zaterdag 29 november 2008

Op zijn VLAAMS Koremasabashi @ 6:30

Rode for the first time with members of the VLAAMS team of Ken Hashikawa. On the invitation of Ichiro, I joined the team which is really a loose group of hobby cyclists keeping in touch with each other through a common website created for the members only - a bit like TCC.

The team - or more correctly - the Tamagawa-section of the team - has the nice habit of staging rides every weekend leaving the Koremasa bridge at 6:30 in winter and earlier in summer. Met 3 more members today and rode with 2 of them direction Kazahari up to the Kobu tunnel Y-fork. The pace was very nice, not too fast not too slow... We had a little chat before I continued my reverse OHSMK-loop. The team has the tradition to cycle regularly to Kamakura in the winter months as the mountains get too dangerous with ice. I look forward to more rides with the VLAAMS team members!

It was only 5 degrees at Tomin-n0-mori but it didn't feel that cold. On my next climb of Matsuhime, it started to drizzle even though there were many patches of blue sky. There was this one big and low-hanging dark cloud that would keep following me all the way to Otarumi-toge! Fortunately, I didn't get too wet and I had my windbreaker to protect me. Near Saruhashi, I went to the local supermarket that has an oven-fresh bakery in it...I took one big piece of bread with cheese fondue in it....delicious...never seen in Tokyo!

I got home at 3:15 having covered 203km at an average of 24.5km/h.

maandag 24 november 2008

Morning ride before the rain

Slept till 9:00 this morning...the bed felt so warm and comfortable! Fixed a can full of Kilimanjaro coffee and Belgian chicory to go with home-baked brown bread, apricot jam and chestnut spread... delicious! At 10:00, the sun was coming out so I decided to take my Sirius Ti-1 out for a short spin. On the Tamagawa cycling road I passed Goro in a fraction of a second and we stoically greeted each other with a raised open right hand as if to say: "hey there buddy, on the road too huh!" I went as far as Takao until the skies started to look a bit threatening. Back home, my nekome computer told me I had cycled 54km at an average of 28.7 km/h. Took a quick shower and went upstairs to find a steaming dish of macaroni au gratin on the table! Sipping at my third glass of red wine now...Carl Stamitz clarinet quartet playing in the background and rain falling on the roof...another heavenly day.

zondag 23 november 2008

...a lazy day off the saddle

spent with my new toy...Ricoh GR Digital II.

What an incredible tiny camera...it does everything...even my favorite square "6×6" format. I've decided to make this little fellow my companion on future solo rides!

zaterdag 22 november 2008

OHSMK-loop with TCC

Left home at 6:40 for a 7:00 rendezvous with some of the TCC faster guys. I decided to postpone the Chichibu Lake plan until a bit later in the season when most of the red leaves and koyo gazers are gone. Since traffic along the OHSMK-loop is relatively light any time of the year, the choice was easy.

Weather was splendid, views of Fujisan were breathtaking (wish I could’ve stopped to take more pictures)…and the company was most enjoyable too. At the Hinazuru manju shop, I met a guy from the VLAAMS team who told me that the team has sorties every Saturday leaving Koremasa bridge at 6:30…sounds perfect to me! Maybe I should join the VLAAMS team; after all, I am the proud owner of a VLAAMS bike…and I AM VLAAMS (Flemish that is)!

On the hillclimbs the pace of Mike, Clay and Sergey was simply too fast for me and I tried to stick to my own rhythm as much as I could in an effort to prevent cramps from re-occurring. They were back though on today’s last climb of the Kazahari…this time in the right upper thigh. Cramps have been pestering me for the past six months but I just cannot find the cause or a remedy for them. I find this predicament most frustrating as it doesn’t seem to be related to fatigue. Perhaps it is age…but I simply don’t want to admit that. Fortunately, I was able to catch up with Deej on the long Kazahari downhill and stay in his wheel…the drafting really rescued me. When I tried to take over and do some pulling…I could feel the calf muscle cramps slowly gaining control again. Still Deej and I managed to keep a steady pace and we had almost caught up with Clay and Sergey as we arrived at the Itsukaichi 7/11.

