27 October 2013

Tour de France -- Saitama Criterium Etc.

As noted last week, there was an event at the French Embassy in Tokyo on Thursday evening, October 24, in advance of Saturday's Criterium in Saitama by ASO/Tour de France.  The evening event was sponsored by the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan (CCIFJ).

It was good to see a number of TCCers at the event, many of whom I have not ridden with in far too long ... as if I could keep up with them!

The highlight, of course, was meeting the stars -- Le Blaireau (the Badger), Bernard Hinault, five-time winner of the Tour de France, and winner of all 3 grand tours - the Vuelta and the Giro, as well as the Tour.  He is a very important presence for the Tour, and as Graham Davis notes in a Pez Cycling report, saved the day yet again.  I cannot wait for next year's Tour--genuinely excited about the initial 2 stages in northern England (beautiful Yorkshire) and the day on the Pave in northern France.
Arashiro, Bardet and Hinault, photo courtesy of CCIFJ
And Romain Bardet, the 22-year old French hope for future greatness, who hails from the Auvergne region near Clermont-Ferrand, where I had such a memorable time with visiting with Jerome and Didier for the Etape du Tour Acte II in 2011 (Issoire-St. Flour).  Romain was in Japan for the race, and his girlfriend was along, so they planned to stay an extra week.  Maybe Jerome will show them around Kamakura or Nikko??

Romain Bardet and his girlfriend, with Jerome and me!
Romain said his father had ridden the 2011 Etape Acte II.  He recalled the miserable weather that day. Exactly!  The headwinds and cold rain gave me a chance for a decent showing, as the thinner cyclists and many of those from warmer climates -- the Brazilians, Spaniards, Italians, et al. got chilled and huddled in the lee of buildings, abandoning early.  It was exactly the type of conditions under which Jerome and I excel -- a war of attrition with 210 kms and 3500+ meters elevation gain over numerous small/medium sized climbs.  I hung in there with the Belgians and Brits, and finished something like 1300 out of 1900 finishers (over 3000 starters and more than 4000 registered--major attrition).

Jerome introduced Yukiya Arashiro to the #2 at the French Embassy, so Arashiro-san can get some VIP treatment in getting his visa squared away for next season (not so easy for a non-EU citizen, but in this case essential to Franco-Japan relations and to the Tour's and French cycling's status as a global sport).  Of course, Yukiya rides for Europcar, a primarily French team and home of the always exciting Thomas Voeckler.  He said he lives in Setagaya (when in Japan), actually quite close to Jerome and me.  He weighs only 53~54 kgs, but said that if he wants to content for the GC (instead of being an attacking rider, one-day competitor and super-domestique), he would need to lose more weight to climb faster.  Impossible to imagine, but good to know that we have something in common.

I missed much of the marketing presentation -- so much the better -- but enjoyed mingling, as well as the table full of Bretagne-style crepes, both the kind that make a meal and sweet dessert crepes.  I managed to eat every variety on the table, and to wash them down with a few glasses of French hard cider.

On Saturday, Jerome and I had planned to ride up to Saitama Shin-to-shin to watch the criterium and see the related exhibits ... but the typhoon passing offshore dumped heavy rain all morning, so we hopped a train instead.  Most of the exhibits were only tangentially related to cycling, though there were some with a French theme (cheese, wine, etc.).

There was a big crowd, which just got bigger as the day went on.  I guess there is not much else to do on a rainy Saturday in central Saitama?

Indoors in the arena there were cycling exhibits, but nothing to write home about.  There was an educational exhibit on the Tour -- which included a nice photo of the Issoire-St. Flour stage from 2011!  And there was a video running where we say excerpts from Chris Froome's incredible ride up Mt. Ventoux this year.

