11 February 2013

Not-Epic Brevet

On Sunday I joined the February 10 Gunma Audax 200 km Brevet, titled by its organizers「北風に負けるな」, which roughly translates as "don't lose to the North Wind".  

I had tried to sign up for a few 200km Brevets closer to town ... but the inevitably filled up the instant that online sign-up opened.  Audax Japan is considering establishing a series of "permanent" courses, like RUSA and some others, to take the pressure off of the applications for the shorter brevets.

And what is the point of a 200km brevet in any event?  No night riding.  Nothing epic.  And not a race.  

Still, I have struggled with 200km events in the past.  In early March 2010, I rode one out of Utsunomiya while recovering from a shoulder injury, also early in the year.  I was on record pace until I had a flat tire that took 15-20 minutes to fix along a path in a hillside.  Then I struggled the last half of the route, into headwinds and eventually dark with an elapsed time over 11 hours.  In January 2011, I rode one in Shizuoka, that had one of the stiffest headwinds I can remember ever facing on my bicycle.  The cold and wind made it really slow, and epic in its way, almost 12 hours in all.  Last year's 200 km events were Day 3 and Day 4 of the Tohoku 1700, much of these routes along beautiful coastline in Akita and Aomori, and sandwiched between more challenging 600km and 300km events.   That is the right way to plan a 200km Brevet!

This year, I just wanted to get the 200km ride out of the way, so I will have my 200/300/400/600km series by mid-year, and qualify for an event I want to do this summer.

The Gunma course was flat, much of it through mixed use, sprawl and farmland that covers much of the flat areas of Japan.  There was some wind, but not enough to slow us down.  The weather was what I would expect in December in Kanto -- clear, dry and cold, but with a high of 8 degrees C.  No February rain or snow this weekend, at least.

The biggest challenge was the traffic jam on the Kan-Etsu highway.  I left home at 450AM, expecting to arrive around 630AM just in time for the "briefing" and 650-700AM start.  Instead, I found myself sitting in traffic on the main expressway out of Tokyo to the Northwest.   No accident, no construction, so why was there a traffic jam at 530AM on Sunday in the middle of a 3 day weekend?  A reminder of why I avoid driving in Japan whenever possible.

I made it to the start area at 7:23AM, a few minutes to spare before they closed down at 7:30AM, having called ahead to one of the participants who warned the organizers to expect me.  I signed in, completed my bike check at 7:28, and went back to my car to get prepared to ride -- shoes on, etc.   I set out around 7:35 or 7:40, the last participant onto the course.  I pushed the pace at first, then moderated once I started to see and pass other riders.  

I stopped for food/rest at 67, 101, 140 and 170 kilometers, the only official checkpoint being the 101 km turn around, the others just randomly selected convenience stores from among the hundreds and hundreds that this course passed.  I rolled back into the finish at around 425PM, for an official time of 8 hours 57 minutes, about 3 hours faster than the Shizuoka 200km from 2011, almost 2 1/2 hours faster than the Utsunomiya 200km from 2010 ... but still very much a Brevet pace.  Not anywhere near fast enough to contend with the stronger riders at Tokyo Itoigawa, for example.

The ride itself was uneventful.  There were some nice views of rivers and of mountains to the North and West, and lots of sprawl.  The organizers were limited in their choices for a course in February in Gunma.  Any attempt to leave the flat plain around Takasaki and to the Southeast would risk snow and ice.  So this is what I expected, and not bad for a February ride.  

We were greeted at the finish with bowls of hot "tonjiru" (pork soup), hot water for coffee, and folding chairs in a tent to chat and rest for awhile before packing up and heading out again into the traffic.

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