Honoring promises and appointed times went extremely smooth and precise thanks to Philip’s superb organizing skills…such a pleasure. Too bad we had to miss Philip’s presence for the second half of today’s loop. The days are getting extremely short…it will be difficult to do another ride of this scale before the year is out. Coping with cold on longer rides is also quite an issue...it is easy to overdress (like I did today) or underdress and in both cases one ends up shivery. In spite of the cramps and coldness, today was another superb cycling day I will remember for a long time!

donderdag 20 november 2008

Long weekend ride plan

Labor Thanksgiving Long Weekend coming up and weather forecast is looking good…all right! Several options…join the Positivo Espresso late local train stopping at every station including at Aurore, join the TCC super express on the well-trodden OHSMK path or go solo exploring some new extremities…

Whatever option I go for, I intend to take an early start leaving home around 6:15…

Michael (a.k.a. MOB) proposed a ride to Mitsumine Shrine in Chichibu the other day and even blueprinted the route on Positivo Espresso’s blog…somehow the route looks very inviting to me with the presence of Chichibu Lake, a lake I had not heard of before… What makes Michael’s proposition even more titillating is the Mitsumine-san 三峰山 mountain formation bundling together Kumotori-yama 雲取山 (2017m), Shiraiwa-yama白岩山 (1921.2m) and Myouhou-ga-take 妙法が岳 (1332m) in order of height. The prospect of being the very first Positivo Espresso member ever to crest this baby of course only adds to the excitement!

On the other hand, with the autumn leaves koyo season not yet over, it might be better to do this ride some other time…the map mentions an aerial cableway (it would seem like the “Mitsumine Ropeway” operations were terminated as recent as last year) and a “Visitor Center” and I can already imagine the place full of hikers, or worse, a road infested with taxis driving elderly hikers to the summit…I shouldn’t be too pessimistic though…one more day left to decide!

zondag 16 november 2008

Rainy weekend

Cycled only 116km this weekend...daughter's farewell party + King's Day celebration on Saturday and a rainy Sunday...

Did my standard 5h ride over Wada-toge through Yuzurihara to Kobu tunnel and down to Itsukaichi. The stretch between Yuzurihara and Kobu is temporarily closed to traffic for repairs and the traffic control man wouldn't let me pass at first. I told him I would take the steep narrow road shortcutting the road under construction but he still tried to stop me: "Ippansha wa dame desu !" I'm sure the old man meant 一般者 (people not living in the area cannot pass through) but I tried some logic-chopping on him: "I'm not an 一般車 (normal passenger car), I'm just a guy on bicycle and I know I can get through there because I've ridden this road many times!" He finally let me through, murmering something like: "kochi ga okorareru kara...I'm the one who will get scolded!" As I crested the steep shortcut, another elderly traffic control man was waiting for me and we had exactly the same argumentation! When I asked, the man answered the road is expected to remain closed off to general traffic until March next year...

The Yuzurihara-Hinohara area is still beautiful with autumnal hues around this time of the year.  

maandag 10 november 2008

A very chilly Hotaka Hillclimb and Giro

Took part last weekend in the 12th edition of “Hotaka Hillclimb”(武尊ヒルクライム)and the 2nd edition of the “Giro de HOTAKA” organized by Kodama-san and his sponsors. About 270 cyclists from all over Japan, including regular and famous contestants like Denis and Andy (last year’s winner with whom I also rode the Tokyo-Itoigawa Fast Run http://vlaamsewielrenner.blogspot.com/2008/05/37th-classic-300km-endurance.html) took part in one or both events.