We did run across Jamie S., one of the few Tokyoites (perhaps the only?) to have ever completed the Race Across America (RAAM), with a 4-person team in 2012 and, much more difficult, a 2-person team in 2013.  Jamie said he and his partner each rode 330 kms a day, on around 3 hours sleep.  They rode 2962 miles (4700 kms) in all, with a time of d 15 h 46 m. That sounds like starting with LEL, but adding 30-40 kms a day, and extending the event for an additional 3 days/900 kms, and of course riding at a faster pace (but with more time off the bike, when your partner is riding).  He said it was very hard -- something about saddle sores and exhaustion.  Not going back again.  Respect.
People keep coming and coming toward the events.
Jerome and I visited some of the booths, and as the rain stopped early afternoon, we saw a points race with Alejandro Valverde, Fumi Beppu and others.  The Japanese police did their very best to ensure that no one stood on the walkways, staircases or other places where it would be possible to actually SEE the riders as they passed in both directions.
Move along.  Keep away from the edge where you might get a good view of the race.
Of course, the races were just exhibitions, not the world championship circuit.  Chris Froome mysteriously won the main event, out-racing several better sprinters who did not even get out of their saddles to sprint, I am told.  Let's hope that if they ever do this again, that the weather cooperates better, and that they get a longer course with better views for a crowd 3, 4 or 5 persons deep, and maybe even a climb or two.

24 October 2013

99 Kilometer Commute

This fall, I am teaching a class at Keio University's Shonan Fujisawa Campus (SFC) on Wednesday  afternoon.  SFC is a beautiful campus built in the 1980s, designed by Fumihiko Maki, Pritzker Prize winning architect.

Since the campus was planned and built back when Japanese land prices were very high, it is sited far from central Tokyo.  From my house it is a long train/bus trip, or just under a 1-hour drive via Daisan-Keihin, Yokohama Shindo, then local roads, without traffic tie-ups.  Or it is a 37.5 km bicycle ride.

If I ride in to work for the morning, then back home (24km round trip), then out to SFC and back (77km round trip), it works out to almost 100 kilometers.
SFC commute -- 37.5 km each way, via 246
I cannot manage it every Wednesday, but at least if I can do this every other week, perhaps I will notice the difference in terms of regular conditioning by the start of next year?
In town commute -- 12 kms each way, via Komazawa Dori (or faster but less pleasant Meguro Dori)
As for the route, after consultation with former and current Yokohoma residents (MOB, James M. and others), I am using Route 246 to get out to Minami Machida, then taking local roads and bike paths (e.g. the Yamato-Fujisawa bike path) the rest of the way.  246 is ugly, but fast.

Once I tried to go straight from my office via Nakahara Kaido, into stiff headwinds the whole way, and it was a disaster.  Way too many red lights, way too many hills, too many narrow stretches with lines of traffic and no room to pass by at the shoulder.  The ride took an additional 45 minutes.

21 October 2013

Bicycle-Pedestrian Accidents in Japan

I opened up a local English language paper on Saturday morning and was surprised to see a FULL PAGE devoted to the issue of bicycle-pedestrian accidents.   It highlighted a recent court judgment awarding 95 million yen (almost $1 million) to an elderly lady now comatose as a result of head injuries from a bicycle accident in which she was struck by a 5th grade boy zooming down a hill and around a corner.  The boys parents were held legally responsible -- nothing unusual for other countries such as the U.S. or Europe, but a high verdict for Japan.  The article also notes that there were 5 pedestrians killed in 2012 in Japan by cyclists.

An online version of the article is here.

The article was not directly anti-cyclist in tone, and highlighted educational efforts, the need for bike lanes, etc. so that people can continue to cycle without threatening pedestrians.  I could not agree more.  Indeed, I used to ride out the Tamagawa bike path, but now stick to the parallel streets on most stretches since I would rather not be in potential conflict with pedestrians (or other cyclists).

And only last week did someone recount to me the story of a cyclist who was riding around the area near Jingu Stadium and passed through a red light, misjudged the progress of an elderly pedestrian and ended up knocking him down (with a resultant serious injury).  Unforgiveable.

But I also could not help but wonder, where is the full page article highlighting each cyclist who is the victim in an accident with an automobile, truck or motorcycle?

A quick check of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police statistics page revealed that yes, there were more than a few cyclists killed in 2012.  Indeed, 563 killed in traffic accidents nationwide, of whom 34 died within Tokyo.

Where are the newspaper articles highlighting their fates?   How may were injured and lie sick or comatose?

And what is this? 1634 pedestrians were killed in traffic accidents in 2012 in Japan.  Presumably 1629 of these were caused by vehicles other than bicycles ... as opposed to 5 caused by cyclists.
Maybe the bicycle-pedestrian accident was newsworthy because such accidents are, indeed, so rare?

20 October 2013

Welcome back, Nishibe-san

The weather forecast for Sunday was grim -- rain, then more rain.  So I planned to get in a ride on Saturday.  Jerome was not available, but I was delighted to hear that Nishibe-san, who returned home to Kobe last year, is back in Tokyo for the month, and would be available for a short ride.

