04 April 2015

Riding into the Mist and up Kazahari Rindo with the Tominator

At Kazahari Pass, Elev 1137 meters.  Via the nasty rindo approach.
Jerome was on a 200k brevet today, so missed the mountaintop ceremony this time.
Today I rode with Positivo Espresso member Tom S.  I do not ride with Tom very often.  Why? He is too strong!

There was that time in 2008 when we were on the Positivo Espresso inaugural team for Tokyo-Itoigawa.  We started together in a nice paceline.  My adrenaline was pumping so I pulled the team the first kilometer or two -- starting up the hill from Takao on Route 20, Koshu Kaido, toward Otarumi Pass.  Then Tom went past and zoomed ahead up the hill.  MOB, Juliane, David J. and I could not follow.  The four of us continued to work together the next 12+ hours.  The next time we saw Tom was when we arrived at Itoigawa.  We were exhausted.  He had arrived hours earlier, showered/bathed, changed, and was well into a meal and enjoying a beer looking rather relaxed.

When I do ride with Tom, I like to do it on Sunday, since he will have ridden 250 kms on Saturday and is softened up a bit so I can try to keep up during his Sunday warmdown.  Maybe his Saturday trip will have involved multiple passes in Chichibu and Gunma, like this.  Or maybe it was a one day (daylight) trip out Doshi Michi to Yamanakako, a quick trip AROUND Mt. Fuji, then home again for dinner.  A fast 275 kms, like this, a week ago.  He is in a different league. Naomi W., herself holder of most of QOM (Queen of the Mountain) badges on Strava in the hills around Tokyo, recently called him the "Tominator".  Perfect.

And of course, Tom is Belgian.  Like Eddie Merckx, greatest cyclist of his era, and likely of all time.  Eddy the Cannibal.  To race against him was to feel yourself pounded into submission, near death, like being eaten alive.  (Today Tom was even wearing a "Molteni" wool jersey, from Merckx's team.  Tom the Tominator.)

Liege-Bastogne-Liege 1980 -- snow!
The Belgians excel at cycling in tough conditions -- cold and rain, mud.  This time of year, it is Spring Classic season.  Lots of cold, rain and mud.  And grueling cycle races.  The Tour of Flanders.  Liege-Bastogne-Liege.  Gent Wevelgem, Paris Roubaix ... and on.  All those, except Paris Roubaix, in Belgium. And Roubaix is just over the border -- Northeast of Lille, France, in an area where France bulges into Belgium.  If the border with Belgium were straight, Roubaix would be in Belgium, not France!

So I was a bit worried this morning.  Not only was it Saturday (well-rested Tom), but we were going to climb the Kazahari Rindo past the Kinoko Center and to Kazahari Pass.  The climb takes you from 500 to 1137 meters, and many sections are 15-20 degrees or even steeper.
Is there any other bigger, badder hill so close to Tokyo? Not that I know of. If you can do this hill twice, you have done the Passo di Mortirolo, considered by many the toughest climb in road cycling in Italy, in Europe .. in the world even. Kazahari Rindo really should be included in the road cycling stage of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics .. it is, after all, in Tokyo.  DO NOT try this road without your climbing gear.

Last Monday I had ridden up to the base of the climb.  A few cyclist friends commented on the blog or Facebook "so you went to the Kinoko Center?" ....  A harmless question, but it stung me.  Ouch.   Errr, actually no, I did not climb to the Kinoko Center.  I turned around before the steep climb.  My ears were turning red as I saw the comments on my computer screen.  Tom offered to ride the "Full Monty" (in this case meaning "the full mountain") with me, and I leaped at the chance to recover my honor.

Today was Spring Classic weather -- dry in the city, but no longer once we neared the mountains and started to climb along the Akigawa; the mist started and the road surface was wet.  The mist continued all through the mountain segment of our ride, and at Kazahari Pass, Elevation 1137, it was about 5 degrees and very damp.  My bike was a mess by the end of the ride.
Spring classic road grit
More gunk
My rear Gokiso hub -- maybe time to clean the inside and put my maintenance training to use ...
Anyway, we met at Koremasa Bridge around 715AM. Tom had brought a Fizik Arione saddle he does not use and had offered to give me following my recent diatribe about the decline of the Arione in its newer, fancier iterations.
Tom was riding one of his steel Panasonic bikes (via C Speed) -- this one with 700x28 tires and lots of mud clearance.

Thanks for the saddle, Tom!  One of the good, old Ariones, and like new condition.
I arrive after Tom at the end of the Akigawa climb ... bottom of the Kazahari Rindo section!
Where we came from and where we are going -- does not look so steep does it?
We just climbed a 10% grade.  The steep section starts just around the next few bends.
The road turns up gradually to around 20%, even steeper in places.
Only 1.5kms to the Kinoko Center.  But over 200 meters up.
We were passed by one little local "kei" truck as we took these photos before the big climb, ... but did not see any cars otherwise the entire way to the top. We quickly entered the clouds.  ... I was tempted to stop and take a photo of the dramatic plunging hillside and clouds below.  But did not.  The #1 rule for this climb is NO FOOT TOUCHES THE GROUND.  It is very hard to start again, and motivation goes entirely if one touches the earth.

Of course, Tom went ahead, and waited at the top.  It was only around 5-6 degrees C, and misting, at the top.  We put on our warm gear, posed for a victory photo and started the long descent down the main road past Tomin No Mori and back to Itsukaichi.
I arrive at the top!
Accurately conveys how I felt!

Tom forgot to switch on his Garmin recording, so I am not sure how much faster he was than me. When I uploaded my GPS data to Strava, I learned that Strava shows me as the "King of the Mountain" for 2015 so far on Kazahari Rindo, despite our rest before the climb.  Great ... but ridiculous. ... This is why they really need to change the feature so that instead of just rides since January 1 (only 2 or 3 showing who have done this entire Strava segment) it shows the past 12 months.

This is the kind of ride I need to do to be ready for another attempt at an SR600 in late May or June, and for Europe in late July.  Thank you, Tom!  Let's ride again soon.  Next time if the weather is better let's add a second, or third pass.

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