This year, I signed up with my buddies from Tokyo Cycling Club, the BBS of which had served as a zestful arena for getting fully psyched up about this “Official TCC Tour”. As it turned out, 4 out of the 13 participating TCC members captured a podium place and/or special prize…with one young lady taking the gold medal on each day…another absolute record! Even the 敢闘賞 Fighting Spirit Prize went to a TCC lady... wow…that certainly shows for regularly cycling out with the boys!

I spent most of the weekend – in and out of the car - in the most humorful company of Deej, the world’s foremost connoisseur of canned coffee and our chauffeur-cum-triathlon specialist Philip. On our way home, both gentlemen bestowed on me the dubious honor of “Champ of the Car”…I didn’t know what they were referring to at first! After all the hype, Deej’s revelation that he (after all) had not signed up for the Day One hillclimb was something of an anticlimax…and poor Deej had to endure a fair amount of bullying...picky sissy, milquetoast, chicken heart, wimp…. His only solace was that he wasn’t the only TCC-er who had opted to forego the hillclimb’s cruelty in order to zero in on the Giro and honestly I respect that choice!

Waiting for our start amid near-freezing windchill-factored temperatures turned out to be the most excruciating part of the hillclimb time trial. The climb itself is only about 8 kilometers long ascending from 800 meter up to 1520m with the steepest gradient – the notorious 80-meter long wall – measuring about 22%. Even with 27T, I almost came to a complete standstill in the middle of the wall! This year, in view of the unseasonable cold and obviously to avoid riders developing full-blown hypothermia, the thoughtful and lenient organizers let us descend one after another.

The post-hillclimb soak at Hanasaki-no-yu onsen (not the best quality thermal spring if you ask me) eased away most of the pains and shivers endured on the Hotaka ski slope and soon afterwards the assemblage of the TCC brother- and sisterhoods (yes, segregated) took place at Pension “La Palette,” a cozy place (no kamemushi stinkbugs in the bed linen this year!) with a decent cuisine too. Kodama-san and his entourage dropped by towards the end of dinner with an 1.8-liter isshobin of nigorizake...how considerate!
The “Giro,” the real climax of Hotaka started in bitter coldness again - close to freezing point. At the top of the first hill, Konroku-toge坤六峠, the treetops were covered in snow. The race itself was quite eventful with Deej miraculously surviving an almost head-on collision with the walled overpass on the first Y-junction right after the start. Mike and I looked at each other in total disbelief…in the corner of my left eye and a fraction of a second, I saw Deej veer onto his feet …”he’ll be all right!” is how I tried to comfort myself and Mike. Both of us continued the speedy descent until the road started to flatten out and slowly go up. This is where we got joined by Philip and we tried to put a rotating machine into motion. Alas, the pace was too high for me and after seven or so rotations, I had to give up and let Mike and Philip take off on a fast train to be joined soon by Thomas. I tried to focus on my own pace and managed somehow to find my rhythm again. Suddenly, I heard someone call out my name…who could that be? There came Deej!...how happy and relieved I felt…Deej alive and kicking…”go for it Deej, GO!”

Along the 28km-long Konroku pass from Hirakawa, I overtook courageous Travis who had started in the first heat of the day and was going strong despite being hampered by the after-effects of a nasty collision recently. I also caught up with Philip and Thomas but forgot in which order. As the race developed, Thomas and I played cat and mouse, overtaking one another sometimes unknowingly (like when Thomas was pulling a windbraker over his head). On the descent of Konroku, a Japanese rider of Team Beach plunged by me like a whirlwind. Right after he passed me, however, a very sharp hairpin bend appeared and there was no way the hapless fellow could brake without crashing. And crashing he did, right in front of me, sliding and coming to a halt in the middle of the bend. "Daijobu desu ka??" No reply...

