dinsdag 30 september 2008

Shiobara Hillclimb Time Trial & Road Race

Michael and I will participate this coming weekend in the 8th race of the JCRC 2008 series - also named the "Bridgestone Cycle Cup Road Race Competition" - at Shiobara Onsen. I think I'm in pretty good shape thanks to the recent Hotaka training sessions with my friends from TCC! We'll see! The incline does not look too steep so I intend to use a normal 12-25T cassette....
For me, the Day Two road race part will be the main event...my strategy is to go full blast from the start - even launch a crazy escape - until the 266 turn-off and the start point of the Day One time trial...from that point I will just take it easy and enjoy the scenery!

zondag 28 september 2008

First serious mountain ride

Went riding with my daughter today. Original plan was Otarumi-Makime-Otarumi with David L. but when Jerome proposed Tomin-no-mori instead, I thought it was worth a try. My daughter did a great job hanging onto us until Mutsumibashi-dori. The Itsukaichi 7/11 is where all four of us were last together and Jerome took a nice picture of my daughter and David and I wearing the futuristic jersey designed by David's law firm featured on the Positivo Espresso Blog http://positivo-espresso.blogspot.com/2008/09/debut.html. The Kazuma teahouse is as far as my daughter made it...here we ate a juicy persimmon. We also met Michael in front of Y's on the Tamagawa CR. My daughter agreed to lead the kid's team for the X'mas Tokyo Enduro organized by Funride in Tachikawa. Once home, she showered and immediately hit the sack...dead tired!

zaterdag 27 september 2008

Reverse OHSMK-loop

Rode with the TCC people for the first hill of the day...Kazahari via Kazahari-rindo. Yellowgiant was in his old usual form again following his awakening on Mikuni earlier this week and beat the entire pack including Thomas!

On top of Kazahari is where I parted from the rest who still had Imagawa-toge and a reverse Kazahari on their program. I had instead opted to do my usual loop from the opposite side. Matsuhime felt surprisingly pleasant after the very tough Kazahari-rindo. I went over Suzugane-toge turned left and rode home via Akiyama-mura and Takao.

The longer downhills were a bit too chilly for short sleeves and the wind breaker came in handy. After I crossed the Hinazuru tunnel, I put on my armwarmers, just right for this season. I fitted out the Sirius Ti-1 with Halloween tyres...

Today's ride was good for 192km at an average speed of 24.7 km/h.

dinsdag 23 september 2008

My first Mikuni...

The route: http://www.mapmyrun.com/run/japan/atsugi-station/604834874704 (created by Toratora, YellowGiant of TCC)

Mikuni-toge…I had heard many stories about how agonizing this hill is, especially close to the summit of Myojin-toge 明神峠 where the pancake “concrete circles” appear (for some reason, in Japanese the pancakes become waffles…this kind of road surface is officially referred to as ワッフル状路面). This stretch over the pancakes was for sure the most memorable part of yesterday’s ride. It really hurt there…brutally paining is the inclination and the distance of this climb!

The ride course was meticulously prepared by Travis of TCC some of whose stronger and more masochistic-inclined riders had ridden it before. RdV was at Hon-Atsugi Station and not wanting to bag my bike I decided to go self-propelled. I crossed the Tamagawa over Yotsuya Bridge and proceeded along the Yaen-kaido 野猿街道 until the left turn at Tamabi Univ. Unfamiliar with the road, I had left home much too early but as a reward, I got to witness a beautiful sunrise on top of Yotsuya Bridge. In contrast to Yaen-kaido, the narrowish R.16 and R.129 leading to Atsugi were awfully crowded with huge trucks… very unpleasant! I was relieved to find the first sign showing Hon-Atsugi Station. I took a picture of my Sirius Ti-1 placed in front of an elegant show window across the station’s roundabout. While waiting for the TCC riders to arrive, I saw many foreigners, mostly of South-American origin in and around the station where I discovered Peruvian and Mexican restaurants….

We left at exactly 9:05…nine of us including Nishibe-san whom I had tried to warn about the toughness of today’s ride but Nishibe-san - a true disciple of asceticism - didn’t seem to care much! The first part of the ride was along Atsugi Kaido until the 7/11 turn-off…not very pleasant. After loading up on goodies to eat along the way, all 9 of us continued direction Lake Tanzawa until the red-iron bridge which is as far automobile traffic is allowed. Thomas, Deej and Mike turned out to be the stronger riders today…very impressive.