We planned to meet at Sekido-bashi at 830AM.  I was late, as the rear tire on my Canyon had gone flat since last weekend.  The Vittoria Open Pave tires had made it over 2500 kms without a single flat -- including all of LEL, the week in Spain, and the second SR600 try and more.  But this was the 4th flat in the last 3 rides, none with an obvious trigger, and with a careful check for wire, nail etc. embedded.  So time to bid farewell to the Open Paves.  I sent an SMS telling Nishibe-san I would be 10 minutes late, then changed to another pair of tires (Vredenstein Fortezza Tricomp 700x25, bought on sale awhile back).

We rode out toward the base of Wada, stopping at the usual 7-11 on Jimba Kaido.  Nishibe-san seems happy back in Kobe.  His son is in high school and doing "ju-ken" for university and, more importantly, in the high school cycling club, riding competitively.  He will try for the "kokutai" (national athletics meet) next year.  We reminisced about the Positivo Espresso/Beeren Pyrenees trip in summer 2012.  The members delighted to see this summer's Tour de France passing some of the same climbs.  He said Beeren wants to hold a similar trip to the Alps in 2017, making it a once-in-five-years tradition.  (I am not so patient!)
Nishibe-san in pristine white Beeren kit; with his beautiful Colnago which has had a recent Dura Ace drivetrain upgrade
Nishibe-san did not have time or inclination to head into the mountains, so we said farewell at the Jimba Kaido entrance to the Wada approach, with Nishibe-san heading toward Itsukaichi.

The roads were a bit damp from sprinkling rain earlier, and got more so as I reached the base of Wada.  I did not want to climb Wada -- either the frontal assault or the Daigo rindo -- on wet roads.  I opted for Bonbori rindo and Iriyama Pass, the now entirely paved road through the hills that takes one from the base of Wada to Itsukaichi.  Compared to Wada, this road is a bit less steep, tops out a bit lower (at 625 meters elevation), and is more open (and, I hoped, would be dry) on the upper stretches.  Nevertheless, the road surface was covered in many places with debris -- a dramatic contrast with last weekend's Kazahari rindo, and the result of Wednesday's passage of Typhoon 26 with its heavy rains.  For the entire stretch, I passed 2 other cyclists and 2 hikers.

I took the descent very slowly, then enjoyed a tailwind a good part of the way home, for a 110km ride with one good climb, some shopping at Y's, and a return home before 2PM.
Upper section of Bonbori Rindo -- after Typhoon 26
Northern section of Bonbori rindo -- after Typhoon 26
The Canyon, amid the clutter of signage at Iriyama Pass.
Typhoon 27 is heading slowly north as it strengthens in the ocean north of the Philippines.  It is expected to arrive in our area late in the week, perhaps on Thursday, maybe on Friday, and maybe it will drift off toward one side and miss eastern Japan entirely.  In any event, it is great now to be in a typhoon pattern where at least the big storms do not hit on the weekend, unlike last month!

18 October 2013

Tour de France event at French Embassy October 24 7PM

Jerome has forwarded this information -- Looks like it could be fun!!

Special event with LE TOUR DE FRANCE's organizers

CCIFJ is very pleased to announce the organization of a special event about Le Tour de France.
Come and join us to attend a presentation of Mr. Amaury about the development strategy of Amaury Sport Organisation (A.S.O), in charge of several sports events among which the famous international race Le Tour de France. They will share with the audience their international development strategy where Japan has its improving role.
Best illustration : the Saitama Criterium by Le Tour de France that will be held on October 26th in the city of Saitama. This criterium will gather 20 local Japanese pro riders and 20 international racers, key riders of the 2013 Tour, starting with its clear winner, Chris Froome, plus green jersey Peter Sagan, the new king of sprint, Marcel Kittel, the two famous Japanese riders Yukiya Arashiro and Fumiyuki Beppu and the French winner of the Alpe d'Huez stage, Christophe Riblon.
Bernard Hinault, 5 times Tour de France Winner, and Jean-Francois Pescheu x, technical director of Le Tour de France, will also be joining the presentation on October 24th to share their past experiences as professional cyclists.
You’ll also have the chance to discover a teasing of the 2014 Tour de France race.
A Q&A sessions will also be organized, followed by a cocktail.
For the fans : some autographed Le Tour de France jerseys, caps and books will be offered and one famous French and Japanese riders will join this festive event.
Language : English
Date & time : October 24th, from 19:00 to 21:00
Place : Atrium at the French Embassy
Important Notice : Identity Card/Passport is MANDATORY to enter the French Embassy
Participation Fee : 3000 yens
Reservation Deadline October 21st, 2013 (Monday)
For registration, please use the following link : http://ccifj.frenchchamber.com?event=public.events.ev&EventID=52

