Tagesarchiv: 21. Juli 2008

Race Report: JCRC CSC Gunma

After racing in Tsukuba on Saturday I left the place early as there was not very much to celebrate and drove my car in direction Gunma CSC.

There are no highways connecting Tsukuba with Gunma as both are places where noboby want to go in the first place and if, then only from Tokyo. So I drove about 120 km to Takasaki on country roads and had the chance to witness the decay of the Japanese countryside. There are places which are basically deserted at 8 PM in the evening. Everybody seems to be 90 years or old and is sound asleep in bed at such late time.

I saw also some very big pachinko parlours.

It took me almost three hours for these ridiculous short distance – about the same time it took us to ride 120 km during the Tsukuba race on our bikes. I was still under the heavy influence of Jerome’s wonder dried plums and continued to fill the cabin of my car with inflammable flatulent gases. That is not so bad when you are driving, but at one point I stopped at a 7-eleven to buy some food and when I returned to my car and opened the door the pure disgust was so extreme that it took utmost self discipline to enter.

Anyway, many times I lost the way as the cars navigation system is running on a data set which is more than five years old. Be ensured that despite the fact that nobody is living in the country side any longer, there are many new roads built, tunnels dugged and bridges erected. The navi ignored them all and showed me the way through the most backward tracks and the „hosoi michi“ of the North.

I arrived at Takasaki at around 11 PM and started the demolition of the toilet. Hard to imagine that this hotel room can be ever rented out again. Looked for a Ramen shop (or „Law men shop“, as I have seen recently in Tokyo), couldn’t find one still open and went to wara wara. Then I had six hours of sleep before I left the next morning for Gunma CSC.

The track itself is at 800 m elevation somewhat close to the ski resort of Naeba. There is a Shinkansen station near by. This is all very well, but it is extremely hard to find the road to the place. When I went there the first time in April this year I thought that I have completely lost my way. Or lost my mind. Or both. Or somebody else did, but I could not imagine that this road was used by somebody else then lodging trucks. But this is exactly the way to Gunma CSC.

There is a very good documentation on the web about the current state of the city of Chernobyl, which was evacuated after the reactor catastrophe in 1986. And there is one photo I like in particular, showing a ferris wheel. Take a look at this photo and then you have more or less the precise image of what Gunma CSC is like. Sure, it must have been nice in the sixties, but now it is hard to imagine why somebody should some here to visit. There are nowadays many places like this in Japan and one would like to scream „Can’t you see that your country is falling apart?“. I was once a guest in a village close to Itoigawa n Niigata prefecture where the youngest inhabitant was more than 60 years old. It was a beautiful village with a lot of old farm houses and the people were so nice and friendly. But it is not hard to imagine that 20 years from now there will be nobody left there. The school was locked up since decades. There was no store, nothing. If you don’t believe me take a look for example at the book Deathtopia. Here are some more photos of the Gunma CSC.

Refreshing room at 2. level
Terrace with greenery [green roofs are now a must in Tokyo anyway, thanks Ishihara].
The restaurant Turini, named in plural after an Italian town.

And last not least, for every cyclist with a body weight of 90 kg and more Gunma CSC is a hell of a course. Constants ups and downs don’t let you find your rhythm and suck all what is left or energy out of your body. Especially if you attended an eight hours endurance race the day before. Here is a layout map of the track:
I added some comments. Funny enough, this maps explains the resting places around the track. You probably need them. It is really a difficult track. It may not be as hard as CSC Shuzenji, that’s true, but for me it is cycling hell.

I was starting in the D class, 6 laps of 6 kms, total 36 kms. In April it was five laps and I finished in D class in 37th position with 1:01:38, the winner was at the finish in about 50 minutes. Oh, did I mention it? 37 riders reached the finish. With this time I would have made also almost last place in E, F and X class. So basically it was a complete disaster. This time my goal was to give everything until the fifth lap. Then I could not be overtaken any longer and would be allowed to finish. The highest risk was to be lapped and get disqualified, I didn’t even thought about reaching a good position.

Before the race we could do one practice lap. The down part is no problem, I could easily stay with the peloton. The exhausting up and down was even exhausting when done in a training lap and at the uphill hell I was not even able to keep the pace despite the fact that this was training.

