselm and his vZ friends for the proper Grünewald/Wannsee training ride. I was ten minutes late, but all others were even later. In addition there were some mechanical problems with the bikes (or cleats) and we discovered that Anselms Trek bike double-function as bucket, as it perfectly stores and discharges rainwater.

About  1 1/4 hour to late we finally started to ride. We had a faint idea of where we could go, but we needed some shortcuts to find the proper road. For some reasons we choose to ride on sandy horse trails through the dense forest with our racing bikes. We had one sherpa from Berlin with us, but he also had clearly no idea where we were. Personally I wished that the Berlin wall was still standing to prevent us from riding incidentally into Poland (and perhaps starting a new war). But somehow we found a nice road were many other cyclists were doing the same thing as we did (riding their bikes, of course). We didn't exhausted ourselves, but when another middle age cyclist tried to overtake us on one of the few hills, we showed him his limits. There are things in life that can be accepted, if they have to, but this one was clearly one step over the edge.

Back home, we had a nice dinner prepared by 1/2 vZ, talked about the best strategies for race preparations and found out that all these preparations should have started at least two months ago so there wasn't too much we could do now. Henri wanted to see the soccer cup final on TV, incidentally hold in Berlin on the same day at the 1936 Olympic Stadium), so he escaped to the TV possessing figure skating part of the family.
Kathrin asked me, if I would prefer a fluffy, soft and big pillow (Version Waldorf 2010), or a hard, small and long one (Version Waldorf 2011) which double-serves as battle axe for the night. I have stayed in many places but never ever have I been asked this very sensitive question. When it comes to staying at place other than home, two things are extremely important for me: Fluffy, soft and big pillows and showers that emit hot water at high pressures. Thank you, Kathrin.

But even a nice pillow couldn't make me escape from waking up early the next morning and getting ready for the race. Fabian and me had breakfast, while the rest of the family was still sleeping. We met two of his friends, Christine and Dr. Kongo-Bob (aka as Bernhard R) at the station and rode by train into the city. The train was full of bikes and I had the opportunity to marvel at Christine's self made Iphone handle bar adapter which I am sure will be displayed at Bike-hacks one day. 
Dr. Kongo-Bob also owned a nice bike, Hercules brand (Hello Günther Sachs!) with Campa components, that was stored for centuries in a container in the jungles of various African countries and retrieved for this race. I wouldn't trust tubeless tires that haven't been used for 20 years, but hey, if they survived Lumumba and Kongo Müller, who am I to doubt?

mob, Christine, Fabulous Fabian and Dr. Kongo-Bob (f.l.t.r.)

Fabian, Christine and Dr. Kongo Bob attended the 60 km race that was started early, while Anselm, 2 vZ and me were scheduled for the later 120 km race. The riders are assembled in start blocks along the road (Strasse des 17. Juni I guess) and then led during approximately 200 meters of neutralized race through the Brandenburg Gate guided by roller skaters in front. If not many of them would crash into the pillars of the gate and ultimately destroy it, something that couldn't been achieved by armadas of T-34 tanks, but yes, modern carbon bikes can achieve that.

I had plenty of time to ride around and take a look at the sights of the city before lining up in the B block. It still amazes me how close is everything and how many famous buildings can be seen in such limited space. For some reason, perhaps because I am a civil engineer by profession, I still like this one best. As engineer of course, we like tragic stories and collapsing new and old buildings.

I rode to Brandenburg gate to cheer up my team mates when they did the first 150 m of the race and still needed any support they can get. I had already designed my supporting cheers:

"Don't give up now, Fabian! Stay on the wheels of Christine!" and
"It's time to slowly prepare for the finish sprint now!"

but I couldn't found them. After the race they repeatedly told me that they had attended, but still some doubts linger in my mind.

By the way, if you are interested in cycle racing, please start reading here. So far only bullshit.

Riders are divided into start blocks of about 1.000 attendants each by proving the assumed average speed of their ride to the organizers with their race applications. To avoid any misunderstandings: This is not the realistic average speed for this race or any average speed that one has achieved at this race in previous years. This is the average speed that one can write down in the application form in January when one still nurtures dreams of megalomania. Last year I wrote 36 km/hr which landed me in block D (A being the fastest, F being the slowest). This year I noted "faster than the speed of sound" which brought me in block B. Block A I guess are the "faster than the speed of light" guys.
These guys are are faster than a speeding bullet.

This time there was no national anthem played so the start of the race caught me somewhat unprepared. Alain Raposo has taught me the proper technique for using elbows and shoving my way to the front. So even with the neutralizing zone I found my way to the front of the B group. Once the race was on, I used every occasion to jump on the fast trains. The speed was awesome, this race was much faster than the D block last year. At some points we were speeding with more than 50 km/hr through the city. I felt pretty good and I was happy to see the head of our group. Definitely we were the first D group so it was now a matter to stay with this group for the rest of the race to achieve an average speed of more than 40 km/hr and stay below 3 hours riding time. Within 20 minutes I identified two or three riders who seemed to have the same performance levels as I believe to have. I kept them as benchmarks, so when I lost contact, I accelerated to bring me back into their range. After 20 minutes or so we entered the Grünewald training ground from the day before and encountered the first small hills. The group was fast in the flats, but on the slopes the speed decreased to 25 km/hr and I had no problems to stay with the fast guys.

