Complementing David’s earlier post, here is my own story about yesterday. I too started from home at 4:15am but that was five minutes later than planned and as a result I was not on time at the appointed place on Tamagawa. Checking voice messages lost me a few more minutes. The headwind was such that I could never catch up two riders drafting each other without exhausting myself, which I was keen to avoid. I was amazed how many people were already out and about at 4:30am!
I must have caught up almost with David and Jerome as I reached Tom at the starting line at something like 5:54 – without any stop at the Seven-Eleven and taking the short-cut through Hachioji.
So off I went with Tom at 6:00. Tom had declared he would attack Otarumi at a brisk pace to break away from the crowd (of 20 starting a time). So he did, and very soon it was only Tom, two Japanese riders and myself heading up Otarumi. Thanks to drafting Tom I had no difficulty keeping up, but I was worried Tom was exhausting himself a little too much as my pulse was getting slightly over 160 and I was wondering what his was like.
As we got close to the top and everybody seemed to get slower I broke away to go under the bridge a few seconds before the rest. 13:17 – not my best time (13:00), but quite close, even though I felt far less stretched than usual – the power of drafting I guess.
Now the real madness started. Tom was obviously keen to win at any price, including his own life. We had caught up with two trucks that had passed us on the way up, and while they were not particularly slow (which trucks are in Japan?), they weren’t fast enough for Tom. So he decided to overtake one of them in a relatively sharp left-turn curve, getting onto the opposite lane even though he could not see whether there was any traffic coming up, nor could he have returned to the downhill lane as the two were separated by these killer blocks on the centre line. Complete madness!! The remaining three of us refrained from such or similar manoeuvers and as Tom isn’t the fastest downhill racer caught up with him soon, and at the traffic lights in front of the Sagamiko station the four of us were again one group.
From there on, Tom and a young guy from the Fuji Heavy Industries racing team kept taking turns in leading the group. I would have loved to take my turn, but even drafting my pulse varied between 150 and the low 160s and I deemed it unwise to exhaust myself beyond that. The fourth rider must have thought the same as he stayed stubbornly on my back wheel.
We went on like this at fast speed to Otsuki, on the way passing Jerome and David. Just before Otsuki, the Fuji Heavy rider had his front wheel punctured. He managed to keep riding (must have had a special kind of wheel) but complained about the high friction. After a few kilometers he gave up to fix the wheel.
So it was only Tom, the other guy and me left. I started taking my turns in leading the group, and eventually also the third guy did. Tom was getting exhausted and the other guy showed no such signs. My back started to hurt increasingly, but as we started to do steeper climbs I had the chance of getting out of the saddle to relax my back which kept things under control.
On the final ascent to Sasago Tunnel, the third guy broke away from Tom when I was last. I followed in measured pace, and by the time I realised he was trying to make a best time to Sasago he was too far ahead for me to catch him without getting my pulse into anaerobic territory. I was still second and I think Tom wasn’t that far behind. I did not stop and kept going right into the tunnel, and never saw Tom again. Because he must have passed me as I went into the Seven-Eleven down in Kaiyamato.
The time we took from Takaosanguchi to Sasago was 1:50 (and maybe a few seconds). Only the winner of the entire Itoigawa race last year was faster than that! Wow – what a pace. I had averaged 29.6km/h from home to Takaosanguchi (excluding the stops for checking my phone messages) – not bad considering the headwind. At Sasago the average was slightly above 30km/h, despite all the climbing!
As I hadn’t had a drop of water and nothing to eat since leaving home and had gone 105km at record speed, it was time to get reasonable and take a break. So relaxed a bit in front of the convenience store and let some of the slower riders pass. We had overtaken almost the entire group of 20 that started 15 minutes ahead of us by the time we reached Sasago.
I rode down down towards Kofu, overtaking again a few even though I wasn’t killing myself to go fast. As I was taking a short toilet break, the Fuji Heavy guy caught up with me. What a pleasant surprise. We decided to ride together. I pulled him through all of central Kofu, claiming I knew a short cut. Well, looking at the GPS trail (see below) I realised later that I had taken one turn too many (mislead by a sign that indicated the way to route 20) and thus it wasn’t really a short cut (though at least didn’t make the route longer either).
Outside Kofu, we took turns as we seemed to run out of steam in turns. That allowed us to keep a steady pace, and at the next check-point my cycling computer still showed the same average of slightly above 30. I took a longer break at the nearby convenience store than he wanted and so he took off without me.
By that time, we had encountered countless situations where trucks overtook us without leaving more than a few centimeters between them and us. At a traffic light, I shouted at one of them, though he had been one of the lesser evils – the trucks with long trailers were the worst as they seemed to forget that they had a trailer. Truck traffic was getting increasingly dense, and legs, arms and even trickot became quite black! It became clear to me that all these cyclists on the road were annoying the truckers so much that they decided not to care much any more.
I dreaded the thought of another 75km of nightmare with potential fatal consequences to Matsumoto, and potentially more of it beyond. Besides the scenery wasn’t even that great and I was asking myself what I was trying to achieve. So in a town called Hakushucho I decided to abandon the idea of making it to Itoigawa and to instead head for the mountains.
Nearby was the beautiful Yatsugadake range (literally eight peaks), with all the nice kougens on the foot of it. I climbed up into these kougens and travelled through them in the same direction as route 20. Quite some up and down at an altitude of 1,200 to 1,400m. Eventually, the road was closed for repairs and I had to head down for Chino. By that time the headwind had developed increasing strength, and it wasn’t particularly pleasant fighting my way towards Lake Suwa, the last sight I wanted to see for the day. Still, better than fighting the same wind all the way to Itoigawa, as the forecast had said.
I decided to get off at Tachikawa to drop by Y’s Road in Fuchu to get my chain exchanged. After 7,200km, it was very worn and shifting gears had become quite fickle. Lucky move, for when I got onto the bike outside Tachikawa station I noticed that the derailer had been badly bent and I was hardly able to ride. On the train, the trolley lady had pushed her heavy trolley with full force into the backside of my bike sticking out from behind the last row of seats in the car.
By the time I got back home, I had covered 260km in all, and with the first 150km ridden at racing speed – a new record.
All that remains to hope is that everybody made it savely to Itoigawa and that Tom broke his own records and came in first!