zaterdag 29 mei 2010


Spent most of the day moving from one live performance to another at the annual "JAZZ in FUCHU" event. Very impressive young artists and jazz combos like the "Asaoka Yu Quartet," "4mat." and "Bebado". Most enjoyable was the "Swing Bacchus" big band with guest star Eiji Taniguchi, my favorite clarinet player. I have been following Taniguchi's career since he anchored the "Kurakurakurarinetto" series on Music Bird. His sound is close to that of Benny Goodman but his technique, buttery tone and repertoire reaches far beyond that of the King of Swing! Bravo're the best !


Today's plan was to do a medium-long ride circling around Okutama-ko and Tsuru-toge and have doughnuts along the way. Woke up at 5:15 as usual these days and walked through the garden to get my my pyjamas wet brushing against the hime-ajisai hydrangea and other leafy plants and the newspaper was wrapped in plastic...looked like it had rained during most of the night and the sky above was dark grey. I quickly abandoned the idea of getting my brand-new Miche training wheels filthy by riding on wet roads and decided to take it easy and do some "kogikogi" indoors instead! Tomorrow's weather doesn't look very promising either...

zondag 23 mei 2010

TOITO camaraderie

Got home at 14:30 today…2 hours later than planned due to ferocious winds having played havoc with the Shinkansen between Itoigawa and Echigo Yuzawa…

Spent a wonderful time on and off the road meeting many people and buddies from the Positivo Espresso, Vlaams and Beach teams. At the Takaozan starting point, I met Andy W. and O-Vest Tencho who both had the same starting time as me…I also greeted last year’s fluorescent green guy. A good five minutes before 6:00, Ludwig - my first voluntary domestique of the day – arrived. He was still suffering from some pain in the chest and was clearly not in his best form. Still, last year's JCRC Class D champ courageously took the lead from the start, setting a high tempo for last starters group of the day and staying in front almost to the top of Odarumi. I cleared this first hill of the day proudly finding myself in the company of Andy W. & Tencho…both guys would later turn out to be the No.1 and No.2 TOITO finishers respectively!!

With the champion's advice fresh in mind, I descended cautiously and caught up again with Andy & Tencho near the bottom. For a while as far as Uenohara, I took my turns riding up front. I lost sight of both guys and three more with them around Shiotsu after crossing Katsuragawa…their pace kept accelerating and I tried to avoid running out of breath. After a while, the champ showed up again with in his wake some 5 or 6 “fearsome” riders – one looking very “veteran” in his Paris-Brest-Paris Audax jersey. Immediately, two of them started getting provocative and noisy shouting “rote – rote – rote!!” as if that was the only word (to rotate, rotation) they knew! I certainly did not appreciate their paternalistic antics and tried to ignore them as much as I could by “negotiating the traffic lights”. This went on some 4, 5 times and every time they would catch up with me again. A by then very much embarrassed Ludwig (sorry mate!) convinced me to bear the unpleasant company and patiently wait together at the traffic lights so as to "preserve energy". Perhaps more than physically, Ludwig turned out to be an assistant in psychological combat.

At the first Sasago checkpoint, VLAAMS buddy Toriu had been patiently awaiting my arrival and helped me get my card stamped and my bottle filled up. Toriu was on his V練 and ready to ride back home. Thanks Toriu for the heartwarming support!!

The distance between Sasago and Nirasaki has been my fastest stretch every year and this year was no different…I finally managed to break away from the noisy bunch and I’m sure I would have stayed in front of them until the finish if only….

