But nevertheless an interesting viewpoint on Japan.
Monatsarchiv: Juni 2009
Hitachi Naka – one of my favourite races in Japan. Why? It is almost flat (data shows 140 meter of climbing after 165 km or racing) and it has no difficult curves to maneuver. Brute power, good positioning and sprinting is all that counts. The track is an oval NASCAR like 5 km car testing track close to Mito. For the fine details and differences of racing on an oval as opposed to a circular track please check here.
Ludwig and me started early in the morning as he was attending the D class race together with Peter and Phil from the TCC. Early start and six laps in the peloton. Phil was most easy to spot as he was sticking out from the group like asparagus in a paddy field.In the second last lap Ludwig sprinted for first place across the line and made second place which nevertheless entitled him for some special JCRC sho.
In the last lap Peter was finally rewarded for all the hard training he did during the last years and made third place in the mass sprint. Ludwig and Phil opted to stay out of the mess, or started to sprint too early respectively. Anyway Ludwig didn’t wanted to finish top six as this would have come with an unwelcome promotion into C class. Results are here (D2).
Where Peter is now. But hey, no problem, a written application for demotion to the JCRC can fix that problem if it ever becomes one.
Just by chance I was filming the finish sprint and kept the epic moment of Peter’s triumph for the youtube generation.
Ludwig and Peter were leaving and Phil and me stayed on for the 2 hours (Phil) and four hours individual endurance race that started at noon. My feelings were a little bit mixed, it was the first race of this season, the first one with a barely healed left hand and there have been some crashes in the morning already. Just before the start there was a line of four ambulance cars bringing the wounded back from the front.
Then the start. I was a little bit worried about being dropped by the peloton and we all know too well what that means: A miserable time alone on the track without draft and an even more miserable looking result. So I was on virtually every attack in the front, plus I tried to keep on the right side to avoid crashes which had the negative effect that I got less draft but that was OK.
The pace was at 40 km/hr plus all the time but it was relatively easy to keep up and I could chat with Phil along the way. We pulled up to the front on the right and then slowly fell back until we did it one more time in order not to loose the contact. My pulse was partly in the 140 – 150 band so I thought I could continue to ride like this forever.
On the other hand the field was still nervous and I realised that I made a mistake to join the four hour endurance race rather than the D class. I thought that the enduro would be more Tsukuba style, where the riders are dispersed widely over the track and you need to find small groups of riders of the same speed, hang on to them and then be alone for a while again.
This race was more like being stucked in a high-speed traffic jam with a lot of other cars.
A lot of attention had to be paid to the wheel in front. Some riders were pretty steady in their style and it was easy to draft behind them, others were constantly moving from the left to the right and back again, braking and making other strange moves so I started to shout (in German of course, this is always my language of choice when I get excited and it doesn’t add too much insult to my Japanese rider collegeas).
Some of the riders looked very strong and very young. Some of them had disc wheels mounted in the rear which I find an incredible stupid idea. Also I noticed that the noise of gear shifting is amplified by the reverberating surface of the disc wheels and I got shivers as I was thinking that somebody crashed close to me. Yes, I was very nervous.
As I had no particular goals except doing at least 120 km, I offered Phil to pull him to the front for the anticipated mass sprint in the 2 hours category. Actually we were not even sure if the race would stop just before or just after four hours of time – poor preparation as usual. And also we were not aware that the Field Marshall would shortly after our strategy meeting divide the field into two groups, the 2 hour individual and the 4 hour individual and team riders. This was to avoid crashes in the last two laps when everybody gets pretty nervous.
The two hours riders vanished in the distance as we had to follow a motorcycle at 35 km/hr or so for two laps and my pulse was going down in the 110 – 120 band.
Then I saw the mess that was going on in front of us. A big crash over the full width of the track in the 2 hours peloton with many dead and wounded cycles all over the place. Some riders unable to move laying down on the asphalt, the complete four hour peloton stopping in front of them.
I now saw what I have seen many times in Japan and what makes me really, really angry and what I call the „Daijobu excuse„.
One teammate of a crashed driver saw his comrade bended down on the road, trying to prevent his guts from falling out of his body (OK, I am making this up to better illustrate my point) and then (naturally) asked: „Yamada-San, daijobu desu ka?“. Well, if there was ever a guy farmost located from the center of „daijobu“ it was this one. I mean if you see your friend crashing through the windshield of a car you are not going to ask „Oh, David, are you OK?“ No, you are going to call an ambulance or try to free him or try whatever is possible to do something, but you do not start a conversation about the finer details of suffering.
So first of all this kind of question doesn’t leave very much choice to the person asked but to state „Daijobu desu“, even if his left leg is located 10 meters away from the rest of the body. And it is a pure hypocritical question which only serves to give the questioner the moral justification to do nothing and continue along his way.
No matter what, I would stop and do something for my team mate and I hope that the other riders would do the same for me.
And once the peloton starts to move again after the crash, everybody in the front is trying to sprint in order to create a gap and split the group. Disgusting tactics.
So now the two hour race was over and we still were normalized behind the motorcycle for another two laps until bulldozers have cleared the road from the debris of crashed bikes and dead cyclists. Amazingly, when we passed the crash site for the second time, there were still some riders sitting on the grass and trying to deliver encouragements to their teammates „Gambatte!“ until they were shoved away by the dozers.
So after 2:30 hours the race was in full heat again and I was starting to feel tired. There were continued attacks to split the group but all of them were doomed except for one when two riders managed to get up to 500 meters in front of the field. I never saw them again, but looking at the results they must have been caught.
I was thinking of giving up after I have reached my 120 km goal already after 3 hours but I could manage to hang on.
By now I seemed to know every ass in the field from every possible angle and I knew all the slogans written on the back side of bib shorts by heart „Chibaponz!“, „Alto Piano“, „Nalsima fiends“ and somehow cryptical „Can you ride for 30 years?“.
More attacks were to follow but the field stayed together all in all. When I tried to get to the front again and I was going down the very short and shallow hill on the opposite side of the finish at almost 60 km/hr, I noticed the feeling of cramps in my legs starting. So I decided to play it safe and don’t do something stupid.
In the last three laps there were two more crashes but I barely managed to escape them on the right,also thanks to my tactic to stay on the right and in front almost all the time. This took some more riders out of he field, but still there were about 50 riders in the front group.
Ludwig had won some JCRC prize in the D class race as he was second in the second last lap. Actually it looked like two pairs of white socks with JCRC written on it, but it can also have been four traditional Japanese condoms made out of cotton, I am not sure. Naturally I wanted to have them as well so in the second last lap I sprinted for the first place and made it. Great, I was leading the pack after 160 km of distance. Unfortunately there was no price attached to this effort.
And I had no power left in the tank and I was anxious about further crashes after the experience with the 2 hours enduro previously. I let some riders pass and stayed at the right side, with a little bit distance but not too much.
On the final straight I restricted myself to draft behind some other riders who started to sprint too early, then started myself at the Edogawakikomanbush, the point Peter has indicated as the ideal sprinting distance. That worked well and I could overtake some riders but with cramps in my legs the maximum sprinting speed of 48 km/hr was ridiculous. Nevertheless I overtook one of the bad front wheels, a guy with a disc wheel who was constantly going in and out from the group during the race and got on my nerves which gave me immense inner satisfaction.
Results are here, 36th place from 83 riders in the individual class and in a field of 48 riders in the mass sprint. I was pretty satisfied with myself. That was also probably the first time I rode 165 km in four hours.
What would I do better the next time?
I noticed that only 7 teams (as opposed to individual riders) were in front of me at the end. So either I would register as a team and nevertheless do the race on my own or, I would ride the whole race until about 6 laps to go and then I would pass over to a second rider. He would need one lap to catch up with the field, 3 or 4 laps to recover and would than have full power available to make a good fight for the sprint victory. That surely would be a good strategy for a podium.
I was very glad that I did this race. After rather disappointing times in the training I felt confident that I am gaining strength again and also I am now much less nervous about riding in a nervous field of nervous and inexperienced young riders.
Just after the race the ENKA SIRENS started to wail. Mika and Chiharu of the Kuroki Shimai, two female idol sisters who were selected by Nikkan Sports to become the curse of the Tour du Japon this year and who were frockling around in the area on their mama chari before the race, radiating good mood and „nori ga ii“ started their determinate approach to drastically increase acoustic pollution despite Kyoto protocols.
We Germans know all too well what happens if you are listening to female voices while trying to steer a vessel from the old Lorelei legend. „don’t“ – is our clear answer and I was glad that I didn’t heard them during the race. Sometime I was wondering why guys took off their hands from the handle at the finish area, mistakenly I thought that they were celebrating victory, but I know now that it only served the purpose to cover their ears and make it safely through the impact zone of the ENKA SIRENS.
In order to stop the infernal noise heaven resorted to the only available option left; a heavy rain started and I started to drive home.
The Joban expressway to Tokyo was completely clogged and driving four hours and 158 km home in a traffic jam was actually very similar to the distance, time and general feeling I had during the four hour endurance race.
After a while I knew every ass on the road.
We survived a noticeably tougher stage today–2 high passes to yesterday’s 1. We got caught in a rainstorm at the top of „the Bielerhohe“ – a 2030 meter elevation pass. Spectacular snow capped mountains all around, more happy cows by the side of (in some cases on) the road, then a descent with the positivo espresso orange bullet train to the finish, on roads that turned dry after we made it through some hairpin turns and down a few kilometers -reminiscent of Itoigawa finish. (dj, juliana and jerome waited for me at the pass so we could ride in together … well juliana did not wait once the weather turned bad, but we caught her quickly.)
Cows on the Beilerhohe:
David on the Beilerhohe:
We lost ground on the leaders on the first climb, and tried hard to make up some of it on the descent — 30 km. Unfortunately our hopes of gaining more on the leaders were dashed when a train crossing stopped us as a red austrian train passed it. This killed our motivation … even though it was only 2 cars and the crossing cleared after 1 minutes or less.
DJ and Juliana were trying to make up time on the leading mixed team, sponsored by Lighweight wheels. We call them Siegfried and Brunhilda, since they represent the ideal Aryan specimens. [Thank you, David – mob]
Unfortunately a flat tubular tire (road construction gravel — 20 meters of big coarse stones) killed their hopes. When we caught up with them changing the tire Juliana was applying the rim tape and grumbling very loudly about grease on the wheel rim — no way to treat a lighweight wheel. Even worse, DJ apparently wiped his grease-covered hands on the bridge over an adjacent stream, leading to additional complaints. But they seem back on good terms this evening, and now we are all far enough back in the standings so we can enjoy the ride.
We are now on excellent terms with messrs dupont and dupond, the french team that is leading the masters category (and only 1 minute out of the overall lead). They were pleased to learn that positivo espresso, listed as a japanese team, is actually a french team. They will adding us to their blog tracking the other 4 french teams … at least they said they would, and we hope they don’t change their minds when they look up our results. Unfortunately they have the classic cyclist look — emaciated with hollw eye sockets and cheeks, shaved or just bald heads, and pencil thin appendages.
At the pasta party:
Nightly leader presentation — the women’s category:
Balancing the bikes while getting a pre-race espresso:
Jerome reaches the top of the second minor climb of the day:
One half of the „orange bullet train“ descends into Imst.
Transalp Camp – Imst, Austria.
We sleep on the floor of what must be a warehouse, on camping mattresses. Correction — not a warehouse. Indoor tennis courts.
We just had dinner for 1000 people – pasta, lasagne, roll, minestrone, salad, sacher torte, beer (extra charge). I could not eat the torte – too sweet and I just ate a big snack at 4pm. We sat out on the lawn to avoid the crowd.
First stage -10am start.
David J and Juliane P – 59 out of 90 mixed teams, 5 hrs 17 minutes (that Spanish training trip paid off).
David L and Jerome B – 163 out of 177 masters teams (age 40 to 50). As I predicted, happy/lucky to get out of the bottom 5%, barely. [Correction, there were something like 185+ Masters teams, but only 177 were listed when the printed the preliminary results.]
We started at the very back of the race. In theory that does not matter, since we are racing a clock. In practice it means we have no idea how the stronger teams do. We did pass a lot of people and were riding well until the last climb. Jerome and I would have been probably 20-25 teams further up the rankings if the race ended at that point. The last climb was long and quite steep, with both of us suffering, barely able to turn over the cranks. Jerome ended up ahead of me 3 minutes on the top. The descent — was just like video of the Tour de France. Easy to go 75 km+ … Then hairpin turns.