Thomas and I met again at the second aid station of Kamimoku 80km into the race. Thomas took more time and as he was having his bottle filled, I took off chasing a group of 5 riders to the top of Ishigami-toge, the second hill and caught up with them riding through the village of Kawaba. This is also where I passed Deej! Thomas is right at our heels! I "warned" Deej. On Semine-toge, the third and last serious hill of the day, Thomas finally caught up with me again and this time for good. I sensed the first signs of cramping muscles above my left knee and tried to keep the same pace by pulling more on the pedals with my right leg...I was still going at 13km/h on a 23T cog. Soon, however, muscles in my right thigh began to cramp as well just when the elderly guy (sixty-years old!) who was also staying at Pension Palette, drew level with me and we were having a friendly conversation. "I want to be as strong as you are when I'm sixty!" were my last words before he took off. I had everything under control...my breathing, my heart beat, my sanity...except my legs...they wouldn't listen no more!! For a lack of alternative, I put the chain in final low...27T and speed dropped to 7km/h as I crested Semine-toge. The same hill had given me a hell of a time last year as well.

For the last 10 kilometers of the race, I was mostly on my own and I looked backwards several times to check on my competition. Each time I tried to accelerate though, the cramps in both legs would reappear forcing me to slow down...so frustrating. Then, on the very last bend, right where Deej had crashed, I saw two riders approaching at a high speed...I simply couldn't face the affront of getting beaten right in front of the finish line and TCC's cheerleaders and pulled myself through the pain barrier with 100 more meters to go (look at the panic-stricken expression on my face - picture courtesy of Shinobu-san).

What a race...so glad it was over! On the stairs behind the organizers' desk, Alan, Mike, Clay and Thomas were already slurping their mushroom soup!

For the record: Class: 2 /Ranking: 9 / Zekken: 156 / Tom / Time: 4:41:51.22 / Average speed: 25.756 / Overall ranking: 18 / Team: TCC / 東京

zondag 2 november 2008

鬼の和田!

Another splendid autumn day! Went cycling as planned with my daughter...how nice! Along the Asakawa CR I spotted a yellow helmet and Lightweight wheels...there was Laurent in his red outfit. As we were riding different directions and different heights - us on the bank and Laurent down on the road - there was no way we could stop and chitchat so we rode on direction Takao.

My daughter had no problem keeping a steady pace averaging 25km/h all the way to Takao. We took a first rest stop at the suri-efu (3F) convenience store on the corner of Jinba Kaido leading to Yuyake Koyake. I tried to mentally prepare my daughter telling her how she would enjoy the tasseikan sense of accomplishment of cresting Wada-toge.
The first 700m of the climb went OK until those steep hairpin curves...somehow she managed to keep the pedals turning. There were many cars on the road today which didn't help making the climb easier. Elderly hikers would cheer my daughter on. I tried my bit...you're burning body fat...keep it up! We ended up stopping 5 times and each time I thought my daughter would give up...but she didn't...she was determined to make it all the way to the top!

And she did! How proud I was of my daughter. I told her that now she could conquer Wada, she can handle any mountain pass. Somehow she didn't look too happy....and then the words came over her lips...this is inhuman...demoniacal 鬼の和田 ! To which I replied: "Yes..but you just managed to slay the ogre!"

The parking lot was completely full with hikers' cars...business peaking for nezumi-otoko his yamamba....600 yen a car...crazy!

We doubled back and rode down very carefully and stopped once as my daughter's hands were cramping up from all the constant braking. At Y's we did some shopping..."full-finger" gloves for my daughter and a pair of knee-warmers for myself. Met Mumay's husband who told me he will be leaving with his wife for Okinawa next week! Next year I really want to participate in this race as well. The Okinawa event is probably the only real road race for amateurs in all of Japan. Tomorrow, if the weather is nice again, I plan to go on another long ride to Chichibu...leaving home early...VLAAMS is already in standby mode !

zaterdag 1 november 2008

Autumn, the best season for cycling

Mission completed on a fine autumn day...crested all 9 toges as planned...covering 260km in exactly 12 hours! Some photos: