zaterdag 24 mei 2008

Wada quickie

Expecting plenty of rain halfway my ride, I took my precautions and mounted my Shimano Cheapos on the VLAAMS. Somehow the chain was not taking the sprocket very well and much to my chagrin, I could only use the outer 3 and inner 2 cogs, the other five ones in between making an awful noise as if intent to snap my chain into pieces. I suppose my rear derailleur must have been pushed out of position when rinko-ing from Itoigawa last week...that's why I don't like to take my bike on the train or in a car; most of the time something goes wrong. I'm a poor mechanic and if I try to fix a mechanical trouble, I usually end up creating even greater havoc.

Anyways, since this was a last training ride ahead of next week's Mt. Fuji Hill Climb, I tried some positive thinking a la Positivo Espresso making myself believe that climbing the Wada without access to the mid-range gears would be an excellent preparation for next week's ordeal.

Just as I was mounting my VLAAMS following yet another desparate effort to make those mid-range cogs work again, two guys - foreigners even!- passed me at an incredible speed...reprimanding me for getting back on the road without first checking oncoming traffic! Usually I am the guy shouting at people when they dare to make such dangerous maneuvers in front of me. Since this was after all Asakawa Cycling Road, entrance to my home turf where I like to think of myself as the absolute conquistador, it had never occured to me to look back. I instinctively decided to chase both guys but to preserve my inner pride, I stopped my pursuit intentionally and left a gap of 4 to 5 meters between us so as not to appear as a drafting parasite.

At that point, I heard a familiar voice behind me..."don't tell me this is a coincidence!" I looked to my side and sure enough there was Thomas! Two titaniums side by side. Thomas - always the p(e)acemaker - kindly introduced me to the two guys up front, we shook hands still cruising at 35km/h and made peace with each other. Turned out we were all heading toward the same destination...Wada-touge. While the destination was the same, we had different routes in mind: Thomas was going to take Philip and Christoph on a "reverse Wada" (from Fujino, I guess) whereas I was already leading our group towards the entry of the "normal Wada".

We took a brief rest at the Lawson on the corner and then I rode in front all the way to the foot of the Wada. For the rest of the climb, however, I lingered far behind - rather untypical for me - trying in vain to find the right cadence....impossible! Without those mid-range gears, no way I could move up any faster. Fortunately, my "final low" - but nothing else - gear was still operative. Then I saw Thomas struggling ahead...he described to me what sounded like the same malfunction as my sprocket...sabotage?? Thomas decided to walk the last 600 meters to the top where I asked a hapless cyclist who had just reached the summit from the other side almost completely out of breath to take our picture in front of the dilapidated witch house...if you look closely enough, you can see the yamamba stare into the lens. If you listen carefully enough, you can even hear her threaten "何か買ってくれないと..." in that bloodcurdling voice of hers!

Thomas decided to head back home as the mechanical trouble was getting worse. I guided Philip and Christoph on their first ride-through of Yuzurigahara (the slope with the circles in the concrete) all the way to the Kobu tunnels. Normally I love those ups and downs in this particular stretch but not today! I fell behind again but my mates of the day kindly waited for me to catch up in front of the tunnel's entrance. The descent was fast as always without much braking needed - very smooth and winding. The 23C tyres on my Shimano Cheapos are definitely superior to the 20Cs I normally use for hillclimb races. After another "conbini stop," we were back on the Tamagawa CR in no time. This time Christoph did most of the pulling up front in a style reminiscent of his compatriot Jan Ulrich with whom he also shares the same age! Fast that if there was no headwind... At some point, a Japanese guy offered to take the lead and the pace went up even higher. Luckily for me, my turning point came soon afterwards and after I bid my companions farewell, I rode the remaining 5km at a real slow beat! Guys...let's go again one of these days!

