zondag 5 oktober 2008
Bridgestone Cycling Cup Road Race Tournament & Eight Race of the 2008 JCRC Road Series
Yesterday and today Michael and I - both representing Team NFCC (officially) and Team Positivo Espresso (off the record) - were in Nasu Shiobara to participate in the two-day Shiobara Onsen Hillclimb event: yesterday a 6.9 km “hillclimb time trial” and today a 19.2 km “road race”.
The rural mountain village of Shiobara Onsen boasts the second largest hot spring area in Tochigi Pref. with the most popular hot springs located along the Houkigawa （箒川）river. We were staying at a recently renovated pension called Honjin （本陣, http://e-honjin.net/）in a very convenient location not too far from the event’s venue, “Hako-no-mori Playpark” and within the ideal “warm-up distance” to Tepco Shiobara Land, the startline of today’s road race. Pension Honjin prides itself on owning its very own hotspring source and the mineral content thereof is allegedly one of the best in the entire area. The okamisan is a sweet elderly lady who runs the place with her son and daughter in law (or perhaps her daughter and son in law)…the facilities were very clean and the cuisine was a great enjoyment enhanced with a cheap but OK bottle of red wine from the local supermarket.
After we checked in, Michael and I left Honjin to examine the road race parcourse and the event’s base camp in Hako-no-mori at the foot of the majestic 1,392 meter high Yatarozan 弥太郎山 mountain formation.
We took a few funny pictures to be featured on the Positivo Espresso weblog, enjoyed a hearty meal at the Hell’s Angels’ local hangout and returned to our room for a siesta and a review of our game plan. Michael kept repeating the numbers of the guys I was supposed to push off the road so he can most assuredly clinch victory in the JCRC 2008 series! I tried to input those figures into my head and visualize myself as the bad guy in the Benhur amphitheatre producing daggers out of his chariot’s wheels, “de-spoke-ing” and sending his rivals - chariots and all - into orbit. Come to think of it, for some reason, the movie stars I am told to resemble are always the evil, bad guys…like that double agent in Snake Eyes.
At the start line of the time trial we soon found Goro beaming in his pink Finalow Jersey. Michael pointed all his direct rivals out to me to make double sure they were going to get eliminated…ah…all the pressure on my shoulders as if it was not under enough pressure already. I was supposed to “bucchigiri” escape and leave my D Class competitors behind with a wide margin according to Hiroshi who claimed the JCRC “D Class” is only for first-timers…beginners!
In the same D Class, I met one somewhat taciturn guy from Hiroshi’s Keihin Pista club as well as Yoshinori’s good friend. Yoshinori, very unfortunately, recently broke his femur as was solo riding a tour of Japan. His thigh has in the meantime been fixed with titanium rods and bolts…my closest rival getting even lighter and stronger…awesome!
Five seconds left, four, three, two, one…I took off behind Michael and immediately accelerated en danseuse raising my heartbeat almost to max. In no time I was fighting against the hill all by myself. It is funny what can go on in one’s head as one is desperately trying to stay in the race. The most crazy excuses for forfeiting the race keep popping up…on the road surface I saw several motionless snake-like insects and I imagined I was a research entomologist coming across a very rare species. Get off the bike and scoop up the creature!
The course turned out to be less steep than I had feared with several flat stretches allowing me to get my breath back and make up distance on my closest rivals in the big chainring. I finished in less than 25 minutes in 15th place (out of 33) my only solace being the fact that the fourteen guys who finished before me are a lot younger (the youngest a 13-year old boy…incroyable mais vrai!).
With less than 800 meters left just before the last bend, Michael met with bad luck in the shape of a sharp stone or was it chestnut burr? In a very pathetic and touching moment, Michael arrived running pulling his deflated Cervelo over the finish line to the compassionate applause of the organizers and Bridgestone pros.