As I approached the Nirasaki checkpoint around 9:05, I spotted Hiroshi in his Positivo Espresso best holding a camera…here was my second, major domestique of the day!! Hiroshi had kindly offered to assist me and I was free to name any point along the ride for him to jump in. Hiroshi drove by car all the way from Kawasaki to Nirasaki to help me out on the stretch I hate most of all…Fujimi-toge! The new Super Six helped me pick up a nice pace but it was in the first place Hiroshi who expertly pulled me in his wake as we passed many, many tens of riders among them even some bright orange PE jerseys! I didn’t recognize their faces and little did I know that I would have to pass them a second time…

Hiroshi did an incredible job, sometimes slowing down in order to stay within my visual range…man, we were going fast! Drafting behind Hiroshi gave me plenty of time to slowly recharge my batteries for the second half of the ride…this all felt so great until….

Always behind Hiroshi, we were approaching Lake Suwa…we were following a group of four or so riders about 500 meters ahead of us, one guy in a yellow jersey and red bibshorts. Suddenly, there was this eerie déjà-vu as we crossed a railroad which was not supposed to be on today’s course... I then had a flashback of a ride I did with David L. four years ago when both of us did an unofficial TOITO and ended up on the wrong side of Lake Suwa….Oh no, major disillusion!! Double-back!

We rode back as fast as we could unsure if we would ever find the right turn-off and asking directions here and there…how frustrating…more and more time getting lost! Finally we spotted a long train of TOITO riders. I was very much agitated by then and in that moment of complete discomposure; I rode through somebody’s backyard cutting a corner to reach the right Tsuetsuki-kaido 杖突街道(R16)road again!

Hiroshi followed and once on the road he immediately took over the lead again. We passed many familiar jerseys for a second time, including the two newcomers from Positivo Espresso. Climbing up Shiojiri-toge, I slowed down and started falling behind but Hiroshi tactfully adjusted the pace and at the top produced his camera for a farewell photo! How can I ever thank you Hiroshi ??

Riding through Matsumoto and beyond, I was accompanied by Tosa-san (a.k.a. "103"), a very nice gentleman and member of the O-Vest Team. Last year – we were also riding together in almost the same part of the route. We took turns and the pace was quite brisk. Traffic got terrible though with many ill-mannered and even evil drivers with Matsumoto number plates. Saw two accidents involving TOITO riders – including one lady who was brutally hit in the side by a car abruptly turning left. We stayed with the lady for a while until somebody called an ambulance and until she told us she felt OK and her team’s support car was on its way.

With the Itoigawa signboards now overhead, I felt very much encouraged again and had almost forgotten the Nakagawara Junction of Doom. In previous years, I have had to cope with severe cramps on the last 50 or so kilometers….not so this year! I was solo all the way from the first tunnel to the Hotel Itoigawa where I proudly handed over my time card. Just learned from James M. that I finished 23rd overall 19 seconds faster than him! All right! James had his share of misfortune when some bird (a swallow?) hit his front wheel in full descent causing a bloody mess and a tire burst! I’m sure James M must have lost quite a bit of precious time too!

Spent a peaceful evening in Itoigawa, meeting all my friends (even Jerome was there!) at Hotel Itoigawa. The Beach/Vlaams team got together for their annual “yakiniku uchiage” closing dinner in downtown Itoigawa!

This morning at 7 'o clock, all five of us went to eat "gengyo," a very special annual TOITO treat!

zondag 16 mei 2010

Three Tetsu Chunens on the road

Steel is real! This morning, three middle-aged men on steel bikes left for the mountains of Saitama…two made it, one ­- the eldest – had to retire. Regretfully, Hiroshi and I had to leave Nishibe-san behind at the Sankus combini after we had scaled Umechan. Nishibe-san was on his wonderful Colnago Master, a steel bike with a design that is an identical copy of his carbon Colnago C40 - literally a "carbon copy" but what a beauty!!

I showed Hiroshi the way into Saitama crossing Ikusabata bridge and riding direction Naguri. We were blessed with gorgeous May weather again and at first it was not that windy. Rd 395 was almost completely deserted as we worked our way up Amamezashi-toge 天目指峠. Here we took a brief rest watching the hikers coming from Izugatake 伊豆ヶ岳cross the street and head for our next stop, Nenogongen子の権現.