Once home, I exchanged the Shimano Cheapo for the Ksyrium ES and the sprocket seemed to work much better already...with next week's race and to make doubly sure, I rode to Friend Shokai in Nishi-Kokubunji, the bike shop I have been patronizing for three years now, to have my favorite mechanic there fix the malfunction. What a difference & what a joy to be able to use the mid-range again!

zondag 18 mei 2008

The 37th Classic 300km Endurance Race…symbiotic cycling

For a Lot Of Fun Riders
Finished in 6th place
out of 375 finishers !
Time: 9:52:58 / Average Speed: 29.51

I made it without accident & mishaps, so did the rest of Team Positivo Espresso! The race turned out to be less excruciating on the physique than I had imagined…easier than some of my longer rides in and around Yamanashi that is.

The evening before the ride, I checked the Sirius Ti-1 thoroughly once more, inspecting the torque of every single bolt. Then I got my cycling gear ready, liberally applying Oronine Ointment on the bib’s chamois to prevent heat rash. I discovered this Oronine does the job of keeping my delicate cheeks soft and ready for the next ride perfectly well + it costs a lot less than the Assos product (I really think Assos products are ridiculously and unforgivably overpriced).

Retired to bed at 9:00 for a mostly sleepless night because of nervousness and woke up at 3:00 am. Fixed myself a good breakfast…a cup of strong coffee, home-baked dark bread with white creamy honey from the local honey farm in Fuchu, sugarless yoghurt with a sliced banana…and 45 minutes later I was on the saddle. Reached Tamagawa CR in 10 minutes flat…some sections of the cycling road were almost pitch-dark and looking at the brightly lit-up mansions in Seiseki Sakuragaoka from the river was like staring down from a plane window at towns glowing far below. I reached the Takaozan-guchi parking lot past daybreak around 5:00 (much too early). I soon recognized the organizer, Takahashi-san and we had a brief chat. About an hour or so later, the rest of Team Positivo Espresso showed up and I took custody of the brand-new jersey which had freshly arrived from Sofia, Bulgaria. I thought our team looked really impressive in them – too bad the jersey of our female ace-rider from Germany had not yet arrived. Some contestants with the same starting time as our team asked to have their picture taken together with us…because of the rarity of gaijins in this type of race or because we looked so good in the jersey…perhaps both.

After about 7 minutes or so with David leading the last group of the day leaving at 6:30, I decided to go for it, got into a higher gear and left my teammates behind feeling “like a snake in the grass” and fearing I would never be forgiven for my disloyalty. Meeting and conversing with many riders along the way helped me clear my bad conscience though. I met several really nice people on the road, Greg from England with his Sigma Team and his lady who would cheer him on from every other convenience store parking and one elderly gentleman cycling with a superb cadence who stayed with me for quite a distance as we took turns rotating. At the end of the race, I discovered this gentleman is a famous and regular contestant in this event….Mr. Hosoyama for whom this was his 22nd Tokyo→Itoigawa! Mr. Hosoyama is a rare breed of ardent cyclist and builder of a very distinctive line of road racers under the brand of QUARK

The first CP at the Sasago tunnel entrance was a disaster in terms of provands…there was only water, chocolate candies and one single banana left (which I took of course). I suspect a “keisan misu” on the organizer’s side but otherwise the entire event was impeccably well coordinated. The second Nirasaki CP was much better…onigiris, o-inarisans, bananas…a “mantan” bottle fill-up…the bottle I had chosen for this event was a souvenir from Germany Michael had presented to core members…Xtreme-1000ml…a very prized item indeed on extra long rides like this. The nice thing about this bottle is not only its huge capacity but also the milliliter marks printed on it enabling one to gauge the amount of “gasoline” left. When I reached the 3rd and 4th CP, I would only have like 100ml left…red reserve zone!

Striking deals without negotiating! Finding myself on a totally unfamiliar parcourse not knowing when and where to turn, I did this four or five times not as an intentional strategy but as a matter of course! I would increase speed until the next fast-looking guy ahead, greet him and ask him if he knew the way…whenever a positive-enough answer came back, I would go in front, ride him out of the wind and do all the pulling for the next 10 or so kilometers as a way of showing my appreciation…symbiotic riding so to speak. One group of four somewhat geeky-looking riders even proudly guided me on what they proclaimed to be a “sho-tokatto!” When I checked my cycle computer afterwards, I discovered it most probably was a shortcut (but I won’t tell you how many kilometers this one saved me!)

