zondag 31 mei 2009


Steel has feel. Steel's the deal. Steel heals. It's Surreal. Took my Neocot on her maiden voyage this morning leaving Koremasa Bridge at 5:20 with VLAAMS team members under threatening skies. Although I had put on my second lightest wheelset, the bike felt very heavy, or rather I should say dense when I lifted her up to carry her out of the house. Once I started riding though, the heaviness was completely gone, very surprising! Instead I found myself cruising on a very nimble frame at 40km/h down to the Fuchu Racecourse. Although it was only 5 'o clock in the morning, there were hundreds of people lining up in front of the racecourse. Today's is the Triple Crown Satsuki Sho Japan Derby and even Prime Minister Aso Taro is supposed to attend and try his luck. Somehow I find that gambling and betting on horses in public does not befit a Prime Minister. We were only three this morning and decided to do only a short ride over Otarumi using the Tachikawa bypass approach...so much nicer, safer and faster than the traditional Asakawa CR approach! By the time we reached Takao, the skies brightened up and the sun felt extremely hot. We all took turns riding up front and reached the top together. The Neocot felt very stiff and comfortable while climbing both in sitting and dancing positions. Stiffness surely does compensate for the extra weight. Going downhill, the steel frame came fully alive flying over those speed bumps and taking the corners very sharply. At the first traffic lights, we turned left and Ichiro-san and I continued riding around Sagamiko following Charles' route. At Fujino, the skies still looked assuring enough so we added a reverse Wada on the program of our morning training. I didn't want to crash my Neocot on her first ride so I did the Wada downhill, always very dangerous from this side, very cautiously letting Ichiro-san descend first. Once down, it was time for my heavy artillery...outer top of 53x12 how sweet! I got home at 10:00 with an average speed of 27.2km/h for a distance of 101 km. I almost feel like taking my Neocot to the Mt.Fuji Hillclimb race next week, that comfortable was my first ride on real steel!

maandag 25 mei 2009

Reubens Sport Sijsele

Took a day off from work today to recover from the Itoigawa endurance. It was still raining in the morning so I went to renew my drivers licence. As a yuuryou superior (!) driver, I only had to endure 30 minutes of "education" and part of today's lesson was a chapter on cyclists to my happy surprise. The instructor was reminding everyone present that cyclists are in fact allowed - and should - ride on the roadway but may under some conditions (kids under 13 and elderly people above 70) also use the sidewalk. The way this long-standing traffic rule was presented was very positive for us cyclists I thought and there was not a hint or attempt at all at bashing cyclists and pushing them off the road as has been reported in an overly-exaggerated way ("SHARE THE ROAD!") in some cycling magazines.

I had lunch at home with my wife (very rare!) and as we were sipping white dessert wine, the sun come through in full glory...time to try out my new cycling outfit! Near my parental home in West-Flanders, there is this very nice road racer shop with an excellent mechanic from Canada. For my BD, my parents got me the shop's original outfit. I left home at 13:30 and went for a mini Wada loop. The tensioning barrel got stuck probably from all the dirt on the long Itoigawa ride so I decided to visit Nishitani-san's shop. Nishitani-san fixed the problem in no time and told me my Neo-cot will be arriving some time next week! Great news...the neo-cot steel bke is going to be my slow bike for longer, more relaxed rides.

I learned in the meantime from Andy that I finished in sixth place overall and in third place in my own age group this year...not bad but next year I will again aim at a first age group place - with or without my assistants!

zondag 24 mei 2009


Back home unscathed from my second participation in the Tokyo→Itoigawa Classic 300km Endurance Race. This year I signed up with members from the VLAAMS/BEACH “team,” six of us in all and very well organized by Saruto-san.

I left home at the crack of dawn riding towards my Koremasa entry point and continuing at a very leisurely pace along the Tamagawa and Asakawa rivers. When I reached Takaozan-guchi around 5:25, it struck me that there were a lot less people than last year. As I was warming up, two Positivo Espresso transalpers zoomed by at what seemed like an incredible speed as if they were trying to flee from some ogre.

With some 5 minutes left before the 6 a.m. starting time, suddenly Ludwig appeared out of nowhere! We started together in a group of about 15 riders and after we crested Otarumi (Ludwig first), we had a young Japanese chap join us who seemed very content to be able to practice his English conversation skills. Also riding in our wake (and very seldom taking over the lead) was another – I believe more elderly guy wearing a fluorescent-green jersey proclaiming he was riding for some Racing Team. This is the guy who would ride for most of the 300km ride in my shadow and then leave me behind mercilessly in the last 10km!