We kept an easy pace slow enough to keep the conversation going without running out of breath…I mentioned about David L’s mishap yesterday and Hiroshi was also very much startled. Dangers near and on the road are lurking everywhere and sometimes no matter how defensive we ride, the kind of misfortune that happened to David can befall anybody. David, we wish you a real speedy recovery – you will be dearly missed during the period you are “out of order”!

Hiroshi vaguely remembered having scaled Nenogongen as a high school student. On top we did some sightseeing and prayed at Nenogongen Tenryuji Temple that David will be on the bike again soon. Hiroshi was at his kamikaze’s best descending Nenongongen on the other side! I don’t know how he does it bunny hopping with so much ease! In the shadow under the cedar trees, beautiful shaga (Iris Japonica) were in full bloom; the mountain azaleas were also very radiant. We rode back via the “Haraichibanagurisen” rindo which was all for ourselves!

The descent that followed to Ome was quite fast and as we were taking a brief stop at the Higashi-Ome 7/11, Hoshino-san arrived with his PianoPiano team and some other team. Hoshino-san will be riding his first Itoigawa next Saturday! As an experienced burube rider, Itoigawa should be a piece of cake for him.

As almost always, there was a fierce headwind on the Tamasai causing Hiroshi to briefly cramp but he courageously continued to ride. Next Saturday, I hope to see Hiroshi again at the Nirazaki CP…Tetsu Chunen promised to be my super assistant up to Fujimi-toge!

Time now for Hibiki 12 Years!

zaterdag 15 mei 2010

Outer ring only !

Forty-eight! “Still so young!,” commented lovable Saruto-san. Six VLAAMS members left this morning from Koremasa-bridge under very pleasant weather conditions. As usual Saruto-san did most of the pulling, safely guiding us as far as Itsukaichi.

Just before we were readying ourselves for the traditional Umechan mini-race, both Saruto-san and Nagashi-san hit a big piece of black rock, almost invisible against a background of black tarmac. Saruto-san was safe but Nagashi-san punctured. We were all amazed to see how little pressure Nagashi-san pumps into his tires…less than 6 bars I think but then this guy is a real featherweight fighter. On the last curve going up Umechan, Nagashi-san almost caught up with me – hillclimbs are his speciality – but since we are still early in the season, he has not worked up enough power yet.

Today, the Super Six was rolling incredibly smooth again and as soon as we passed Okutama, I took my turn leading the pack. Nagashi-san doubled back halfway to the Tomin-no-mori turn-off and after a while I was cruising ahead all by myself. I took a rest at the soba shop facing the Ura-kazahari bridge until Undo-san and Saruto-san arrived.

Saruto-san and I went ahead at a leisurely pace climbing Kazahari while chatting about tenkara fly fishing and fly tying, motorbikes and many other topics. I told Saruto-san how I used to ride my off-road bike to fishing spots deep in the mountains many, many years ago trying to catch yamame trout. Posted an old picture of me as I was leaving with my tent to some remote place in Nagano. Fishing was a nice hobby and I’m sure some day, I’ll get hooked again!

About half-way our descent towards Itsukaichi, Saruto-san suddenly veered to the other side of the road…here is this most lovely bakery run by two charming ladies! After a while 36go-san joined us and we were feasting on delicious cinnamon-raison and other pastries. How many times have I zoomed passed this place…never knew this was a bakery!

I arrived home around 1 o’ clock, had lunch and then dated my wife doing some shopping together. Got a nice bottle of Hibiki 12 Years Whiskey for my two years when I turn 50, I’ll get a Hibiki 17 Years bottle! Wow...something more worth living for!