At one crucial turn point however, I was with 5 others leading the whole group and not knowing whether I should take a left turn, I looked behind me but saw no consensus on their faces…in a fraction of a second I decided to follow the guy with the most self-assured look in his eye and proceeded straight ahead for about 1 km until 2 riders came from the opposite side shouting “wrong road…back!!!”. Shoot…must have lost some precious time there…my guess is 8 minutes.

I lost some more very precious time at the 4th Hakuba CP, where I really needed to take a bathroom break…turned out I had to get out of my race shoes, don some silly supermarket (Hapia A-Coop) slippers only to find out that the bathroom was way on the other side! 7 minutes lost! Should have opted for the old road-side tree saving 6 minutes! Nevertheless, those checkpoints in between each time came at exactly the right moment for me.

After gobbling 3 o-inarisans at the last checkpoint (they tasted great!), I started off for the last stretch all by myself but this time with big signboards overhead showing ITOIGAWA on them. As I was fighting against a strong headwind, much like the one usually encountered on the Tamagawa CR in the evening, a group of 6 riders riding in train-formation overtook me but I had no difficulty in climbing on their bandwagon and stay there for the remainder of the ride. Very luckily because what followed would have been a real nightmare if alone….a succession of endless – albeit very fast – tunnels with huge trucks coming from behind at full speed blowing their horns in frustration at not being able to pass. At the exit of one of those longer tunnels, the truck driver I guess out of revenge and irritation knew nothing better than slamming his brakes right in front of us almost causing a pile-up…simply flabbergasting behavior in a supposedly peaceful country like Japan…this is akin to attempted murder!

After this spine-chilling confrontation, our group continued direction Itoigawa…this time however; I refused to take the lead and stayed in the middle of the pack. Only 2 guys were taking turns until all of a sudden – with the sight of more mountains in front of me – came a left turn followed by an arch I immediately recognized from pictures…the Hotel Itoigawa finish line…really took me by surprise! I almost couldn’t believe my own eyes…I had just reached the goal! Two guys who like me had not taken turns up front, tried to launch a sprint and I was about to throw myself in their wake but then all the others loudly protested! Very puzzling….anyways I cut the little sprint short and simply let my VLAAMS roll over the finish line.

It was around 4:20 and my cycle computer read 29.7km/h as moving average….a bit under my target but I felt enormously relieved and satisfied. Hosoyama-san was already there sipping his beer…I would empty three glasses myself and sample some dishes prepared by the hotel while waiting for the rest of the team to arrive…the chilled tomato with salt tasted the best! The atmosphere at the arrival was very special and I had a good time enjoying a colorful sunset and talking with other participants until I saw a very fast train of 4 riders crossing the finish line…team happily reunited after a little more than twelve hours!

An hour or so later loaded with sake, beer and 5 huge bento boxes, we cycled to our final destination, Kannoya Ryokan…a century-old Japanese-style hotel famous for its jade stone bath with proprietors of the third-generation…a very friendly couple keeping the family business alive.

I think each of us had a great quality time weekend, I certainly did and hopefully next year another team can be put together again for this truly epic ride!

zondag 11 mei 2008

Training in the rain

The entire Kanto area this weekend was covered under grey skies with plenty of rainfall on Saturday and a drizzly rain this morning. With the big "race" event next weekend, I was determined to get in my weekly training - no matter how short - so I left the house at 9:00 in a fine misty rain. I had changed my wheels to my cheapo & heavy Shimanos that orginally came with my Gios cyclocross bike and was happily surprised with their smoothness and good balance in combination with the VLAAMS frame. Shimano proves once more that low-cost does not necessarily mean poor quality. I intend to use these sturdy wheels more often now just for training on rainy days. I'm glad all the rain seems to falling at this time, emptying the heavenly bucket to the last drop before next Saturday...

Climbing the Takao Otarumi-toge, I made up my mind in terms of bicycle choice for the Itoigawa race. Yep, I'll be riding my Sirius Ti-1! Not sure about which wheels and tyres to fit on though...perhaps my Ksyrium ES wheels for their lightness and the Michelin Krylion tyres for their superior puncture-resistance...