Following a brief rest, we one by one passed the gate on the other side of the bridge where the road surface appeared a lot rougher. In between the fallen leaves would lurk big chunks of razor-sharp rock and with the sunglasses on it was almost impossible to distinguish them! We passed 2 groups of riders who were mending punctures. Soon afterwards, I suffered the same fate…the Michelin Pro3 front tire suffered a side cut near the valve and I was instantly flat! Hiroshi later told me this mountain road is a noted place for “side cuts”…only with Panaracer Duro tyres one has a fair chance of completing this road unscathed! I already placed an order for a pair of these tough-looking tires.

Fortunately for me, Thomas was carrying a piece of tire for mending side cuts…a never-failing remedy taught by his mamacharin shop and it did the job for the rest of the day! Nishibe-san – also on Michelin Pros – mended his side cut with a 1,000 yen bill…a very old trick which worked so well for him that he swore he would continue to ride the same tire with the bill still tucked inside!

After another 7/11 stop for gulping down high-energy “stamina” tonics (Nishibe-san’s minuscule bottle cost more than 300 yen!), we were all set to attack Mikuni-toge 三国峠 the highlight of today’s course. Thomas and Deej broke away from the start and I tried in vain to stay in their wheel. Mike’s powerful legs overtook me soon afterwards but I somehow managed to keep the gap within a 200 meter range just enough to watch him disappear behind every next bend. I scaled Mikuni in 4th position not too far behind and with Mike and Thomas already in sight. Congratulations Deej! You already got the stamina needed to emerge victorious at Hotaka! It'll be a close contest but remember...the longer the ride, the stronger I get!

The four of us took pictures at the Mikuni Panorama spot commanding a magnificent view of Fujisan. At the Yamanakako 7/11 we all celebrated with a can of beer (a tiny one for me)! In view of our return over Otarumi-toge, Nishibe-san and I decided to depart a little “hitoashi-osaki-ni” ahead leaving our TCC mates of the day behind. Near Fuchu, we witnessed a beautiful “urokugumo” formation of sunset-lit cirrocumulus clouds…What a beautiful autumn day it was…surely the best time for cycling!

Also featured among the pictures below is another secret weapon of mine for Hotaka...salt-laden candies (no cramps today) !

zondag 21 september 2008

Karibazaka-touge Quickie

Met Philip of TCC at 7:20 this morning...we had both arrived at Sekidobashi 10 minutes before appointed time. I immediately knew I was in for a non-nonsense ride when Philip greeted me and proceeded to ride down under the bridge...no stop, no chitchat...how nice for a change!

Philip took the lead from the very start and that's the position he would be in for almost the entire ride including all the hills...what an athlete (Philip regularly takes part in triathlons in Japan and overseas - I understand he's a fast swimmer and runner too...really puts people like me who can only do a bit of cycling to shame) !

Our first break came at the Higashi-Ome 7/11...I looked for my favorite "mini daifuku" but there was only 1 left...one with mango puree inside (ideal for cycling I think). While I kept drinking sweet stuff (grape juice, coffee, etc.), Philip wisely stuck to sports drinks and on the harder climbs I saw him drink profusely and then he would suddenly increase speed with 3 to 4 km/h...wow....the power of salt...the solution to my cramp problem!!

We both summited Shomaru-toge at the same time, however, no pause was taken here! I happily realized I was doing a most effective Hotaka rehearsal. I did the descent ultra carefully....it had by then started to drizzle and the road was wet and slippery with fallen leaves and moss.

At the bottom, we straightaway began the climb towards the top of Karibazaka-touge instead of turning right onto R299. Again it was Philip who was pulling up front and widening the gap between us. Once in a while I was able to catch my breath and go en danseuse shortening the distance separating us up to 10 meters but each time Philip managed to pull away. He was really gone and out of sight (and that's not only because the road had almost completely misted over) for the final 700 meters...a powerful sprint leaving me completely debilitated!

For the return trip we took exactly the same route this time with stop at the Shomaru-toge teahouse for drinks. As we approached Ome, the fine misty rain changed into a rather heavy slanting rain. Philip's back wheel was a real squirt gun preventing me from drafting!

The police who had been lurking near every traffic light on the (Shin) Okutama-kaido in the morning were either on a lunch break or gone back to their office afraid to get wet feet. It seems the Autumn Road Safety Campaign has started again...go after those motorcycle gangs and leave us innocent cyclist alone! Anyways, Philip & I would obey every single traffic light. As by magic, every single one turned red whenever we were 30 meters or so close - I bet those policemen had a remote control hidden behind their back!