The first crash happened to my left on an uphill slope. I guess that a rider got out of the saddle to give more punch, but then the pace decreases for a moment before the punch kicks in then. Other riders behind that were cruising on probably touched the back wheel and crashed then. I was lucky to escape because it happened just in front of me to the left. The guys in front then never get slower so it is important to circumvent the crash site and accelerate immediately in order not to get lost.

But I could close the gap again and was almost in front when we rode along the Drake Street close to the Kyllmann block. I expected to find Kathrin and the kids waving and shouting support from the side, but nobody was there. Instead some drum bands were lined up on the sides of the road and their rhythm led to another accelerating of the about 100 rider strong grupetto. Also not bad. After a while we came into suburban Berlin and the roads got wider and better. Still there were many traffic islands that provided ample opportunities for crashes. But overall at this point I have to say that the B group riders were much better disciplined than the weaker D group riders last year.

After an hour I noted that I got weaker and I was wondering if I could stay with the fast field for the whole distance. We had covered much more than 40 km within the first hour so we were clearly on a good path. Again, one had to be constantly on the alert to stay with the field and sprint to the front when one was at the end. The speed was also very fluid, sometimes the grupeto was moving at 36 km/hr and it was very easy to ride, then suddenly one was moving at 45 km/hr without any clear reason. The constant accelerating and gap closing slowly took it's toll (missing "Tempo Härte). It was a very similar situation to what I have experienced one week before at the cycling marathon in Bremen where I could survive for 130 km. But here the speed was even faster and my heart rate was frequently above 170 BPM.

After about 1:10 hr we arrived at a roundabout where the street width was very limited. The whole gruppeto alomost came to a stand still at the entry. There was no danger although as the stop was advised well ahead. Suddenly I noticed that somebody hit my back wheel with brute force, but because of the slow speed I didn't crashed and stayed on my bike. However I immediately noticed that something was wrong with the bike and I shouted in frustration "Hey, who was that as***le that hit me from behind?" Nobody came forward, I moved to the side and when I inspected the bike, I noted that the rear wheel was completely untrue, not only rubbing with the brake pads but also with the chain stays. Ludwig may recall our very last trip when I tested and destroyed my Shimano Ultegra rear wheel - similar situation. That was actually the reason that I bought this strong, conventionally built, 28 spokes 3 times crossed DT Swiss wheels (in European white !). To no avail: I didn't had a spoke nipple wrench with me and I could ride on like that. After trying to find out with the organizers where a service station or wagon could be found, I was told that the next one would by about 2 km away in a village called Nudow. So I took my helmet off, opened the rear brake completely and rode on the pedestrian walk with speed of 15 to 20 km/hr. The B field was long gone. Other groups from the C block, then from the D and E blocks overtook me as I continued to ride for about 11 km until I finally arrived at the entry to Nudow. I even saw one of the St. Pauli stealth riders again, that were attending the cycle marathon in Bremen. Perhaps there were even three, but they are so well camouflaged that you can be lucky if you notice even one of them.

In Nudow I stopped at a corner and asked a steward if he knows where the service is located. No idea, please ask the police. I asked the police, no idea as well, so I rode through the whole of Nudow (87 meters) without finding it. Very frustrating. I had lost so much time that by now even not so fit looking riders from the E block had overtaken me. I resigned myself to finish the race riding 20 km/hr when I saw a larger manned post by the end of the village. Again I asked a steward: Where is the service point? He had no idea. Another guy next to him said, but perhaps this guy can help you? Turned out, this was the service guy, positioned with a tool box, a repair stand and a flag with the logo of his bike shop (Stadler) just 3 meters away.

That luckily was a pro guy. He worked very fast with the spoke wrench and had fixed most of the untrueing within very short time. Nevertheless he told me that the rear rim was beyond repair. He trued the wheel as good as he could and re-adjusted the rear brake. At least the bike was rideable again, although the braking performance wasn't very good any longer. It was clearly dangerous to ride in a group without full control of the bike.

I started to ride again at about 30 km/hr but not very motivated, when a fast F group overtook me. All the fast B to E groups were long gone, so instead of hanging around with the losers and straddlers of these groups, a fast ride with a F group was very much appreciated.

The speed was fast but not too fast, about 36 km/hr average I would guess. Four guys with orange jerseys from team globetrotter were leading the pace and easy to identify. Amazingly during the following kilometers I saw lots of crash victims, ambulance cars and riders lying on the road. As it was very hot, I guess that some of them also suffered from heat strokes. Some of the crashers were lying where the road was perfectly straight, not the typical danger-points such as roundabouts, traffic islands or curves. Strange.

I stayed with this group for the next 40 km or so, overtook hundreds of riders, until we reached the Tempelhof airfield. I looked at my speedmeter and noted that even without counting the breaks, my average speed was down to less than 33 km/hr, so I definitely wouldn't reach a finishing time of less than 3 hrs. Combined with the strong wind on the runway and the effects of not haven eaten properly so far during the three hours I collapsed completely.

I decided to ride on my own, take some photos and to generally take it easy. I had also back pains. Later at home I noticed that the handle bar had started to rotate in the stem fixation. Normally I ride with my hands gripping the top of the brake hoods. Due to the rotation of the handle these have moved downwards so that my body was positioned much lower than usual. That hurted. So the last 15 km or so I rode at a leisurely 25 - 30 km/hr pace, got overtaken by some faster F groups and some single riders and then I was on the long last road leading to the Brandenburg Gate. 