Following a few more funny pictures and some chitchatting with Aichan on the Hako-no-mori lawn, we headed back to pension Honjin but not before getting Michael his reward of the day…ice cream from the local supermarket! Thirty minutes later, we put our feet up in the hot bath, soothing away all aches and pains and before 21:00 found ourselves in the Land of Nod!
This morning, we woke up at 5:00…and I took breakfast consisting of pumpkin bread, a banana, yoghurt and a cup of cold coffee. 6:00…time to leave for Tepco Shiobara Land, I carefully lowered the bikes outside on the ground right through the window of our room…this arrangement couldn’t be more convenient…no need for negotiating with the okamisan and carrying the bikes through the entrance.
At the start line, I greeted Nakano-san, the owner of my bike shop, Friend Syokai. Michael and I were in the very front row of our “D Class” group but I only managed to stay in front until the top of the first small hill...no bucchigiri! In no time I was overtaken by more than 10 very eager and aggressive riders…no, those are not beginners Hiroshi! I could somehow stay with a group right behind the leaders until the Rd 266 turn-off and hillclimb part of yesterday. Very happily, I was able to find a good rhythm alternating some “out of the saddle in big chainring” and some “final 27T-low” moulinette pedaling (I forewent the normal 12-25T cassette after all and it turned out to be a wise decision). With the finish line in sight, I outsprinted a guy who had been constantly overtaking me with surprising ease.
Michael arrived a few minutes later both wheels still fully inflated and looking like a cat that had just swallowed a canary!
Gunma here we come!
zondag 1 juni 2008
TEAM NFCC RESULTS: Goro: 6th Place !! Wow! Tom: ??
It's over again...this was my second Mt.Fuji Hillclimb following last year when I was riding under a different name. Yes, I think I broke Thierry's record of last year with a minute or two! Anxious to see my result...I didn't want to wait for the organizers to post the result sheets on the bulletin board and rode home almost right after finishing a delicious bowl of local udon distributed to all participants at the end of the race. I got home at 14:30 leaving me plenty of time to clean my Sirius Ti-1.
It was a very exciting race with splendid weather producing most gorgeous silhouettes of Fuji-san. The previous day though was terrible....cold rainfall almost all day forcing me to go Fujiyoshida by train toting my Christo "Wrapped Titanium" art work and cycle the last 10 or so kilometers to Fuji Hokuroku Park in rather heavy slanting rain.
The train part was OK, except perhaps the second part from Otsuki where I had to board a genuine Thomas Train (even the interior was decorated with Thomas and his vehicled friends!) full with awestruck little boys and their young parents who made no effort at all to discipline their kids running all over and into my rinko bicycle bag which admittingly is a bit bulky and must be nuisance to other passengers on crowded trains. I got off at Fujiyoshida Station, put the front wheel in the fork and left in the rain. With 20mm tyres pumped up to the max, I had to be extra careful especially when riding over the white painted line. I arrived at the site completely soaked, completed the registration, had a bite of onigiri and meatballs at the party tent, looked around at the sponsors' tents - nothing could really interest me - met the two Davids and Juliane of Positivo Espresso, chatted with a well-known racer from New Zealand - Dan U. - and then rode to my lodging for the night - Pension Mori - a very reasonably-priced accommodation. Goro of Team NFCC was already there waiting for me. We found a nice restaurant in the neighborhood and I treated myself to dish of deep-fried wakasagi. The guy with the beautiful at-signed eyes (courtesy of GORO) in the photo is the same as the guy in the picture above. I look a bit tipsy but I actually had only one beer!
This morning, we woke up at 4:00 and left Pension Mori at 5:15. When we arrived, there was already quite a crowd at Fuji Hokuriku Park. I handed in my luggage which, as with most hillclimb races, gets taken very conveniently to the finish line. The organization of this Mt.Fuji Hillclimb event is very impressive indeed. I took position in my group with start-time at 7:10 and had two more toilet breaks (the second one simply out of nervousness) before the start.