Back on the Tamagawa CR, I finally got the guts to do some riding up front after more than 120km riding like a miserable parasite! I think Travis of TCC uses the word - I don't know if it is Australian slang - "flat-arsing" for the kind of riding we did...on the flat, we were both going neck-and-neck at 38~40km/h !

I checked my cycle computer once home: exactly 140k and an average of 25.5km/h (with all those traffic lights and hills)!

Thanks a lot Philip for this superduper no-nonsense ride! See you again in a few days!

zaterdag 20 september 2008

Migotoni damasareta!

Crazy weather forecasters in this country...it seems that everytime a typhoon approaches, they have a viable excuse to scamp their work and then blame their mistake on the supercomputers...how irresponsible! Probability for rain was supposedly 100% and we had no choice therefore but to call off a long ride including Mikuni-toge (postponed to this coming Tuesday!).

I slept long this morning and when I peaked out of the window...guess what! Blue skies!! I hastily got my bike ready and left a little after 9:00. I did a repeat of the ride I enjoyed with the TCC people earlier this month...Karibazaka-toge 刈場坂峠 but missed the entrance point somewhere and instead summited Kaaburi-toge 顔振峠, Kasasugi-toge 傘杉峠 and a couple more mini-toges within short range of each other before I reached Karibazaka-toge. Today's route was a not so steep. The Fulcrum Racing 3 front wheel acted strangely...it was moving sideways about 1mm across the axle. Going down Shomaru-toge last time, I hit a pothole and ever since the wheel has not been normal. Might send it back to the manufacturer...

As usual when I'm cycling solo, I took quite a number of pictures...following is today's best selection. This week-long "Higan" Buddhist observance of the autumn equinox has started. On my way to the summit of Kaoburi-toge, I saw some handsome "Higanbana," a kind of amaryllis growing in clusters. The fragrance of kinmokusei was also in the air...sublime!

zondag 14 september 2008


Could only ride 100km today...hectic things going on around the house...

For a change, I decided to try out one of Hiroshi's standard half-day routes going up the suggestive-sounding hill of Bijotani-toge 美女谷峠 tucked away somewhere between Sagamiko and Wada-toge. I now understand why the route is not a very popular one...the first half has some crazy steep sections and a rather poor road surface but still bearable. The worst part comes after the gate. The second half is now permanently closed to all traffic...lots of 危険 and 立ち入り禁止 sign boards...

Landslides, caved-in and slimy stretches of road, rocks all over...even on a MTB this pathway must be quite a challenge. Once in while though there were some very pleasant and flat parts commanding impressive mountain views...such a pity this forestry road is now completely abandoned and not getting any repair work.
Today I rode my Colnago for the first time in more than half a year and the comfort of the compact crankset produced quite a "emollient" effect on my legs still aching from yesterday's brisk ride with Deej (his cycle computer had recorded an average speed of 25km/h+...with all those hills!) I also re-discovered the bottom bracket on the CLX has an acceptable whip and is stiff enough for some serious danseuse.
Now I'm not sure with which bike to enter Giro de Hotaka...for the day 1 hillclimb TT, I could certainly profit from the compact drive but on day 2, I' like to have the Sirius Ti-1 52X12 power for the downhills and flying over those long undulating sections....ouch! I can already feel my thighs cramping up again!

zaterdag 13 september 2008

Cramps !

The Two-man Early Bird Express left Sekidobashi at 5:25 precisely this morning! I left home at 4:50 in pitch darkness. Using the TCC website, a “short” Hotaka training got onto wheels and at one point it looked like we would be a four-man formation…

Always happy to leave before daybreak, I gladly accepted Deej’s offer for an early start. As soon as we met, I sounded Deej out about his mongen and was happy to learn we would have enough time to “squeeze in” one more little hill…Makime-toge 牧馬峠in between Otarumi and Hinazuru-toge, making today’s toges a toll of six, two of which 1,000m-plussers.

Deej and I tactfully navigated the dog walkers and joggers along the Asakawa CR and we reached the Takao 7/11 by 6:30. With today’s heavy program, it was unanimously decided to cut the habitual Otarumi TT. Nevertheless, Deej was powerfully pulling ahead and I could barely catch up!

There was quite a bit of traffic on the wooded approach to Makime…for a moment we feared the effect of the sanrenkyu long weekend for the remainder our ride but fortunately it turned out to be only an isolated instance of jammed vehicles (almost lost my balance trying an impromptu “surplace”!). After we summited Makime, the map in my mind suddenly got turned upside down and I ended up guiding Deej direction Doshimichi & Yamanakako! A nice country road it was though and it felt like it was always sloping downwards regardless of the direction we were cycling in…rather mystifying.