On my way back over Otarumi, I got caught several times in more serious rainshowers which fortunately didn't last too long and arrived back home just before noon. Looks like it is getting much brighter out now...maybe I ought to get in another training session...

vrijdag 9 mei 2008

The 37th Tokyo → Itoigawa Fast Run Classic

第37回 東京→糸魚川 ファストラン・クラシック

"Nope, not The GIRO, not The TOUR, we are going for ITOIGAWA!"

~ 294 kilometers in 1 day ~

Only 8 days left until the ultimate one-day cycling challenge of epic proportions! This year, I will be participating for the first time with members of Positivo Espresso in this race also dubbed “The Hardest One-Day Cycling Event in Japan”.

This event originally started as a grueling training exercise for hazing new Meiji University Cycling Club members. As members graduated and started going out into the real world as “shakaijin old boys,” the organizers at some point began to accept cyclists with no affiliation to the famed university. Today, this major tradition is kept alive thanks to the voluntary efforts of the OB Committee currently being headed by Takahashi-san.

Last year, there were more than 400 participants; however, I was told it is very difficult to sign up for this race without the proper introductions. Fortunately, Takahashi-san was very forthcoming and kindly instructed me how to get the team signed up with less than 2 days left until the deadline.

This year’s course is 3km longer than last year and starts at the parking lot of Takaozan-guchi. Team Positivo Espresso will start with five members at 6:30 and the idea is to stay together as long as possible – at least until the top of Otarumi-toge (???). Other étapes are Otsuki, Sasago-tunnel (the notorious 3-K tunnel...Kitanai, Kitsui, Kiken - dirty, grueling and dangerous), Kofu, Nirasaki, Shinanosakai, Fujimi-toge, Shimo-Suwa, Shiojiri-toge, Matsumoto, Toyoshina, Hotakamachi, Omachi, Hakuba, Himekawa-onsen, Nechi-eki and finally Hotel Itoigawa.

In between there are 4 check-points (CPs) were volunteers (mostly family/club members of participants) will be distributing proviants (bananas, onigiris, o-inari-sans, Weider-In-Energy Jelly…): ① Sasago CP (Renga-tei), ② Nirasaki CP (Marunoya), ③ Shiojiri CP (Kosakada Park) and ④ Omachi CP (JA Omachi). Riders who fail to reach the Omachi CP by 17:30 (cutoff point), will be asked to abandon the race and proceed to Hotel Itoigawa by bus….

I checked last year’s results and noticed that the fastest guy did the race in less than 9 hours (average speed of 32.47 km/h!!). The fastest gal did it in 10 hours and a half averaging 27.3 km/h!!.

My own (over)ambitious target is to finish with an average speed of 30 km/h+…

Source: illustration taken from last year's Jitenshajin 自転車人 Magazine

dinsdag 6 mei 2008


Today was Team NFCC's Golden Week Mountain event which will hopefully become a tradition for the team. With 9 members, seven of them wearing the new jersey, we looked quite flashy on the road and under a blue sky. Kenichi led the pack along the Tamagawa CR to Ome Station where Alain was waiting for us. After a short break at the 7/11, we proceeded along Yoshino Kaido until Kori where we crossed Tamagawa and made a U-turn towards Ikusabata, our entrance point into Saitama Pref. territory. This road leading to Naguri is notorious for the many dump trucks that can be a real menace on weekdays and Saturdays. Today, however, there were only motorbikes and passenger cars. Before starting our climb of Yamabushi-toge, just as our drink bottles were about empty, we hit an oasis in the form of Arai-Fudo-no-Taki-Meisui 新井不動の滝 名水, an allegedly divine miracle water which admittedly had a sweet and pleasant aftertaste about it. This water, supposed to be effective for all kinds of diseases, was dripping from a small hose attached to the Fudo Myo-O (Acala Buddhist divinity of wisdom and fire) waterfall above. We made another stop at the summit of Yamabushi-toge 山伏峠 for everyone to catch up before rounding off the major climbing with Shomaru-toge正丸峠 a couple kilometers away. At the lookout platform commanding a panoramic view of Tokyo, Michael tried in vain to zoom in on Kabukicho but the entire Shinjuku and Tokyo area was covered in haze. Downhills can be very thrilling but I don't like them when there are blind corners with oncoming traffic. Michael tumbled off his Cervelo at the edge of the road trying to evade a car that had crossed the center line and fortunately for him damage was limited to a bruised neck only. After we scaled Sanno 山王峠 and a couple more "puchi-toges," (mini-mountain passes) I asked Michael to take me to that famous "Aurore" bakery in Ome (bakery chain with presence concentrated along Keio/Odakyu railroad stations). Positivo Espresso's "choice No.1" favorite roll had a great calorie-laden taste! Michael and I parted from the rest and we rode back in real Positive Espresso style...reigning the roads at full speed!