This is probably the part of the race that I like best. I asked one of the others not so competitive riders to take a photo of me and then rode through the finish, rode through the Brandenburg Gate and then to the event area to get organized. Later I learned that my time was 3:40 hrs, which is about 45 minutes slower than last year. My team mates in the 120 km race started in F and G and finished about the same or faster. At least they had more fun. So in this respect the race was a little bit disappointing. I checked the wheel in the meantime and if I need to buy a new rim, I can still reuse the spokes and the hub so at least I don't have to buy a complete new wheel. Probably I can do the lacing myself with the trueing stand I have bought, although the rear wheels are a little bit more tricky than the front wheels.

But otherwise it was a very nice trip to Berlin again. Later we sat in the garden of the Kyllmann block, played with the children and reflected about the day. After the stress and the tension of the race it was so relaxed. Obviously it is an important part of cycling to make a physical effort, than do the same spiritual effort to reflect about to achieve a balance of the body and of the mind.

Well, this being said, it is nothing special anyway, just cycling.

Next year, we will all assemble again in Berlin to set a new reference point. I am very much looking forward to the event. Only the Transalp is in the way now. So in fact, this is not a look "back in anger", but a look forward with much joy. However, site access research has shown that titles referring to popular themes or words provide so much more hits. The most popular PE post is "A tale of two towers": So, dear students of the dramatic arts, excuse me for luring you onto this site. And start cycling nevertheless.
Sport against violence - Scherz Dental (dental joke): Coolest jersey award
Eisenkampfschweinkader wasn't bad either.
Just now after checking facebook, I learned that Positivo Espresso member Marek attended the Velothon as well, 60k version. Join us, next time, Marek.

23 May 2011

Traffic Safety Day

On Friday evening last week, I made an informal presentation to the 特定非営利活動法人自転車活用推進研究会 -- English name the Bicycle Usage Promotion Study Group [of Japan] -- about a foreigner's views of cycling in Japan.  One of the audience members handed me a very useful item along with his meishi as we were chatting at the end of the talk.  It was the calendar below, in the form of a small, very thin card.   

It lists all of the "traffic safety" days for the second half of this year. 

This might be useful for someone who volunteers at traffic safety events, or for a policeman who needs to be out of the station house and on traffic duty those days.  It also might be nice to know when there will be lots of extra police at signals, volunteers at cross-walks, etc., and so one will need to be extra careful riding a bicycle so as to avoid giving offense. 

July 8, August 10, September 9, October 7, November 10 and December 9.  Make a note.


Some people may have noticed that I’ve not been blogging so much since the earthquake and I’ve received countless of emails asking what’s going and if I’m ok.

Well I’m alive and well but unfortunately was made unemployed from my job that basically provided me with the means to race with Fuji-Cyclingtime.com. However, I’ve been very busy working on lots of little projects one of which I really would like to share with you all.

My friend Laurent an amateur cyclist often takes parts in charity rides in Europe to raise monies for charities and this year is no different. He will be taking part in the CARE; London to Paris Cycle Challenge on June 30th 2011.

Laurent’s fund raising efforts will be directed to the CARE project here in Japan in one of the worst hit areas of the Great Kanto-Tohoku Earthquake and donations are desperately needed.

Over the next few days and weeks I will be writing a series of blog entries covering Laurent’s amazing efforts to not only raise awareness but also donations for CARE.

Please support Laurent anyway you can and follow the link HERE to pledge a donation!

22 May 2011

Tokyo - Itoigawa 2011

I awoke in a dark, cramped hotel room in Hachioji and stumbled to turn off my alarm. I felt terrible, only 2 1/2 hours' sleep, still dehydrated from too much beer and not enough food despite some glasses of water before sleeping, still tired from way too late a train ride out to Hachioji -- on the 11:45PM train from Shinjuku, arriving around 12:30AM, then wandering in the dark through a "gauntlet" of questionable entertainment joints to find my business hotel. Guys in suits standing in the street wearing sun glasses at midnight, pairs of girls in the shadows.

Anyway, at 3:40AM I needed to scramble, try to consume and keep down some convenience store sandwiches, two small yogurts, plus a cold Seattle's Best Double Espresso I had bought on the way into the hotel a few hours earlier, dress, shave, pack my bags, assemble my bike in the hallway (not enough room in the room!) and hit the road. It took longer than it should have, and was after 4:10AM by the time I left the hotel, 10+ minutes behind schedule and not a moment to lose. Our start was 4:40AM, and I first needed to get to Takaosan-guchi, check-in, deliver my rucksack and drop-bag, find my teammates, and get ready to actually, well, race a bicycle.

About 15 minutes later, passing the Positivo Espresso recommended 7-11 on Rte 20 in front of Takao station, after riding much too hard for a warm up, I heard a woman's voice say "Litt-san!" It was the-nice-woman-whose-name-I-did-not-get from the staff at the May 7 Saitama Brevet. She was riding with a man in "Pedal Far" bib shorts (her husband, perhaps?) up toward the start. She asked "do you remember me, from the Saitama Brevet?" "Yes of course," I said. "What time is your start." She responded "I did not ride I was on the staff." My Japanese must have been as garbled as my mind. "I said, "no, not the Brevet, your start today". She said "I'm not riding, I'm "o-en-dan" (support for a participant -- support, fan club or cheerleader, maybe). I just mumbled "excuse me, I'm late, I've got a 4:40AM start" and pushed ahead. So I still did not get her name, or learn any more about her (or the man riding with her, who looked like a strong rider). I guess if I keep up these endurance rides, I'll probably see them again.

