zondag 28 juni 2009

Tour de Hotarugahara 2009 !

For the first time in my life, I saw real fireflies in nature! I was staying with Saruto-san of VLAAMS at Hina-no-yu Ryokan, the same venue as last year in Asama Onsen. The ever-friendly proprietress and her lovely daughter prepare such good dishes and the location of the ryokan is just at the foot of the infamous 22% Gekisaka. After Saruto-san and I had finished dinner and as we were about to leave the ryokan to get some ice-cream, the proprietress told us about the “Hotaru-matsuri” up the Gekisaka! When we got there, there were many tens of people gathered in the darkness and some elderly man was explaining that we were there at the very peak time and hour for firefly watching: between 20:00~20:30. The bugs were everywhere around us like lightning…at times flying together in groups of 5 or 6 and glowing for several seconds; a very mysterious spectacle I will never forget.

This year marked the tenth edition of this "Tour de Utsukushigahara" race, a hillclimb going up as high as 2000 m and 21.6 km long. The VLAAMS team was poorly represented this time as it was only the two of us. Saruto-san left in the 51-60 age group ahead of my group. The 41-50 age group was one of the last groups to leave and this is of course a huge handicap as one must overtake one slower rider after another. At times there were so many in front of me that I had to use my best slalom technique (I was able to hone that technique recently going down Otarumi en route to Itoigawa). When it is uphill, this is a different story though…the only way to overtake is by following the much steeper inside of the road. My legs felt good today and there were no signs of cramps. Each time on the flatter sections I put the chain in outer and overtook many riders like this. With the finish line in sight, I had still enough energy left for a long sprint overtaking one guy with whom I had been rivaling for most of the ride and who proved stronger in the steeper climbs. At the top I met Dan U. and Ryan and his friend who had just completed a monster ride all the way from London to Tokyo (don’t know how long it took this guy but this must have been an adventure lasting several months)!

I made sure I was up front for the downhill which was done without the organizer’s guide car! People were speeding and I saw at least five crashes, one right in front of me. I got back to Hina-no-yu where the proprietress was waiting with onigiri and pickled cucumbers on the table! How thoughtful….gestures like this really make you want to go back next year!

I’m a bit curious to see my result this time…I’m pretty sure it will be better than 2 years ago! We’ll see.

zaterdag 20 juni 2009

Kazahari-rindo ~ Matsuhime Loop

With next week's Utsukushigahara hillclimb (probably the last hillclimb race I will enter) coming up, I "proposed" to Saruto and the other VLAAMS boys to take a different route up to "Mori," using the "Kinoko Approach"! I made sure I was leading the pack as we hit the Motoshuku 本宿 T-junction and signaled with my right arm direction Kanato...looking behind me I saw everyone hesitating; clearly the VLAAMS boys were much more intent on taking the gentler left approach. I slowed down and kept gesturing "Come on!!" and finally succeeded in cajoling the troupe (except one) into following me. Diminutive Narashi (the yellow-purple guy) took the lead pulling us constantly with brief danseuse attacks. In the end, it was only him, me and Yamazaki pedalling up the Kazahari-rindo switchback. The pace got too fast for me and I begged Narashi and Yamazaki to continue without waiting for me. I don't know what happened to Saruto and the rest if they ever made it to the top. The Kinoko Center stretch was as cruel as ever and my chain refused to engage the 25 cog making loud rattling noises! It felt like my bike would shatter below me. The ti frame held together and felt rather nice and stiff in the BB area though. With brute force I managed to keep the pedals turning albeit at walking speed. Sweat had entered my eyes and my sunglasses were also completely smeared. I descended towards Okutamako alone and took a brief rest at my favorite manju shop (there are two competing ones in the same area). I ordered 2 manjus, a coffee-flavored and a purple-potato-flavored one. I got a lot more for my 240 yen though as the compasionate shop lady served me fresh green tea and a side dish with pumpkin, carrots and other salted locally-grown vegetables....a real feast for a hungry, near-dehydrated cyclist! I was ready for my next mountain Matsuhime where I was hoping to run in Positivo Espresso's Transalp duo. Less than 1km going down direction Otsuki, I ran into a very sweaty but strongly going Jerome! Sleep-deprived David L. had wisely opted to skip Matushime and follow the Tawa~Tsuru road. Both gentlemen will leave for France next Friday on their week-long stint in the Alps....undoubtedly they will capture the Heavy-weight Class Gold Medal! At the Koseiya supermarket near the bottom of Matsuhime, I bought tuna and chicken sandwiches (the in-store bakery is great!) and filled my bottle with huge ice cubes for free. I completed my ride over Suzugane, Hinazuru, south-side of Sagamiko going up Chigira and Otarumi. The rice shoots in the paddy fields on both sides of Suzugane seemed like they were 5cm higher than last week! I enjoyed the ajisai hydrangea in bloom everywhere, amazing all those shapes and all those shades in between lightning-white and dark-purple. At the 7-11 next to Y's (where else!), I spotted Jerome again this time with David L. in the midst of shopping for saddle bags for the Transalp expedition and (as always) his single-ride portion of sunscreen!