When the first hilly part came, I found out to my enormous disappointment that the chain was jumping again in the mid-section...the rattling noise of my chain failing to get a grip on my sprocket was accompanied with my swearing NOT AGAIN! ...SH*T! and other profanities in flemish !! In no time I was the focus of attention. For the remainder of the race, I had no choice but to avoid using my mid-range gears and that was really nagging me!
With about one-fourth of the race left, I passed a familiar-looking yellow Assos outfit...sure enough, there was Juliane! So late in the race, there were only few female competitors that had already reached this point so I tried to cheer Juliane up ...."you're the very first lady!" Afterwards I did pass 3 or 4 more but I pretty sure Juliane captured herself a podium place.
The last 5km are not so steep with some flat parts allowing me to use my outer chainring to the fullest and overtake many riders. When the first mini tunnel came in sight, I knew I was almost there and pressed out all my energies left...unlike last year I had no cramps in my tighs and I was most happy with my finish.
During the downhill part behind the "guide car" I had a friendly chat with a guy who recognized my NFCC uniform from last race in Kusatsu. "Is it true Team NFCC has many fast riders?," he asked. "Yeah, but I'm not one of them!"
Turned in the time-measuring chip and slurped down the complimentary bowl of Yoshida Udon....looked around for Goro and Positivo Espresso people but found nobody. I decided to head home with a heavy rucksack (heavy because of the stupid rinko bag inside) on my back. My back is still hurting now!
As I was climbing Yamabushi-toge on Doshimichi, right after Yamanakako, I suddenly remembered seeing my mechanic at Friend Syokai tightening the tensioning barrel connected to the rear derailleur.... The chain was noisy again and while pedalling, I adjusted the cable into a tighter strecth...and SURPRISE SURPRISE!!....the noise was gone and the chain was moving freely and engaging the mid-range cogs again!!!
That's it! While the combination of a new chain and an old sprocket was to blame for the same mechanical trouble with my Shimano Cheapos, this time, with both chain & sprocket brand-new, it is the slack in the tension cable which is the real culprit! Why had it been slackening? Two reasons: (1) the handle turned inwards at 90 degrees when rinko-ing the bike (2) my having put plenty of oil into the barrel adjuster so that when exerting full power on the pedals in danseuse, the cable gave in and lost its tension. Wish I had found out prior to today's race. No regrets otherwise + the Sirius Ti-1 is squeaky-clean again!
zaterdag 16 februari 2008
zondag 4 november 2007
One hobby of mine is mountain stream fishing…tenkara, or traditional Japanese-style fly fishing, which is in many ways close to Western-style fly fishing but in many others quite different…one distinctive feature of tenkara is that no reel is attached to the rod…in olden days when the rivers in Japan were still brimming with natural, indigenous trout varieties such as yamame or iwana, this was the preferred style of fishing of professional fishermen who would return home every day with a catch of about 50 fish. These days, however, rivers here are stocked with foreign species, especially rainbow trout and it is getting increasingly difficult to catch genuine indigenous fish…some river sections have become fish farms so to speak. A very sad trend but still tenkara remains a fascinating hobby…starting from tying your own flies adapted to the time of the season, selection of tapered line, size of the right hook…a lot of time goes into the preparation and strategy planning before one actually reaches the target stream deep in the mountains. Almost every time however, the catch is very poor and on most days there is no catch at all…but that doesn’t diminish the intense joy of becoming one with nature and hunting after one’s “princess of the river”.