My plan was to stay with the main field as long as possible and draft until the uphill hell on the second lap. Also Goro Akiyama was in the same D class race, he had woken up at 4:30 AM in Tokyo and took the Shinkansen and a Taxi to the race.

Then it was already time to start. The first kilometer was behind a pacemaking motorcycle and I was in the front group. Then the pace increased as the race started and I could keep up with the peloton during the up and down part. I utilized my down momentum to accelerate up which went very well until we reached uphill hell. My speed dropped to 17 km/hr and the other guys overtook me until I was the last one and then I lost contact. So despite having a good lap time of 11:01, I lost already one to two minutes on the top. I was then on my own for a while until I was overtaken by the D2 group which has started three minutes behind us. I tried to keep up with them, but again I lost contact at the uphill hell. I took me 11:31 for the second lap, which is still good for me and what I needed not to be overtaken.

I was subsequently overtaken by riders from the E1 and E2 class groups. Nevertheless my lap times were OK. with 11:20 min and 11:38 min. I could even overtake some guys from the endurance race that has started at 8 AM and which continued until the end of our race. There is this guy who I meet at almost every JCRC race and who looks like the killer in Silence of the Lamps. I overtook him.

After five laps I had a total time of 57:15, more than four minutes faster than April. And I was not overtaken. The winner finished in 59:38, so much faster than my April time. From the forth lap on I even closed on another D class rider and we stayed together for the remaining distance of the race. I started to took it easy at the last lap. I would reach the finish and it doesn’t matter if I come in in last or second last position. As I had only a lap time of 12:43 min, I then finished in last position.Believe me, I am not ashamed to finish in last position at Gunma CSC. I have been much faster than in April and I have made it to the finish line. I was so exhausted but happy. Goro Akiyama of course made a much better job and finished in forth place.
Goro was so kind to allow me to carry his winner certificate and prizes to my car so it looked like that I have won something. We then stored all our belongings in my car and re-dressed. As we were standing more or less naked in the countryside, I threated him to take pictures and post them on the NFCC website to provide some more excitement there.

We had a very nice trip back, it is so much more fun to travel with somebody as pleasant as Goro is. We were discussing the most urgent and pressing issues of the Japan of today: Why do streets have no names in Japan? But why has almost every slope one? [Goro’s explanation: Because we Japanese like hillclimbs). How can you avoid getting tickets? Why should you not run over red lights during traffic safety week in front of the assembled police force of Okutama? And so on.

So within no time we were back in Tokyo and I could finally collapse in my room.

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Eingeordnet unter 2008, Mob

Anna went home

After living with us for almost one year, Anna has left us to return to Germany and to start studying architecture in Germany from this autumn onwards. She has attended our races in Saiko and Hotaka last year and at one point I had her close to buy Tom’s TREK bike. Virtually on the day before it was sold to david who wanted it as a gift for his father.

We had a nice Sayonara dinner with Stephen and Ryoko some days ago which ended very late in he morning at the bar in La Tableaux in Daikainyama. The next morning I tried to climb the slopes of Yamanashi with Jerome, Tom and Nishibesan after only four hours of sleep. Anna made in safely home to her hometown of Braunschweig, also called the pearl at the zone border. Unfortunately her turtle was arrested at London airport and her fate is still unknown. Goodbye Anna, come back any time.

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Tom’s best-kept secret…

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Japanese cheerleaders trying to spell „TOKYO“ in alphabet letters.

It is Monday morning and after a hard weekend of racing I find the time to write about the race on Saturday.

From the start on we had difficulties to form a team. Alain and Olivier were on board almost immediately when the proposal came up to race in Tsukuba this year, but with only three riders and eight hours racing time we would have not stood a chance. And be very exhausted in the end. Alain and me tried to contact as many other riders as possible, sending personal e-mails, calling, resorting to blackmail and even offering money (well, 500 Yen of sweets to my son), and finally Jerome and his two sons Leonard (13) and Augustin (10) came to our rescue. I was very happy, as I had planned to attend another JCRC race in Gunma CSC the following day and I don’t want to race 2 – 3 hours on the day before in Tsukuba. As we didn’t know how many riders we were, I registered only Alain, Olivier and me as a three rider team.