I arrived at the start area at 4:33AM, just as Travis was trying to call my mobile phone and he, Gunnar, Steve and Yair were talking about a revised 4-man team race strategy. I checked in, dropped off my bags, tried (not very successfully) to catch my breath, and had the foresight to pull out my camera and ask someone to take our team photo.

Yair, David, Gunnar, Steve and Travis -- P.E. 2011 TOITO team, in TCC jerseys (except for Yair "Sufferfest" Bauer)

Unfortunately, I did not have the foresight to clean the fog off of the lens, or to hand the camera to someone with a steady hand -- so the photo gives a remarkably accurate idea of how I was perceiving the world at this time.

And then we were off! We started with 4 of the riders from Team Cuore -- a Japanese group of very enthusiastic riders based around a shop in Taito-ku, Tokyo -- and several others.

As feared, I lost the back of our group on the first climb, to Otarumi, and cleared the pass in just over 16 minutes -- 90-100 seconds slower than a week earlier despite my best efforts to stay with the team. Was it really a smart idea for me to ride (race) with these guys, whose average age is 12 years' younger?

But on the descent, I passed several of the Cuore riders and Yair (who really needs to add some weight if he wants to "drop like a rock" on the descents. He is looking slimmer than Alberto Contador and with just as spindly arms). I caught the rest of the team just as they were starting up at the traffic light in front of Sagami-ko station. I felt semi-human again.

On the 60-70 meter elevation climb up to Uenohara, I again lost the back, but on the next downhill, I timed (luck) the light at the bottom perfectly and, going 60 kph, passed my 4 teammates plus another 5-6 riders onto the next climb, then rode generally with (or within hailing distance of) the team to Otsuki. I lagged again on the climb to Sasago, but passed various groups of other riders and arrived only 5 minutes back of the team, with an average speed of 26.74 kph for the leg. Not that bad a start after all -- 75th fastest time on that leg out of 359 finishers (and also an unstated number of "DNFs" -- we saw some riders struggling and other resting who surely did not make it all the way by the cut off time).

Anyway, a 292 km ride is too long for a "blow by blow" account, ... and I've got some work and then want to catch a bit of the Giro, so let me give a few highlights.

First the results:

1. Andy Wood won for the Nth straight year, with a time of 8:44:43. He passed me near Chino and shouted out a greeting, recognizing my TCC jersey. I was about to say something back ... but he was gone. I think I did see TT bar extensions, but I did not get a chance to measure whether they exceeded the permitted limits under the TOITO rules.

2. Tom S. put in another very strong performance, with a time of 9:43:09 for 11th place overall, 5th in the 40-49 age group. Chapeau!

3. In 3rd place at 9:12:43 was Kondo-san, the fabled Brevet rider (see my 600 km May 7 Brevet report), riding for Nalshima.

4. Our team had some excellent results.

Travis finished 52nd in 10:57:45. Double Chapeau!

Gunnar outsprinted Steve to the line for 71st place, in 11:19:18. Steve took 72nd in 11:19:21. They rode very well together as a pair -- really ought to aim for Transalp at some point.

Yair, still recovering from an injury this winter and only 2 months back on the (beautiful new) bike, suffered through the middle/late segments but still managed to equal last year's P.E. group time, at 12:28:59, for 165th. With this ride under his belt, Yair is back.

5. The wind shifted throughout the day -- we had a headwind coming down into Kofu, tailwind between Shiojiri and Matsumoto, and then a cross wind, then a headwind from just before the lakes South of Hakuba until the finish. The last was at times a very stiff headwind, offsetting the speed of the descent. We all suffered in the heat during the 78 km stage between Shiojiri and Hakuba ... many of us taking an unscheduled convenience store break early in the long climb, and me deciding I was in danger of serious consequences if I pushed too hard, and so taking it easy for awhile.

When it came, the headwind was cool and, thus, a real relief. I kept repeating to myself, "the wind is keeping me cool, be thankful for the breeze, ... and tuck low enough so it runs over along your back, inside and down your jersey". Overheated, I was happy to sacrifice a bit of speed for the longer term relief from the cooling effect. As I emerged from the last of the tunnels on Route 148, into a noticeably cooler area, I welcomed the cloud cover, threatening skies and wind, the heat a distant memory.

6. I did not ride any of the "no bicycles allowed" overpasses in Kofu. I went with the Japanese riders along the side street, and waited, and waited, and waited, at the lights. At one of these, there were about 15 riders and a truck and few cars ahead of me. The light finally turned green, the truck, cars and maybe 3 riders went through before it turned red again, 10 riders ahead and so no chance to sprint the light on yellow-changing-to-red ... another 4-5 minutes wait, it seemed, during which all the lights I could see at the intersection were red, cars just sitting and nothing moving in any direction. Aaaaargh! Also, this time, I did much less running of red signals than in 2008 with Juliane, DJ and MOB. Hard to argue that I don't know better this time. ... but I did get alone for a good part of the Shiojiri-Matsumoto stretch, and was able to time the lights very well, move to the front of waiting traffic, pass through when no cars were approaching and the light had changed to a "right turn only" arrow -- the usual tricks, without doing anything dangerous or attention-getting. How much of the difference among the top riders is really just a question of how many rules they break?

