26 October 2008

Yokkaichi JCRC #10 Race Report

Yokkaichi makes it difficult to visitors to love the city. I came in on Saturday night from Nagoya and while in the train I flipped through the tourist guide leaflet that was provided by the organizers of the race. Oil refineries. Yes, this is the first thing that is mentioned in the uppermost right corner of the leaflet to describe what distinguishes Yokkaichi from other cities in Japan. Even the mediocre cycle event I was going to participate in found it's way into the leaflet. As does the reconstructed Australian pavilion from the Osaka World Exhibition - in 1970 that was.

Nikkan Sports newspaper conducts one of the races of its 2008 Tour du Japon series at Yokkaichi and it's part of domestic development assistance. The overseas development assistance might be handled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but its domestic sister is a different matter. Conducting races on islands which are due to explode any matter amidst clouds of toxic sulphuric gases [Miyakejima] or in boring industrial towns which are deep in recession [Yokkaichi]; lurking hundreds of cyclists to these places with their family and give locals a chance to exploit them ... what else can it be than to be considered domestic development aid?

So when I checked into the NEW YOKKAICHI HOTEL close to the station, I should have been warned that "new" doesn't means new in Yokkaichi. Rather the "new" in a traditional way, say what was new in the Seventies (Limahl, Boy George, Bay City Rollers). But it was cheap and could be conveniently booked through the Internet without going to the trouble to spell my first and family name countless times to the unhappy receptionist.

Outside the hotel a bososoku gang was testing the maximum noise level from their exhaust pipes. There was no police to be seem in the middle of the town, although an illuminated Koban was just right on the spot. Inside I filled out the forms to get my room key.

"Can I please have a room which is located on the other side of the road, away from the noise?"
"Don't worry, your room will have no windows at all".

Yes indeed, so it was. The room was located in the centre of the building, no windows, no ventilation shaft, nothing. A truthful replication of the Fuehrerbunker, app. April 1945. I went to sleep and dreamt of the hits of Russian artillery coming closer and closer. I woke up and started to dream about teaching at the ICU which was somewhat more pleasant.

The alarm clock rang at 5 AM, it was still dark. What did you expected the inside of a room without windows looks like anyway? So I switched on the light, packed my things and mounted my bike on the way to the Yokkaichi Sportsland which was about 15 - 20 km away. Of course I couldn't find the proper road out of town, so I went out and had to come back. My optimism that I will eventually find the way is always playing tricks with me. And once I was on the right road, it started to drizzle and then to rain.

Of course I tried to ignore the rain, which is an approved method of stopping rain. I have done this thousand times, although I have to admit that it normally doesn't work. But that's how humans are, getting the problem solved by pretending it is just not there.

Finally I arrived at the venue and made a first test round of the track. The D class race, which I was registered for, called for two laps of 9 km each. So with very little chance of getting lapped and after the DNF (DID NOT FINISHED) in Gunma the week before, out of the 10% rule (one get relegated to a lower class when one finishes three races in a row with a time of more than 10% slower than the rider finishing in 10th position), I just had to attend and to finish, not more was required.

But being ambitious I also wanted to come in with a good time and get some points from my closest competitors. My goal was to stay with the main field at least one lap and then stay within 10% of the winning time, if possible not to finish in last place.

The track is actually not easy. After a short downhill after the start there is a long climb of 80 elevation meters up, which is 2/3 of the climbing which needs to be done in one lap. So I know that I had to survive this climb with the field if I wanted to stay with them for the first lap. After that there is a nice and fast downhill part, where one can oversprint one little hill. Followed by a straight part with some curved and two smaller hills, followed by a nasty climb again. Then there is a flat part which lead to the finish, but 200 meter before the finish there is another crazy curve which leads to the uphill finish sprint. More than 120 meter of climbing per lap and some nasty metal gratings and curves, so one has to take care not to get dropped and also not to slip.

After one lap in the rain I felt already cold and miserable. Before the start I went to the toilet and in such miserable circumstances, even small things like a warm toilet seat can make one happy. Until I discovered that the seat was not electrical heated but warmed up by the hundreds of people who were sitting and shitting there before me.

At the start I met Yanagi-san from Miyakejima and saw some other familiar faces. Then the race was started behind a pace making motorcyle. To my surprise I could keep the pace and finish the mighty climb more or less with the main field. In the downhill part I simply had more mass momentum and could close in again. I was doing well until the nasty climb about 1.5 km from the finish, where I got dropped. But at least I knew I was not in the last position and I have lost maybe 200 meters overall.

I then started for the second time the mighty climb which was now harder to do without any draft. Nevertheless I was involved in some serious superhuman efforts here [note: the definition of a human is a white Male, 46 years, 96 kg of weight, moderate talent for sports. Thinking it over, I should rather use the term "supermob efforts"].

And I saw another D class rider 100 meter up the hill which gave me additional motivation. Shortly before the top of the climb I was almost overtaking him. But I did not, which in hindsight was a very clever move [although not planned]. I stayed behind him on the downhill part and when the small oversprinting hill came, I had so much momentum, that I zoomed along at mobonic speeds. Yes I virtually mobaculated myself from the bottom of the hill into the sky and left him there standing in pure admiration of the God of speed. This must have demoralized him completely. He fiished way behind me.

The rest of the race I tried to go fast but even better not to slip. When I was attacking the last nasty climb, I got overtaken by the leading E class rider who has started 2 minutes behind me. So I knew that after all I had done well. I did a last sprint up the hill to the finish and then the race was over. I was not being overtaken by any other rider.

Later I checked the results - 15th place out of 20 riders, this is pretty good for me as normally I tend to end in the last place or second last place at this kind of races. All my direct competitors for the D class JCRC championship did better than me (notably 7th and 9th place) and also the Tour du Japan competitor was doing better. But it looks good, I just need to attend and finish the Saiko race to become the champion. Tour du Japan championship is now a little bit impossible, but that was never the goal anyway.

Later I took a look at the Ciclo data which was quite impressive and confirms that I am in good shape. I mean for my shape.

Actually after all the cycling and rain I was so tired of everything that I just rode to the next station and took the train back. Unfortunately I managed to end up in the smokers compartment when I left Yokkaichi. So this will be my last impression of the town. Oil refineries in the rain, viewed through smoke stained windows from the train.

PS I visited Mie-Ken in 1985 in 1990 and in 1999 and I have been to the most wonderful places there, including Mikimoto pearl island and the Spanish village. This one is different.

[some other material to follow]

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