So when we arrived at the race, we got only three team numbers and we need to change them secretly between the riders. This is not exactly the way it should be done, but as we had no ambitions to make the podium no harm was done [Note: Please delete all traces of e-mails discussing race strategy and podium ambitions send before the race from your PCs. It is just embarrassing.]

We were nevertheless probably the only six rider strong three rider team in Tsukuba ever and I still believe we deserve a special price for most skilled cheating and one more for radiating appropriate image of foreigners in Japan. I arrived early at 7:30 AM at the race track to reserve a good place close to the pit. (note: This is the image of us Germans, that we go to the beach at 4 AM in the morning, place a towel at a good place and come back at 10 AM to demand our rightfully reserved place). At least I thought so. But at least 298 of the 300 other teams seemed to be there as well. I found a nice place close to our pit nevertheless and erected our sunshade. After I fixed everything I was approached by two officials who told me that tents can only be erected at the yellow line and that I had to remove my stuff immediately. Yes, this is unfortunately Tsukuba. A lot of rules which are not necessarily logical but there since the race started. Tradition since 2003. More conflicts with the officials would follow in the course of the day.

Nevertheless I like Tsukuba. First of all, it has been the first race I have ever attended, at the tender age of 40. I was there with Juliane and the Veloz team [now: Tamagawa Cyclists] and we were doing pretty bad. But I was much impressed with racing. In 2006 we went there again with David, david and cycling Jane, targeting a podium place in the „racing mixed“ category and in fact we ended up 56th overall and 10th in our class. Also there are always a lot of good looking female riders attending and many similar good looking family support staff. It brings tears to my eyes when I see how some of the riders are pampered by their wives and girlfriends. They prepare barbecue for them, hold umbrellas to provide shade on the start grid and they do many other chores I can only dream about asking my wife.

So I took our tent to the top of the pits where there was just some space free and then Jerome and his kids and Alain and Olivier came already.

There are some important traditions at Tsukuba (since 2003) and one of them is the cheerleaders performance from nearby Toyo Highschool before the race. I took a lot of photos this year. Actually I didn’t bother to take much more photos after the cheerleaders performance. Of the race or so, for example. Cheerleading is very important in Japan. The main purpose is to cheer up the audience to survive baseball and shogi games. Often cheerleaders are supported by dynamic music bands to even enhance the cheerful atmosphere.

Then it was already time to start racing.

Alain taking position in his new NFCC team uniform in blue and white at the start grid

As Alain is extremely skillful of using his extended elbows (I still believe that he has some steel rivets attached to his bones below the skin) to push and shovel his way through large group of riders, he was the rider to start. And as usual, despite starting from position 174, so almost in the middle of the field, he managed his way to 7th place after the first lap and stayed with the fast group. After some more laps he was even in 2nd position which made us, and especially the kids very excited. Our best standing ever!

Alain in second place after the 10th lap (4th from the right)

Actually the kids should not have been that excited, as we decided before the race, that they would not ride in case we show a good performance. But of course we couldn’t kept the pace. We cheered up Alain as good as we could, I even used what remained of my French language knowledge („Allez Alain – only 140 laps to go!“) and hoped that he stays out forever, so that I could enjoy the relative comfort of my camping chair and the good food brought by Jerome. But then it was Jeromes turn and then mine and then Olivier and we dropped to 20th place. So we decided to let the kids do some laps, whereas we dropped to 30th place. But that was ok.

In the meantime one of the race officials kept picking on us. First he was not satisfied how our team entered the pit area. Then he gave us a warning because we were standing outside the yellow line in the pit (as everybody else did) and then he asked me to fix our sun shade better. He was clearly looking at us and trying to apply some ijime at every occasion that was offered to him. I didn’t want to claim, as our rather unique six rider three rider team was anyway constantly in danger of getting disqualified. It was getting really hot. Later the CICLO speedmeter on my bike showed 47 degrees Celsius. I don’t believe that, but it was really, really hot.

The key to success in Tsukuba is to stay with a good and fast group and hold out as long as you can.