Later, I was able to persuade a Japanese rider to join me in going through some "T" intersections (along the top side of the "T"), and to make a left turn on red (remember, this is Japan - riding on the left, slinking around the corner, and continuing along the left), against some useless red lights. He eventually went ahead of me and I could see him, at the next "T" intersection, go up onto the sidewalk, around the intersection, and back into the street again, avoiding the red light -- all perfectly safe. He learned quickly.

I had very bad luck with road construction on the Hakuba-Itoigawa stretch, with several lengthy waits for one-way traffic the other way.

7. Travis, Gunnar and Steve did try at least one Kofu overpass, but one of the other riders yelled at them from the side street, causing Steve to look over to see who was yelling, and why, ... and he ran straight onto the dividers/chevrons between the overpass and side road, flatting both front and rear tires, with some rim damage and a big jolt and big scare ... but not enough of a scare to keep him from continuing on. I was a few minutes back and missed the excitement, and just passed a smiling Steve who was walking his bike back ... I thought looking for something he had dropped. Anyway, Travis and Gunnar went back to help, I went on slowly, and we regrouped at Nirasaki ... only for them to go on ahead of me up the hill.

8. The route was noticeably better than I had remembered. No big trucks coming down the tunnels this Saturday afternoon ... though I did see a few going the other way. And there was an improved road surface and wider shoulder, I think for a good part of the stretch around Matsumoto. And reverted from a 2008 detour to the "usual" route again North of Matsumoto. Also, the checkpoints were far better stocked with bananas, rice balls and drinks -- water, mugi-cha and pokari sweat -- when riding with a 4:40 AM start than with our 2008 6:25 AM start.

And we saw many more team cars and supporters on the side of the road, cheering us on up the climb after Nirasaki and again later on. There were two young, attractive ladies dressed up in "maid" costumes, standing by their car on several of the climbs cheering us on, jumping up and down.

I blew them a kiss as I passed the second time, but meanwhile I could only think ... of this past week's news of Arnold the Governator and his child by a former housekeeper leading to his separation from Maria Shriver, that news from California following just a few days after Dominique Strauss-Kahn's arrest for his alleged brutal attack on a chambermaid at the Hotel Sofitel in Manhattan ... what is it with these guys and the maid costumes?

9. With my long explanation of the Kofu red lights, the road construction, miserable afternoon heat and the headwinds, I've just about run out of excuses.

Anyway, my time was 12:06:42, which placed me 137 out of 359 finishers. This was 20 minutes better than in 2008, though I was really hoping to get somewhere comfortably under 12 hours. Still, not bad, all things considered.

And when I reached the hotel driveway entrance, I was surprised -- done so soon? I thought I still had a few more kilometers to go. Why did I leave so much in the tank at the end? Sunday morning, but for the rain and the press of work, I would definitely have headed up the coast on my bike. The only aches or pains during the ride were some numbness in my feet -- I need to check my right cleat alignment. So even if my time was not so much better than 2008, the Brevets have definitely helped my endurance. Now, over the next 3 weeks, I just need to try to do more climbing practice, then I'll be ready for Transalp.

By the time I finished, Travis was gone, headed to the station then back to Tokyo. Tom was waiting and offered his congratulations before heading into Itoigawa with his Vlaams teammates. We unwound, soaked in the onsen, enjoyed our bento boxes out front of the hotel, with some extras (tonjiru udon, cucumbers w/ salt, beer), added 2 pizzas later -- ordered and delivered to our hotel room -- chatted with Saito-san, a neighbor from the Cuore team in the room next door, who offered me a taste of a nice Burgundy Pinot Noir. We all slept early and very soundly.

After breakfast, we braved the pounding rain on Sunday morning to the station and hopped the train back to Tokyo.

Another successful event. Will we go back next year? Too soon to say.

Our team at the start -- second try at a photo, after cleaning the camera lens.
Look at those faces-- is that a unified expression of determination to ride to victory, or what?

Gunnar models the hotel yukata -- and seems to be having some trouble straightening his back and unclasping his hands after the new experience of riding 300 km in a day. One of the older, male riders complimented Gunnar on his yukata ("ni-aimasu") and no one reproached him for wearing the hotel slippers outside. ... the guy who yelled at Steve in Kofu must have been DNF, or maybe still on the road at this point.

Tom S. prepares to ride into Itoigawa to his lodgings.

The Sea of Japan and wet roads, from our train.

Travis' report: http://www.tokyocycle.com/bbs/blog.php?b=91

Tom's report: http://vlaamsewielrenner.blogspot.com/2011/05/40th-classic-300km-endurance-race.html

Andy's report: http://www.jyonnobitime.com/time/2011/05/tokyo-itoigawa-2011-race-repor.html

21 May 2011

Toms Bullhorn Conversion

Avid readers of the Tokyo Cycling Club Forum might have noticed that PE rider Tom has asked for advice on how to convert his trusted Ti Vlaams workhorse into a solid commuter bike.

The notion of converting a 1.000 €+ bike into something for commuting into the city is hard to understand for somebody who lives outside of Japan. I for example would not leave my bike alone in the streets of Bremen unless it is a) a very old and not good looking bike and b) locked to solid objects by more than three means and c) I am drunk and I don't care any longer about important things in life. However I fully understood that the parameters in Tokyo are different. In this case I assume that the bike will be stored in Tom's office under his desk during working time.

The much discussed conversion plans included, among other during plans, a single speed drive and a bullhorn handlebar inspired by Travis Bianchi. Details can be found on the TCC thread.