a photo taken at Arai-Fudo-no-Meisui , Yamabushi-toge and Shomaru-toge...

zondag 4 mei 2008


Like every year with Golden Week, I took my wife out on the bike for a 80KM+ ride to the foot of Wada-toge ! Part of this annual ritual is a tempura-soba lunch at Yuyake-Koyake.

The weather was partly sunny partly cloudy but no rainfall even in the mountains. I had refitted my Orbea Onix with a women-specific saddle, "normal" pedals and a narrow, short-reach handlebar. For my wife it was the first time to make the trip on a real road racer and she felt a bit nervous.

Jinba Kaido leading to Wada-toge had a lot of traffic on it, mostly people going to the Asakawa tsuribori fishing/BBQ spot and there plenty of them. When we reached Yuyake-Koyake after about two hours on the saddle, it was only still 10:00...too early for lunch, so I challenged my wife to try Wada Stage One...which she did successfully! Climbing works just fine , however, for her it is the downhill part that proves to be the most challenging.

At lunch, she mentioned how her hands and wrists were aching from all the braking! The tempura that went with the soba noodles tasted fantastic...fukinotou 蕗の薹, yukinoshita ユキノシタ, taranome たらの芽 and some other delicious spring sprouts fresh from the mountains. I had a local Tama red ale beer which tasted real good...a bit regrettable that it was not served in a fancy, wide glass so you can enjoy the foam and aroma better.

The return trip went smooth but distance was taking its toll on my wife...speed dropped down to that of a mamachari for the last 5km or so. My buddies from Positivo Espresso must be cycling in Izu Hanto today...some of them might join Tuesday's ride into Saitama with Team NFCC members. Tomorrow I'm planning my monster ride of 240km+ to Enzan.

vrijdag 2 mei 2008


This year's Golden Week vacation has only little gold about it...too short with national holidays falling on the weekend. To enjoy at least 5 consecutive days of vacation I had taken a paid holiday hoping the weather would be nice as it usually is during this time of the year.

The weather forecast didn't look very promising with 70% chance of rainfall. When I left the house at 6:30 the overcast skies looked bright enough I thought for a long ride without rain so I set out for Wada, Tawa and Tsuru. Following my descend of Wada, I ran into a string of colorful koinobori.

Near the top of Tsuru I felt the first raindrops and decided to cut my ride short (I had hoped to go to Enzan) and return via Kazahari. The long downhill stretch where I usually hit +70 km/h speeds was very wet, a rain shower must have passed through the area right before. Just to be on the safe side, I slowed down and only reached 64 km/h. Bought a manju bun at my favorite shop and proceeded to Tomin-no-mori from the lake side. Because most people are still at work, the Kazahari road was pretty much deserted.

On my way down to Itsukaichi it all of a sudden began to rain quite heavily. I felt more sorry for my new VLAAMS Sirius than myself! The white NFCC uniform was in no time covered in oily black spots...many of them to stay there forever I'm afraid.

Between Itsukaichi and Tamagawa the road was dry again but once on the Tamagawa cycling road, it began to rain again. Spent some extra time cleaning and waxing my titanium mustang. Wax works on titanium better than I thought giving it a nice and even gloss. In spite of the rain, I am happy I got another "century ride" (100 miles/160km) in today.

Tomorrow looks like rain again but Sunday should be sunny!