Hopefully we will do better tomorrow as we recover from jet lag. There were 4-5 teams in our class within 5 minutes ahead of us. Scenery was spectacular.all day — mountains everywhere, plenty of snow visible higher up. Happy cows in steep grassy fields with cow bells ringing. Dry all day, mostly cloudy, so ideal riding weather but not ideal for photos of the high peaks.
We attended the „pasta party“ for dinner. Initial impressions of the field:
1. thin (lots of gaunt looking faces of people who consume food as if it were prescription medicine, in careful doses.
2. Intense: one guy was staring at my rear wheel. I asked him why, and he was looking at the brand of tubular, wondering why I had a „budget“ or „training“ model.
James, Dominic and me took the Shinkansen out to Mishima on Thursday where we wanted to start to explore some more roads of the Izu peninsular and show off our new Positivo Espresso team wear.
Actually that was the first time for a ride in the new 2009 kits so we wanted to make it a memorable one. The weather was OK when we arrived at Mishima station at about 8:30, assembled our bikes, made final adjustments to man and machine and tried to ride out from Mishima as fast as possible.
Somehow and with the help of James, his iphone and Google maps we arrived at route 414 along the West coast which is at least as boring as riding out through the suburbs of Tokyo. But once we were on road 17 the traffic became lighter and with a good tailwind we also made good speed. My god, I thought, we will be in Shimoda by noon.
But we had ambitious plans. So instead of continue to ride along the coast, what we have did so many time, we forked off to the left on route 127.
A long climb was waiting there for us. I had problems withe the rear derailleur despite that Nagai-San had adjusted everything only two days before. Dominic and James were gone and I creeped up the hill at 8 km/hr or so – it was really steep and I felt that I was in really bad shape. So we moved to 真城峠 and then further and unfortunately down and up again on to heda (戸田) Pass which was the start of a climb which brought us almost to 900 meter elevation.
And into the mist.
And finally to the famous Hayakaze Toge and even higher to Nishina Toge where we completely ran out of water after this very exhausting series of long and steep climbs.
We asked a peeing Japanese along the road if we can take the small road down to Matsuzaki and he said that it would be OK for cycles. There were some construction sites along the way and our bikes got really dirty, but we made it down and we could hear the sound of water and finally we stopped at a small stream to refill our throats and bottles. That felt good.
Along the way down we passed a group of construction workers that were sleeping on the asphalt next to their cars with a huge banner reading „作業中“, literally „Man at work“. Too late to make a photo now.
There was still a lot of debris on the road and it was also still wet from the rain of the previous day so we took a rather cautious approach down. Luckily there was a guy with a portable vacuum cleaner (or blower?) who started to clean up the mess so we can expect better road conditions any time soon. In which countries of the world to you meet a guy in the middle of a forest trying to clean with hoover?
Next stop at a family mart in Matsuzaki. This is a traditional stop in case you want to know why we stopped there. After 4 and a half hours of riding without major breaks we were also desperate for some food.
We then continued to ride towards Jaishi Toge, another traditional Positivo Espresso climb where Jerome always strips naked and we all take a nap on the bare asphalt.
Riding up to Jaishi Toge followed by the long descent in direction of the coast is one of the most beautiful stretches in Izu. Nice fast roads and some smaller hills which can be sprinted over. The last part to Shimoda was easy and I was feeling stronger with every minute.We then had a good meal at the Sunny Side Cafe and took the train back to Tokyo from Shimoda. A very nice training trip which provided me with the right amount of stamina for the Hitachi Naka Race. Thanks to James and Dominic for the good company.
When I was living in Malaysia in 96/97, one of the thing I missed the most were good newspapers.
The Internet was just at the start and there was not very much to read. The only (serious) English malayian newspaper was the NEW STRAITS TIMES and it was divided into three sections: On the front page usually prime minister Mahatmir gave his comment on anything in life („Youth should not dress so colorful.“) if you want to hear it or not; that was complemented by some stories of modest interest („Fake Honey Factory raided“).