Unknown by Tom I sneaked into his garage last night and secretly took a photo of the newly converted bike for the sake of the PE blog followers.
I think that the final design is both, intriguing and challenging. The design also provides an option for turning the stem 180 degrees to attend alleycat races in Tokyo.
Good luck Tom, we hope you will survive.

19 May 2011

Frame Size 75 cm Gios Torino Bike

...for sale on ebay in Germany. Yes, these are 700C wheels. Probably not that interesting for the Japanese market. Hiroshi used to call my 58 cm Cervelo a "Nikai tatte" bike. What is this then? A "Jukai Tatte"?

17 May 2011

Rad Marathon Bremen 2011

The first bicycle event ever I attended in Germany was the Rad Marathon 2010 organized by RSC Rot-Gold Bremen last year. I got lost, rode 262km instead of the planned 215 km and finished in nine hours. Yesterday I had another try of this event, that David called so amply "a sprint brevet".

Well, the good thing about riding events in Germany is, that it is so easy to attend them. No hassle to fill out online application forms and transfer money in sealed envelopes with stamps in three locations. Just be there on time, pay 20 Euro, collect the stamp card and ride to the start line. That's it. The organizing team, the RSC Rot-Gold Bremen is composed of rather middle-age to senior members, similar to the demographic structure of a village in the mountains of (Northern) Niigata. Apart from the aspect of competition, that has the nice side-features that the wives of the mostly male members were still educated in the fine art of baking cakes, making sandwiches and providing all other kind of extra food that makes life so enjoyable. Many of their members therefore opted not even to attend the races any longer, but stay in the start area, eat and drink and offer encouraging comments to those who dare to race.

I got my stamp card and my "sekken" (what's the English word for this, by the way?) and just as last year there was this box with safety pins dating back from the days of the Clash, the Sex Pistols, the Damned and Eddie and the Hot Rods. It took some time to find four matching small safety pins that would not nullify the weight advantages I have achieved by pouring hundreds of 100 Euro bills over my bike. As usual in Bremen I started without a front derailleur which is completely useless here. It is more like a left-over from evolution, like the human coccyx is what remains of a tail: It's perfectly OK to have one, but it hurts when one falls on it and it doesn't serve a real meaning any longer. I also mounted my standard saddle and got rid off the carbon one which turned out to be a very wise decision, how shall I say....."ass-wise"? In addition I mounted the new DT Swiss wheels and got rid of the lighter Toppolinos. That turned out to be an even better decision. The braking on Swiss DT alu-rims is just so much better and can be much better controlled than on carbon rims. I wonder why this problem of carbon rims brake control cannot be solved,in general. Obviously - why do people keep up with this abysmal braking control?

For some reason I saw much more nicer and more expensive bikes this year. One reason for that might be, that the weather last year was really miserable and a lot of these nice bikes stayed at home in their stables. But here they were: Two Cervelo S2, one of them equipped with Lighweight wheels in white - Germany is a part of Europe after all and European cycling chic all the vogue. Some Storcks, which is the lightweight brand of choice here. However, it doesn't make sense to buy an expensive carbon frame and then carry a massive torsion wrench in the back pocket to adjust screws in case of roadside repairs. No. A nice blue steel Pinarello, frame size 65 cm or bigger. Some Red Bulls. Surprisingly not a single Canyon bike.

I was standing at the startline and waited to be approached by some riders from the "Weser-Express Club". I have specifically posted on the web that I will attend the race and that I can be identified by my red/black Tokyo Cycling Club jersey. I didn't expected any other TCC rider to attend. But nobody approached me. Did they all bailed in the last minute? Or was this another sign of Northern German shyness and understatement?

Three riders with St. Pauli urban camouflage jerseys were standing right in front of me. Human beings have failed so far to invent the right words to describe the inhibited beauty of their team outfits. I shall not try to make up for failure of mankind so and include the below picture for your own judgement.

No, I am not taking about the threatening looking guys in the back. If you look very closely you will see a pair of orange sunglasses seemingly flying in the air above a small band aid. The rider who wears them can be hardly seen because he is so well camouflaged and his silhouette melts into the road surface. Later during the course of the race I was happy that they rode bikes in shiny colors so that I could identify their position relative to me.

I could indulge any longer in my thoughts as the team organizer mumbled something about "not to crash", a speech luckily so much shorter than the epic lectures before races in Japan before a line crossing the street was lowered the the race started. While we continued to warm up for about 200m, the speed picked up gradually after that and already at the first (of two) hills, we were crossing the federal highway with more than 40 km/hr average speed. I tried to stay in the first third of the group, knowing that these large groups tend to split in the middle and I didn't wanted to find myself in one of the slower ones. I even rode in front three times during the first two hours.

The racing was very organized during the first three hours, when everybody was comparatively fresh. Two riders in the front, and then the whole group was lined up in pairs behind. The first two riders rode to the left(the left one) or stayed where they were (the right one) and the group overtook them so that they could line-up in the back. A nice, steady rotation. Once we were out  in the countryside the pace was constantly between 33 and 40 km/hr and my heart rate in the 160 to 170 HRM bracket. It was pretty clear that I couldn't continue for 215 km.

But I didn't care. Thinking it over one more time, I cared a lot. Because the decision to give up and leave the group means that one is alone and the suffering and the pain that come as a consequence of this irreversible decision is so much bigger than to try to keep up with the group. The bikes without riders (St. Pauli) were quite fast by the way and they rode in front for the first 5 to 10 km. Also there was a constant pointing out of potholes, obstacles, turns and stops, something that became less and less as the race continued (not the obstacles, but the pointing).