About halfway to Sasago, our group of 4 caught up with Jerome (visibly suffering) and David L. (majestically pushing on the pedals). David stuck with us for quite a distance all the time cheering loudly for Ludwig and even louder for me! When the steeper road to Sasago got nearer it was once again Ludwig who took the lead at a pace that was a little too fast for me and soon a gap of 300m opened up between us. I don’t know how far Ludwig went as I had to stop to have my timecard stamped and then he was mysteriously gone… (thanks Ludwig for the super pace work, you were great!)

Anyway, I had another assistant waiting for me in stand-by mode at the Sasago checkpoint. Ogawa-san’s initial plan was to ride out as far as Katsunuma and ride back over Yanagisawa-toge but, always the flexible person he is, was very happy to propose to me to be my assistant as far as Hakuba! What a luxury for a poor cyclist like me! We had a super-fast ride to the next checkpoint in Nirasaki with Ogawa-san doing 99% of the pulling and pacing. I saved a lot of energy here but so did the fluorescent-green guy always following in our wake. My average speed at this point was a comfortable 32.7km/h. I gobbled down one onigiri and a banana, filled up my two bottles together good for 1,600ml of liquid (thanks Michael!) and off we were again direction Lake Suwa.

It was climbing my way up Fujimi-toge that I slowly started to run out of steam and every time I wanted to push a little harder on those pedals, my thighs would painfully cramp up…I had no choice but to slow down and let many tens of riders pass me including the fluorescent-green guy. Almost near the top, as I was fighting all by myself, I saw Ogawa-san waiting on the side of the road for me with a can of chilled orange juice. I felt so humbled by his great spirit of sacrifice…he’s a real super assistant and probably one I don’t deserve! The orange juice did wonders and gradually my powers would return. Just as I thought I was fully recuperated and as we were riding through a busy intersection with many shopping malls, a stupid driver suddenly turned left cutting my way…fortunately, the nose of the car was not yet in a blind spot and I could align my bike turning left almost parallel-wise but with my right arm catching and upturning the car’s side mirror. By wonder I managed to keep my balance…what a moron though!

Added adrenalin helped me continue riding a strong pace – always behind Ogawa-san, mind you! Before Lake Suwa, we ran into Ichiro-san and his O-Vest friend…who had imagined that Ichiro-san would show up in a place like this! With Ichiro-san and his friend taking turns up front we were going really fast until Shiojiri-toge slowed down our pace…here we ran in a young husband-wife team who briefly overtook us on the steepest part, incredible that young lady!

At Shiojiri checkpoint as I was eating a couple great-tasting o-inarisans, I recognized three of the BEACH team guys wearing their new green uniform but who else was there? Yes, the fluorescent green guy who bent his head once slightly as a way of saying “together again huh!” He immediately climbed on the bandwagon of the fast train pulled rotation-wise by Ichiro-san, his O-Vest friend and Ogawa-san. I did some riding up front too and after a while even the FGG went up front but only for very brief periods.

Time had run out for Ogawa-san to catch the last train leaving from Hakuba so instead he and Ichiro-san decided to hop the train back from Omachi station. Many thanks again guys for the incredible su-pa-ashisuto!

At the final checkpoint in Hakuba, we took our last refreshments for the remaining 44km…almost one third of them through those endless-long tunnels! Inside the tunnels, we got joined by another fast group and the pace and nervousness increased noticeably. FGG suddenly started to ride increasingly up front and as the pace went in overrun, I fell behind and struggled to keep the gap at a minimum until the finish line where FGG proudly handed in his time card just one place ahead of me. Like real athletes, we gentlemanly shook hands! To my happy surprise average speed was above 30km/h this year!

In front of Itoigawa hotel, I was soon greeted by BEACH’s Oshita-san who had left Takao at 3 a.m., the earliest starting time. Oshita-san gave me Andy W.’s compliments; unfortunately, we were not to meet again this time. I took a marvelous soak in the hotel’s onsen before Saruto-san and the rest of the BEACH team arrived. Downtown, the six of us visited the local Itoigawa sento public bath where time has been standing still for the last 100 years before feasting on lots of yakiniku…what a glorious day!