Today, I never shifted to my inner chain ring…not even once, even going up Kazahari and funny enough, it works! “Yareba dekiru!” I thought. It was of course a great incentive to have judge Saruto-san besides me so I could resist the temptation at times to shift and keep working on my pulling-the-pedals technique instead. Hope this will help me move up Fujimi-toge a little faster than usual next Saturday!

dinsdag 11 mei 2010

Harakiri ?? no, no…KAMAKIRI !!

As I was boasting to a good friend of mine earlier today, “all my other bikes so far including my beloved titanium pale in comparison to this Cannondale”.

The Super Six is an incredible bike in many respects. This bike feels extremely solid yet also very much alive partly thanks to the intuitive, fuzzy Campagnolo Record parts. Because the previous owner has a very similar physique to mine, the frame size and selection of various parts such as the saddle post and handlebar turned out to be perfect.

At first though, the handlebar’s shape felt quite awkward and even a bit uncomfortable but as I was climbing my favorite hills last Sunday, very strangely, I suddenly got the knack of it and everything fell neatly into place.

I discussed this with Hiroshi and was told that this is because this particular Deda Newton model is of a shallow type. Hiroshi, the old-timer he is, even classified this as a マースバー (no, not that Mars bar) "Grand Bois Maes" - also referred to as Italian-classic if I’m not wrong. Hiroshi informed me that Roger de Vlaeminck preferred this handlebar and developed the characteristic riding style which in Hiroshi’s heydays became known as the “kamakiri-position” in Japan…the resemblance with a praying mantis is very close indeed!

Strangely enough, my own position - hands turned slightly outwards - was much lower than usual last Sunday and pedaling was so much smoother…am I metamorphosing into a kamakiri??

Excellent reading on drop bar shapes here.

zondag 9 mei 2010

Dream bike

Did my standard long loop today, this time completely solo without the Vlaams guys sending me off.

Another splendid May day! How I am grateful to my parents for having timed my birth right in the middle of this beautiful month.

Birthday present arrived a week early and I just couldn't wait to don my new BELGIUM tricolor outfit. For the first time also I was riding my "new" Cannondale Super Six completely built up with Campagnolo Record 10 speed parts and - for a change - a compact crank! How light! How smooth! How fast! The brand-new Fulcrum Racing 3 wheels (also had a R3 pair on my previous Colnago CLX) roll so velvetly it is a real pleasure. Once in a while though when en danseuse, the back wheel spokes would go "ping!" and "ting!" and that made me a bit nervous especially with the stories of David L. and MOB fresh in mind.

Today, radiant yamafuji "mountain wisteria" were in bloom all over around Okutamako and all the way up higher...very pleasing to the eye.

Riding with Campa again for the first time in 2 years (since my Orbea Onix) was a real eye-opener. No, Campa and even Record does not offer the same shifting precision as Shimano Dura-Ace BUT it is the FUZZY CONTROL that really defines the charm and attractiveness of Campagnolo...much more intuitive and "alive" compared to the pure machine-like and somewhat "unfeeling" Shimano drivetrains.

The compact crank helped me find a much better climbing rhythm ascending Yanagisawa - never ran out of breath and even had enough energy for a little sprint to the top (if Ludwig would have been with me - I may have even beaten him! haha). Kamihikawa was wonderful as always. Near the top, I passed a dead deer by the side of the road probably killed by a car...poor animal.

Super Six was super as well on the descent to Koshukaido where I had a brief rest and "hiyashichuka" lunch. Just as I was ready to take the left turn-off to Sasago-toge, I ran into short-shorts Jerome (second time in 2 days) and Steve who had scaled Sasago from the other side! Both had left together with Nishibe-san, David L. and many other guys summoned up by Directeur Sportif James M ! Apparently, the pace went too fast (or was it too slow) for most members of the group and they ended up as a disbanded barabara bunch of "aimless Sunday riders"!

Itoigawa is approaching fast...which bike should I take? Unless it rains, Super Six for sure!!!

(same route average on Sirius: 23.5 km/h & 23.7 km/h compared to 24.1 km/h on Super Six!)