The first checkpoint was reached in much less than an hour and 29 km at the fire station in Bülstedt. (The whole route is here). Last year I lost the group when I put some time aside to clean my glasses. When I finally put them back on my nose, I saw the peloton about 100 meters away and I couldn't catch up. This year I tried to be the first to get my stamp, took some food and rode alone on the road so that the peloton could overtake me and I could line up again. This worked well and we made good speed to the second control point in Heidenau. I even remembered some of the names of the villages that we passed from last year: "Wohnste", "Groß-Wohnste", "Sauensiek", "Bokel", words that describe with their sounds already the beauty of the landscape. Or perhaps the beauty of self-designed jerseys. In any case, after 88 km and on the second control point I was still with the fast group, just like last year. This was where I lost contact last year. We continued now to ride into the "nature reserve" Lüneburger Heide.
File:Lüneburger Heide 109.jpg
The grounds are very sandy here, so that nothing grows but scrubs and weeds. The beauty of the landscape is such, that parts of the nature reserve were used by the British army as a tank range. But even after riding 100t army tanks multiple times over the assortment of scrubs and weeds, the nature has not lost its original charm. This part of the landscape which is conveniently located between the ports of Bremen and Hamburg, should also remind us that we should not complain about the countryside close to Bremen and that we should never attempt to travel to Hamburg. Where, by the way, the quarter of "St. Pauli" and the soccer club of the same name (18th and last this season) is located. I am proud to report, that the soccer club that I support (no, not Werder Bremen but Borussia Mönchengladbach) achieved an impressive 16th place this season.

We only "touched"´touched" the Lunebürger Heide as you can see on the map. We ventured inside, made a loop and turned back where we came from, just like an unsuccessful expedition in the 19th century venturing to find the origins of the river Nile. Oh! The horror! The horror!

So far I could keep up with the fast group. After 130 km we came back to Heidenau fire station. Cool, less than four hours but I slowly ran out of steam. Last year I was alone with an older rider at this time of the race. A soup was offered inside and he asked me if I wanted to eat some soup. Sure, I said and I went in. Later, I noticed that he wasn't interested at all to eat soup and left immediately after I entered the house. A strange kind of humour, I thought.

So I took double care that I left before the peloton, got overtaken and lined up again. By now most conversations have stopped as did the pointing out of obstacles. About 30 to 40 riders were left. Surely there were stronger ones than me, but also for them it was important to save energy. The group had become very unstable and hectic. There was much more braking and accelerating compared to the first half of the race. Once we turned into the headwind and I was very much in the front I had to let go and before I could accelerate again I found myself behind the peloton. But I had done about 138 km with them and that was 50 km better than last year.

I still had more than 80 km to do and being alone I tried to keep my heart rate below 155 HRM and rode 25 to 27 km/hr against the headwind. While prodding on for some km I thought that I am not really a long distance guy. How many rides did I do in all these year with more than 200 km distance? Tokyo-Itoigawa, Sado 210, Yokohama-Hamamatsu and perhaps one or two rides with David, Jerome and Ludwig. Bremen 2010 (and now 2011), so perhaps less than 10 after all. I don't find it very pleasing even to ride more than 150 km. Still I think the 100 to 150km bracket is the one where I have the most fun and I can still walk and play with the kids after returning home. Hey, when I started to do serious cycling in Hamamatsu in 1998, I was content to do one 60 km loop around lake Hamanakako.

While I was thinking along these lines (and wondering how the Transalp will be), I was overtaken by a group of three riders that have fallen out of the peloton before and they asked me to join. We rotated in the front and kept our average over 30km/hr. So we continued to the next check point at 155 km and to the next one at 180 km/hr. Now there were only 35 km left, or so I thought. Plus we were in familiar terrain again and I would not make the same stupid mistakes as last year when I simply couldn't find the way home.

So what I did was I let the group move away and at the next crossing, shortly after Quelkorn I took a non-authorized quick turn and continued towards Fischerhude. Here I took the forest rode to Borgfeld. It is a much better motivation to ride roads you know and I felt better and stronger. In the peloton I felt so vunerable .. if an attack would have happened I am sure that I couldn't have followed. But alone on familar grounds I felt much better.

Once I was in Borgfeld I took another shortcut and reached the finish shortly after the other three men group have arrived. That was good, because I would have had difficulties to explain why I was there earlier without having overtaken them. I think I gained about 5 km by shortcuts. Well that is still much less compared to what I rode more last year so I felt perfectly entitled to do some creative route planning.

I was back after 6:27:29 Hhrs with an average speed of much more than 30 km/hr and 206 km distance covered. Elevation meters almost none. I felt pretty tired, but first I went to the jury and submitted my stamp card. One of the guys took it, take a look and said "OK, that looks good, thank you." He than filed my card and left me standing there wondering what would happen next. There was no next. I didn't even got a certificate or something, nothing. Sorry, why did I got all the stamps in the first place? Another attempt of Northern German humour that is still so difficult to understand.

Never mid, I ordered some of the good looking cakes from the wives of the members. Could I have something to drink? Sure, how about a coffee? No thanks? Or a beer? No, something non alcoholic please. A coke? A sprite? Some orange juice, a green lemon? I thought that lemon sounds nice. It reminded me of a hot summer day when I was riding the east side of Izu with Juliane in the humid, hot weather and suddenly Juliane started talking about CC Lemon. I developed such a thirst for CC lemon in this moment, I would have killed to lay my hands on a bottle of this stuff. So yes, a lemon, perhaps.