Key to success : Stay in a fast group, cooperate.

The track is very flat, so there is no much variation of speed, although you need to accelerate some times. Basically one can run all the time in a 35 – 45 km/hr range if you are riding with a group. If you are alone on the track it is rather hard to keep a good speed. In the afternoon it also gets windy, so in some places your speed might drop to 30 km/hr or even less. So the best strategy is to go out, take it easy at 30 – 40 km/hr and wait and preserve energy for a fast group to overtake you, then hang on to their tail as long as possible. My first round of laps was not very good, as I was on my own almost all the time and I couldn’t find a good group, neither restricting myself to go slow. But the second and third time were much better and I hang on to some fast guys, even leading these groups some time. We all did a good job, but with the kids doing slower laps and more frequent changes we dropped down to the 50th position.

Jerome had his bag of wonder dried plums with him. This, he explained to me, is his secret recipe for reviving his energy levels and showing good and strong performances during long races. Well, I am not sure what exact performance enhancing impact it has on his metabolism, but in my case the only performance enhancing impact I could notice was a more physical one, similar to jet propulsion. This was becoming more pronounced during the races and it has the interesting side effect that other riders drafted behind me only for very short periods before dropping from their bikes. Leaves were turning brown, insects stopped chirping, beavers started suddenly to prepare for the winter despite 47 degrees of heat and flocks of birds migrated in direction Siberia. Why is there no big yellow warning label on the packing?

In any case we had now stabilized our 50th place. Actually unknown to me, we were called by the race officials and told that after 4 hours or so we were in 3rd position as a 3 rider racing team, so Jerome collected some (useless) prices, which we nevertheless will put on display someplace.

Stabilize the pace at 50th place midterm during the race.

After some more warnings from the race officials (Jerome had to remove his speed bars of his bike, one of his kids was not wearing gloves when he rode) Jerome and his kids went home and our six rider three rider team was reduced to three riders, Alain, Olivier and me. We all felt that this was somehow unfair after all this unfair discrimination we had to endure during the past 6 hours. Jerome has told his wife that he would be home at 7 PM, assuming that an eight hours endurance race would include 4 hours of transportation to and from the race track. An understandable thought when one considers the patience and endurance one need to navigate a car through the traffic in Tokyo.

As the pit closes 30 minutes before the finish of the race, we fixed again our strategy. We were down to 55th place and we wanted to recover as much as possible. So we asked Alain to do some laps, and then Olivier and me would alternative until shortly before the pit closing whereas Alain would do the last 30 minutes. Alain hold out very long, so I did additional 6 laps after him which were fast and done with a strong group of riders. At the very end I accelerated to more than50 km/hr and sprinted away even from this fast group. Some guys tried to follow me and they were left dumbfolded when I entered into the pitlane at the very last moment.

This left only a few laps for Olivier to go and then Alain hat to come out again to do the last thirty minutes in one go. He was doing well in a fast group and we cheered him up („Go Alain, only 20 laps to go to the top!“) from the comfort of our pits. Also we flirted with the women teams to the left and the right, as there was nothing else to do. Then the last lap was called and as it was getting dark the race came to an end.

Fast and furious final sprint.

As I found out later, we ended overall in 49
th position. My best Tsukuba result so far, a good start for Jerome’s kids and Olivier who did his first race. And also a nice goodbye to Alain who is leaving for France soon. After the last lap all riders assemble on the track and then they ride together one more ceremonial lap to the start. There is some music (I guess it was Titanic or so) and some fireworks, really nice, festive atmosphere. This is also a good old Tsukuba tradition and we were all very happy that we survived to see the fireworks and made a good show.

We were a good team and we had a lot of fun. And that is all we ask for.

Good teamwork by us.

Race analysis will follow later, once I have the lap chart from the organizers.

Best team name newly discovered : UGA („Ultra Genki Athletes“).

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Favourite You Tube Cycle Clips

On the TCC website there is a good post about the favorite youtube clips of its member. The idea is so good and being in Japan and getting used to local customs, I copied it immediately. So here is a selection of the clips from TTC, please feel free to add more.



[note : mute volume]

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