I’ve come to realize that cycling is a very similar pastime…plenty of time goes into the selection of the right materials, carbon vs. aluminum wheels, rear sprocket ratio, the right cycling wear adapted to the weather, etc. Then today, it occurred to me that fishing & cycling have something else in common…the mental process by which humans tend to blow up out of all proportion certain failures which, had they not occurred, would have turned a certain venture into a huge success! The fish one fails the land is (always) the biggest! When I got home this evening, my daughter asked me how I fared at today’s race…and this is how I replied…everything went perfect and I was sure to win a medal, but then I failed to make a turn and continued for 20km along the wrong road…if only I had followed the right course, I would have a medal around my neck! "Sounds like another tsuriotoshita sakana wa ookii story of you, dad!" Alas, this is what actually happened this morning (although the extra distance was more like 15km, still more than 30 min were lost)…
The previous evening, NFCC members Alain, Thierry and I were going over our tactics in all its details, including the exact timing of consuming a power gel. The “race” started perfect…with Alain and me taking the lead on the first downhill section and then myself pulling a small peloton, or rather, an escape group of about 15 riders for some 20 minutes until we hit the forked road spot - THE JUNCTION OF DOOM - one road turning left and the other upwards…we were all looking at each other…no signboards, no official “Giro” marshals to point us in the correct direction and so we decided to go for the easiest…follow the road straight ahead. And so we went in one long-stretched line…beautiful scenery, a nice clear mountain stream on the right side...
After a while, the map, we had tried to input into our minds the previous evening, popped up in front of my eyes, we were going up but not at the steep gradient we were supposed to be following…our doubts were soon confirmed…the road ended in a Y fork chained on both ends! Wrong road…everyone double back!!! Goodbye medals!!!
Since the “Giro de Hotaka” is not a real race but more of a cyclo-tourism type of event, we did not allow the wrong road to demoralize ourselves and completed the rest of the ride in great comradeship!
For me, it was the perfect ride to round off a beautiful year full of cycling. The mushroom soup distributed at the end of the race tasted ever so good!
vrijdag 31 augustus 2007
Official Norikura Results are out…
Ranking in 31~35 Age Group: 54 out of 463
Ranking extrapolated to own 41~50 Age Group: 52 out of 860
By way of comparison, the No.1 in the "Champion Class" clocked 0:57:15 !! On the other hand, the time of the "laterne rouge" of this Champion Class, which fielded 245 riders, was a mediocre 1:47:04. As David H. of Team NFCC pointed out, many riders like me had to cope with what is called “Chicanes mobiles” in the Le Mans race…
At the Start Line with the pack of Age Group 31~35
maandag 27 augustus 2007
Galibier Pass (9th Stage of the 2007 Tour de France)
Average Inclination: 6.9%
Height difference: 1905m
Norikura Pass (22nd Edition of “Mountain Cycling in Norikura 2007”)
Average Inclination: 6.15%
Height difference: 1400m
“Mountain Cycling in Norikura”…by far the most famous “Hors Categorie” Hill Climb (HCHC) race of Japan of a caliber comparable to the Galibier (the other one being the 2,360m high "Odarumi-touge" in Yamanashi Pref. I attacked with Laurent & Alexis last fall). This event has proven so famous in recent years that the organizers decided to accept 3,800 participants through some obscure lottery system for the first time this year. Lady Fortune was smiling on Club NFCC and Alain and I got drawn. We were blessed with fantastic weather conditions...even a bit too hot at 2700 meters!
Simply put, 3,800 is a few thousand riders too many if one is to clock a decent time unless, of course, one is entered in the so-called "Champion Class". This Champion Class group is allowed to start ahead of all the age groups and for them (the real "Champs") I guess a true HCHC race could be enjoyed. Much less so for the other age groups....the later one's group starts the greater the handicap and frustration.
Lessons learned :
(1) Try to enter "Champion Class" next time (meaning (even) more intensive preparations!).
(2) Work on my downhill breaking techniques (although they were not to blame for the accident this time) to regain & develop confidence.
(3) Never use Maxxis HC tires again and go for those time-honored Michelin instead.
(4) Reduce inflation pressure on long, steep descents to avoid potentially disastrous blow-offs due to overheating of the rims.
(5) Always wear the helmet and gloves (my right glove was torn to the last thread but fully protected the palm of my hand)
Getting the hardware ready / young cyclist father with wife and daughter looking on...very sweet!
The last time for me to wear my favorite "Belgian Cycling Team" jersey until the crash followed...
"Photoshop-doctored two shot" of Alain and me not to appear 25 years younger but to conceal what was stacked inside Alain's car...