Bremen is home to the BECKS brewery, one of the biggest in Germany. They produce beer in green bottles like this one.

A lemon light is a mix between a Becks beer and a lemon soft drink. Still it has alcohol inside:

Basically it is a beer. There isn't so much alcohol inside, but still I insist it is a beer. Why I got offered this is still a mystery to me. Another attempt of Northern German humour?
Anyway, now seriously drunk and green in the face like a lemon I rode home. Two days later I started cycling again. I am fit now for the race in Berlin next weekend and for the Transalp...we will see.

15 May 2011

New Discoveries

After riding for almost 7 years in and near Tokyo, it is easy to ride down a road and assume that you know it -- that there is nothing new to learn.  I still cannot imagine that we rode all those years until Hiroshi Koyama showed us the forest road along the North shore of Tsukui-ko, the Tank Road and One Kansen doro -- a very nice alternative for getting in and out of the part of Tokyo where I live.
It was a spectacularly beautiful day ... but I did not bring my real camera.  This taken with Blackberry at Yakyutei after lunch, in Okutama.

Today, I rode with Steve T., who started exploring the areas near Tokyo well before I got my first nice road bike or moved to Japan in 2004.  He showed me a thing or two on some routes that I thought I knew.

We had been cautioned by Machin-sensei that this close before Tokyo-Itoigawa we should keep our rides short -- 1 hour at lactose threshold, followed by quick carb loading.  But it was a gorgeous day, and I guess in the end we thought the psychological damage of not enjoying a nice ride today amidst the green of the mountains would offset any benefits from retaining our glycogen stores for next Saturday.  So when we met at Takao, we decided to compromise -- no mammoth ride, certainly, but a trip out Route 20 to Uenohara, then up to and over Tsuru Pass,  then via Okutama-ko back to Oume and a train home.  For me, 130 km, and 1300 meters of climbing.  And, of course, we decided to go at a relaxed pace, not pushing to hard.

We kept faithful to that last decision for at least 2 minutes.  Right out of the gate, we were riding behind a strong Japanese rider in a white Castelli jersey.  He set a fast pace and we stayed with him, until Steve decided to zip past him just as the climb inched up from 3 or 4% to a 5 or 6% grade.   I stayed with him a little longer, eventually slipping back, but nonetheless was able to pass a gaggle of Japanese riders on the climb, and climbed Otarumi as fast as I ever have.  Better yet, I was well above threshold during the upper part of the climb, so this did not even start to count against my one hour time limit for riding at threshold.  (Err, ... please forgive me if I misunderstood the instructions).

At Uenohara we headed NW on Route 33.  Steve volunteered that we should take the smaller road on the East side of the river.  I said "great, you mean Ludwig's route".  He took offense at this -- claiming to have discovered it long before the days of GPS navigation, when exploring on his mountain bike.  3/4 of the way up to where it ends at Route 18, we crossed a bridge and he pointed, "the road used to go over there, but for some reason they built this wide bridge, even though the road narrows to a goat path just around the next corner."  Indeed, it did.

As we climbed up Route 18, he suggested another alternative "why don't we take the road that curves around and skips the first pass (Tawa Pass).  We did so, climbing up a delightful valley, then past at least 5 barking dogs in cages behind lock and key, and to rejoining Route 18.  Steve said that he discovered this side road when he still rode mountain bikes, and had publicized this alternative within TCC last year at the end of one of MOB's sayonara rides.  Tom, Ludwig -- have you ridden this route before?  If not, check out the GPS track carefully.  It may even be a short cut -- saving the climb over Tawa -- and is a delightful alternative.  We passed a field on a ridiculously steep slope down to our left, and Steve pointed out the little old lady at work, hugging the steep ground and tending her crops.  "She is there every time I pass by, whatever the conditions."  I checked again to make sure it was not a scarecrow -- indeed, a real person.

Then the last climb to Tsuru -- I let Steve go ahead (not that I had any choice ...) and finally concentrated on staying at a reasonable heart rate -- in the 149-151 range at threshold -- despite the steep climb.

Then it was down to Okutama for lunch at Yakyu Tei.  I've never seen it so full, big groups of people, motorcyclists, car tourists, cyclists, and locals.  Watanabe-san's helper snuck us some bananas for our ride home, just to make sure we knew that they appreciate the regulars more than these "fair weather" customers.

As we descended Route 411 and passed the traffic signal in front Okutama Station, Steve asked if I had been to the "foot onsen" nearby.  I did not know it existed.  Instead of entering the next tunnel, we veered to the right and followed the road that goes around the outside of the hill -- and I noticed signs to Moegi Onsen, with other signs for  "ashi no yu".   There was a very nice facility -- on the right side, a day onsen, with about 50 backpacks lined up outside, the whole group trying to get clean following a hike.  On the left, a little house where you could buy a 100 yen ticket, place your shoes in a box, and sit with your feet dangling into the hot water.  Ahhhh.   Steve mentioned that the river is very nice down the slope nearby, with kayaking and some camp areas as well.  The foot onsen was a nice interlude from hammering away in cleated cycling shoes ... but not so relaxing as to make it impossible to get back on the bike and make it down the hill to Oume Station.

As I rode the train home, I realized it was one year ago this weekend that I broke my elbow/ribs and missed Tokyo-Itoigawa.  This time, I made it home in one piece and am ready to go!