Today (Sunday, June 21), the VLAAMS team is holding a reunion (-cum-ride?) with its mentor, the one and only HASHIKEN in Saitama... I have never been a great rainy-ride enthusiast so I decided to forfeit the happy get-together. Hashiken will be returning to Belgium again soon to dedicate himself to raising young, professional cyclists.

zondag 14 juni 2009

Wada Kobu Loop

Did one of my short standard loops this morning. On my way to and along the Hino Bypass, I crossed Narashi, Yamazaki and Ichiro who were already on their way home from this morning's V練. I had decided to sleep long and take breakfast with my family for a change. Since rain was predicted for the afternoon, I decided to do Wada and Kobu. I did all the climbing at a very relaxed tempo breathing normally. Only for the downhill sections, I gave everything in outer top 53X12. The 53 chainring really makes a difference! The loop was exactly 112.95km with elevation gain of 2,467m. It never threatened to rain but the air was extremely humid making me sweat profusely.

zaterdag 13 juni 2009

"Jumbo" mountain training...

Rode 248.99 km today at an average speed of 25.1km/h (elevation gain according to Garmin Edge 205 was +6,996 / -7,032). Rode with the VLAAMS boys as far as Itsukaichi and from there I headed to Ikusabata to get on Ome Kaido and follow this “highway” all the way to Yanagisawa.

I crossed Ikusabata bridge at 7:45, probably more than 1 hour behind local boy Steven and Positivo Espresso’s TransAlp Team consisting of David L. and Jerome. As the peak of Yanagisawa was drawing nearer, I was expecting to catch up with the TransAlp Team but I never did. With less than 4 km or so left, I did pass Stephen who told me the TransAlp duo was far ahead. I found familiar bikes leaning against the Yanagisawa eatery and when I glimpsed inside I found a very lively Jerome and a David L. near exhaustion with his head down on the table! In that condition, I was very surprised to hear that both gentlemen still wanted to crest Odarumi-toge! David was saying something about wanting to try out some thin air to find out the effect on his performance and Jerome seemed like he just couldn’t get enough climbing today! Stephen suggested I show them the entrance point to Odarumi and continue all the way to the top before riding back home! (David and Jerome were both cleverly carrying their rinkos and had planned to take the train back from Enzan). I showed them the only approach I know as far as the Y-junction where you can either go up via 219 or make a small detour via 206 over Yakiyama-toge. Without consulting his teammate, David proceeded along 206! Wise choice! I hope both gentlemen made it to the top and back down safely!

I continued the rest of the ride alone and made a brief stop at Erenji Temple 恵林寺(founded in 1330) which was at one time one of the 10 biggest temples in the Kanto area. The temple was part of the civil war scene when it got attacked and burned down by the forces of Oda Nobunaga following the death of Takeda Shingen who had made the establishment his own family temple.

I proceeded through the wineries of Katsunuma and then climbed Sasago. Cicadas were making a constant high-pitched noise which always reminds me of the oldie SF movie “THEM!”. Following Sasago, I crossed the Suzugane and Hinazuru ridges. On Suzugane, I suffered a little breakdown and had to get into final low even though this hill is not so steep. Then I remembered I was carrying a little bag with those sour Puré Okinawa Shikuwasa Gummies…I emptied the bag in just 2 bites and there it happened: instant power!
Tomorrow’s forecast is for rain in the afternoon. Might do a small ride in the morning but at the same time I need to catch up on some sleep….

zondag 7 juni 2009

Mt.Fuji Hillclimb....D N S !!

Miserable misty rain was falling all morning on Saturday...typical rainy season weather. No way I was going to ride wet roads all the way to Fuji-Yoshida just to get my zekken and T-shirt! I called Pension Mori and cancelled...it was that easy. Next year there will be no more Mt. Fuji Hillclimb either...I lost somewhat interest in these mass events....5,000 participants...crazy! At the end of this month, I will ride at Utsukushigahara...a lot less riders there and the onsen atmosphere is good, like Kusatsu.

Today I took "revenge" and left with the VLAAMS guys direction Kobu Tunnel via Itsukaichi. From there, I continued on my own riding through Akiyama-mura, Hinazuru Tunnel, Dozaka Tunnel and then on to Lake Yamanaka where Fuji-san was hiding behind a curtain of clouds. Once in a while it threatened to rain but not a drop fell. Neocot was in great shape but a bit noisy as I had forgotten to oil the chain. The new Ultegra wheels with 22c Redstorm tyres ran very smooth too. Rode a total of 216.88 km at an average speed of 26.8km/h, hitting a max of 75.3 km/h somewhere (Doshimichi ?) according my reliable Cateye.