14 October 2013

Eroica 2013

The London chapter of Positivo Espresso again joined the Eroica classic bike event in Italy this year, the first weekend in October.  While we await the full report when their busy schedules allow, we did get one photograph of them hanging out with a cycling celebrity.

Who is it?
He used to look like this back when he was winning sprints:

Nokogiri! Kazahari Rindo!

On Sunday morning Jerome and I headed up to the Positivo Espresso Oume base.  We met Stephen and, after a breakfast of fresh persimmon from the garden, grapefruit, bananas, yogurt and rolls (Juliane would have been proud of us), we continued up Yoshino Kaido and Route 411.  It was a beautiful morning in Oume, the air clear and crisp ... the next forecast typhoon still 3 days away.
The Oume Base
We made the left turn just a kilometer past Okutama Station and were onto the the Nokogiri climb. Stephen and I attacked, out of the saddle, for the first few hundred meters, then all 3 of us settled in for the 6.7km, 597 meter elevation gain category 2 climb.  We each climbed at our own pace, Jerome suffering from Friday night (into Saturday wee hours) entertainment with junior colleagues.  Stephen crested first, with me just 15 seconds or so behind.  Jerome followed up -- incredulous that he was 6 minutes 30 seconds back.  As he said "no spring chicken".

At the top, Stephen and I waited amidst a large group of men setting up some tents and covered areas that appeared to be a checkpoint for a 70 km. trail running event -- must have been scheduled for the next day (today as I write), Monday, Oct 13, which is a holiday and "Sports Day" in Japan, as trail runners like to go along the crest to the west of Mitake-san, passing Nokogiri-san en route.  Some of the men had "finisher" t-shirts on, while others had "staff" shirts on.  One of the "staff" was smoking a particularly harsh brand of cigarette, the smoke immediately bothering Stephen and me as our lungs tried to recover capacity from the climb (and Stephen from his Friday night red-eye flight HK to Tokyo).
My climbing bike at the top of Nokogiri, at the trailhead.

I was very glad to have my lighter-frame bike (the Canyon), outfitted with compact crank and SRAM WiFli rear cassette and Ultegra 6600 series long-cage derailleur.  I could climb the steepest parts in 34-32 front/rear gearing -- as forgiving as Jerome's triple setup.  This allowed me to stay in the saddle and spin, standing up only for a change of muscles/pace.
Warning -- Don't slip of the road on the South side descent!
Then it was down the south side of Nokogiri, a quick stop for curry at the "Hinohara Woodie House Mura", which seemed to have a good business -- fully rented cabins -- at least this one long weekend.  At the bottom of the climb, we debated whether to try Kazahari Rindo, one of the toughest climbs in Kanto ... or maybe just try the much shorter Chaya (teahouse) climb.  Of course, we opted for Kazahari Rindo!

Jerome and Stephen went ahead, much more aggressive on the approach than I.  They waited at the start of the really steep section, the sharp "V" intersection.  From there, I pulled ahead.  Stephen stayed with me for the first kilometer, as we climbed at 15% or more grade.  But he was riding a bike with, at best, 39-25 gearing.  Almost impossible for this climb, especially the fairly long 18% section up to the Hinohara Mushroom Center.  I went ahead, alternating between spinning and standing, and was up it before long.  Not surprisingly, with this gearing, he needed to dismount and walk for a bit, and Jerome did the same, if only to shift his derailleur into the lowest gear by hand.

I was pleasantly surprised that I did the climb only a few seconds slower than in late April 2011, well into my Transalp training ... and this on the second big climb of the day.  As I waited at the top, I talked with a spirited group of Japanese "ojisan" cyclists who had climbed from Okutama-ko on the main road and were suitably impressed that I had done the rindo.  They were even more impressed when I mentioned that Kazahari Rindo x2 equals the Mortirolo!

A classic Positivo Espresso ride on a beautiful day.  Over 2000m of climbing in total and 170 kms+.