I got us on the right road to Akiyama-mura and Hinazuru-toge soon afterwards. We needed to refill our bottles and stopped at the famous manju-ya where the obachans had a cosy fireplace going. Deej and I were chitchatting about the beautiful nature of Montana and the very likely prospect of the U.S.A. staging a “Tour of the United States” of the same caliber or even more grandiose in terms of spectacular mountain sceneries than the French Tour…and before we knew it, we had reached the Hinazuru tunnel.
The descent following Hinazuru is one of my favorites especially when you can prolong it all the way to the Tsuru 7/11…extremely fast and smooth cornering! Today’s plan was to scale Suzugane-toge, one of the most pastoral little hills in all of Yamanashi I think. We turned right at the road leading to the British Garden Country Club. On top we decided to take a break for some solid food. A weird creature had nestled itself into Deej’s rear brake…a sticky, slimy ball…what could it be? A Belgian mussel perhaps? Strangely enough once home, I found the same creature stuck in the sole of my shoes…it almost wouldn’t let go. Following this appetizing encounter, we cautiously winded our way down direction Saruhashi.

Coming up next is the “M”…Matsuhime-toge…Deej confessed he was somewhat “nervous” about this young lady but who wouldn’t get tense? She may be noble yet she is by no means gentle! (remember that one Simon!). Along the way, we ran into Steve and his mate who was mending a punc. As we were slowly running out of time we bid farewell and continued our climb. Deej had by then left all of his initial jitters behind and kept widening the distance between us. I had to work with all my might to keep the gap within a 200~300 range. Deej had clearly defeated me and yet almost near the top where it gets relatively flatter, I suddenly saw Deej violently swinging from one side of the road to the other. Something’s not normal…I had almost caught up as we both reached the summit. It became obvious that Princess Matsuhime had casted a spell onto poor Deej turning him into a shivering physical wreck about to burst. Very providentially, winds got broken (plenty of them) allowing us to enjoy an accident-free descent down to the village office of Kosuge. Time to refill bottles again (no more Pepsi, just plain water please)!

Ten minutes later we ran into nobody else than Lee on his own secret Hotaka training…quite a heavy program too…Kazahari-rindo, Matsuhime, Oo-toge…no small beer!

I learned to my surprise that today was the very first time for Deej to cross Okutamako and climb Kazahari from this side. Exhaustion was nearing its peak and we were going at a katatsumuri’s pace dragging along an elderly but die-hard Nalshima gentleman in our wake. Near the first parking lot, the Nalshima guy overtook me while “complimenting” me on my “guddo pe-su!”

Chikushou…I’ll get you man!...and I sure did…storming past him at the 12km spot with 1 more K to go! Revenge always tastes sweet! At Tomin-no-mori, I waited a bit for Deej to catch up. We were ready for what we thought would be a superfast descent all the way to Itsukaichi…

Alas, it was not that fast…at first the cramps in both upper thighs seemed mild and bearable by simply slowing down a bit. But right at that hilly section where those コーヒー signs appear, both thighs went into convulsions…what a terrible pain! I could barely get out of my saddle and had to clamp myself tightly onto the mountainside wired net. I saw my thighs quiver almost in a spasmodic fashion. Must have been quite a scene! A Samaritan Gaijin Hells Angel even stopped his Harley to inquire if we were doing all right. “Thanks…just cramps, we’ll be fine!”

Some fifteen minutes got lost right there…I started to have strange visions, even beginning to hallucinate the appearance of tiny spandex-clad Amazonian cyclists…like black widows…(later Deej divulged that one of those seductive creatures had actually passed us…ah…should have kept my eyes open more widely…)

The hallucinations suddenly disappeared as we dismounted from our bikes in front of the Itsukaichi 7/11. Here I met members of Keihin Pista Club, the same Kawasaki-based pista club Hiroshi belongs to. Time for a souvenir picture…nice guys…the one in black is a celebrated sprinter, Hiroshi tells me.

Deej and I decided to skip the Ishikawa Brewery…we had lost too much time already and trying to make up for my long, unintended pause, I gave a little pace-setting demonstration as good as I can but maybe not as fast…I was still feeling the aftereffect of the cramps. How to effectively deal with those will be my biggest task I must clear before the Hotaka Giro…but why am I getting them in the first place?…I did do my stretching exercises before I left this morning…could it be today’s moisture-laden air? No idea.

I parted from Deej at Koremasa Bridge…I am so happy that I could share these joyful and painful moments with this lion-hearted fellow today!