If I finished 1st in my age group? If I broke the record? ….don’t know yet (hope to find out eventually through Andy) but one thing is for sure and to borrow David L’s words: “I am afraid that there are lots and lots of obsessive middle aged roadies out there”…
Time: 9:45:50
Average: 29.87 km/h
Overall: 6th (out of 397 riders)
Age Group: 3rd (out of 155 riders)

zaterdag 16 mei 2009

Onekan-Wada Loop

As rain is predicted for tomorrow, today was probably my last training ride before Itoigawa. The Vlaams boys were in great form today launching one demarrage after another on the Onekan and together with Saruto-san and Toriu-san I ended up getting torn off each time! I recovered on the attack of Otarumi and managed to stay in Yamazaki san's wheel almost to the top, clocking my personal best time and breaking Positivo Espresso's record (12:47 from the conbini)! Yamazaki-san and I continued and added a climb of the Wada on today's program. Yamazaki-san reached the top first and had time enough to take a leak before I arrived. I found out the secret of his extremely smooth pedaling uphill...he uses a junior-type sprocket which for him works beautifully...most impressive! On our way back along R20 and the Tachikawa bypass I took over the lead and rode up front pushing my heaviest artillery 12-52. Thanks also in part to the strong pace chasing the Vlaams boys along the Onekan and beyond, my cycle computer recorded an average speed of 27.8km/h for a distance of 100.61 km...not bad at all considering this includes 2 mountain passes. Temperature was ideal for setting records I suppose...it was only 13 C going up Otarumi. In the afternoon, I cleaned my Orbea Onix and delivered it to its next owner, a very charming lady from Sweden! Downsizing of my fleet is now almost complete.

zondag 10 mei 2009

Manju ride

Exactly 400km in 2 days!
Itoigawa preparations proceeding on track with change of strategy...

199.57 km / ave. 24.2 km/h / Elevation gain +6,453m

zaterdag 9 mei 2009

Shaved ice by the Nagatoro gorge

Rode with the VLAAMS people today direction Saitama. Beautiful weather a bit on the hot side though. On the flat stretches leading to the foot of Yamabushi-toge, I was able to practice riding with the aerobars clipped onto my CLX. I was pacemaker all the way to the spring where we all re-filled our bottles.

Once we all crested Yamabushi-toge, Ichiro-san and I continued along the Green Line to the Kinshoji bakery. As we were gobbling down various delicious pastries, Ichiro-san remembered a kakigoori shaved ice establishment not too far from Nagatoro, north of Chichibu. A good excuse for not having to make the Karisaka tunnel our destination!

The entire town of Nagatoro is designated a prefectural nature park with the mighty Arakawa river running through it. After we devoured our shaved ice (mine with adzuki beans and kinako soybean flour), we decided to check out the famous rock beds and cliffs of the Nagatoro gorge. The geology of Nagatoro is typified by exposed terraces of crystalline schist dating back to one of the earliest periods of Earth’s history. The flow of Arakawa was extremely fast probably due to all the rainfall we had all week. Once I’d like to try out a trip on one of those "yakata-bune" boats that run downstream through the rapids of the gorge.

On our way home, Ichiro-san guided me through the tea plantations of Sayama. Ichiro-san reviewed his riding position lately and is now much faster and stronger than me! Tomorrow, I plan to join another V練 training…hoping to be in peak form by Itoigawa!
Distance: 203.56km / Average speed: 26.4 km/h / Elevation gain +5,780m

dinsdag 5 mei 2009

Freddy Forever

My childhood hero...Freddy Maertens, ten years my senior and born in the same province of West-Flanders. As a teenager, I used to watch Freddy race live on TV with my father and we would cheer loudly for our hero as he got ready for the final sprint which he usually won...Maertens is believed to have been one of the best sprinters in the world. Despite his sprinting dominance during the 1970s, he never won a one-day Classic. Maertens is known to have pushed high gears, which some critics say caused him to burn out early. Whether that is true or not, to me, Freddy Maertens is simply the greatest living cyclist on earth! Freddy now works at the Centrum Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders Museum) in Oudenaarde.

zondag 3 mei 2009

Kazahari - Matsuhime Loop 190km

Second day in a row training with my friends from the Vlaams cycling club. Today it was Saruto-san who was in top-form...simply indomitable all the way from Koremasa-bashi to the Kazahari turn-off. No matter how I wanted to take over the lead, there was no way I could muster enough strength to overtake Saruto-san; I could barely hang onto his wheel doing everything in my power! I was not alone...Saruto-san turned all of us into weaklings! What a metamorphosis! I makes you wonder what the guy had for dinner or breakfast! I was already a complete wreck by the time I parted from the rest to continue my climb of Kazahari at a snail's pace! At the "Primitive Village" turn-off, I bought 3 manju buns all different flavors and they helped me come back to live somewhat. I next plodded my way up Matsuhime-toge, legs pretty much spent from all the Saruto-chasing! Luckily the supermarket/bakery near Saruhashi came to my rescue...I was starving. I left Saruhashi at 12:00 and rode home via Koshukaido and then the "Hiroshi twist" along Tsukui-ko. I ran into David and his son who had just finished their Otarumi downhill and were on their way home via Chigura. I got home before 15:00 after viewing part of the annual Kurayami-matsuri "dashi" parade float in Fuchu.