As basically every day a few factory was commissioned, a new bridge completed or a new product launched, in the middle were stories about receptions, dinners and other social events, I will explain that later. The last part was full of advertisement where the investing companies and their subcontractors congratulated the prime minster, some sultan or other dignities on the opening of their own factories, the roads or the new products.
Now, the „social event part“ consisted of photos of more or less prominent people sipping fruit juice. Some explanation were required below the photos, so there were always the same ones, like „Sharing a joke at the HP printer cartridge refilling station reception, from left to right: Mohammed Kazar, Datuk Sans Serif., ….“ in case even only the hint of a smile was visible at least at one of the faces or „Talking business at the HP printer cartridge landfill opening, from left to right: ….) when there were no smiles.
After having made some photos at the latest Positivo Espresso Team Party, I thought it might by nice to continue the new straits times style at this blog.
I have to say that I wrote some perhaps nasty things about a rider in our midth who openly acknowledged that it too him 33 minutes to climb up to Wada Toge. To be more precise, I wondered if the gyrostatic forces of the wheels at this rotation speed would be sufficient to keep bike and rider in an upright vertical position. Another gifted rider in our group noted dryly that his best Togebaka time is roughly half of that.
Now, I have to admit that I got it completely wrong.
When I think about Wada, I am think about the steep approach from Hachioji. And I am thinking only about this approach because I have never ever tackled Wada from the other side. Why? Well first, all roads that lead you to the other side of Wada required at least a modest amount of climing (Otarumi, Kobu, Matsuhime, Sasago) so it is no fun to climb Wada from there. And second it is even less fun to ride downhill to Hachioji from Wada. Better take the rear wheel between your buttocks and start to squeeze to increase braking power. I mean, it’s a free fall, basically.
And indeed coming from Hachioji, the best times are well below 33 minutes. The Positivo Espresso record, hold by Ludwig is at 17:24 minutes as one can see on the right of the blog.
TCC has a similar hall of fame, and here the best time is hold by clay, an unbelieveable 14:15 minutes. Clay must be made out of carbon fiber with kevlar knees and aramid tendons.
There is one more Japanese web site, Hill Climb Time Trial, where the all time best is an even more unbelievable 13:39 minutes. I mean come on, that’s the time I need at least to make up my mind to tackle the bloody thing and get the shoes against all better knowledge clicked in the pedals.
So, Wada always meant Hachioji -> Wada for me. And that was wrong. Because yesterday I found out just by chance that small m (the rider in question) tackled Wada from the other side (West side) in 33 minutes. Now this is a completely different story. OK, according to the same TCC site, Clay can do it in 20:23 minutes, but that’s almost 2/3 of the time and not less than half. And a very respectable rider like Naomi with whom I have ridden in the past, still needed 27:55 minutes.And let’s not forget that we don’t know where small m started to record his time, as there is no official Positivo Espresso convention. The TCC definition is this one.
So, summarizing, 33 minutes is a quite OK time and I have to apologize that I got it wrong. I don’t think that the emperor was faster.
Did it took you 33 minutes to read this apology? No? So please read it again until precisely 33 minutes have passed or Michael Jackson will not go to heaven.
Perhaps we need an official Togebaka entry for the West Wada approach. Or perhaps not, perhaps we have more than enough rules and traditions already. That was the thing that went to my mind yesterday when I was riding out with Dominic and James and Dominic asked us to stop. In front of a Circle K convenience store. I was holding my breath, all muscles except the obvious ones were in full tension … should I say it … or should I wait for James to state the obvious „This is not a 7-eleven“.
But luckily later on the trip all of us ran out of water which gave us some food for thought why we should stop even at our combinis.
I was some kind of associated member with Juliane of a Japanese cycling club in 2003/2004, all of them nice guys, and I even meet them today from time to time and we chat at the Tamagawa. They have a hang out close to the Noborito bridge and they really taught me a lot about cycling. The reason why I don’t cycle with them any longer are many, but one important one is that they had such a unified and strong opinion on some things in cycling, that it was hard to have another, own one. One day, when we were riding up to Sengenzaka and Juliane had a flat tire (tubular) and throw it away on the spot, they were all moaning and telling her that this was the most impossible thing to do.
The tire should be properly kept and brought home where a piece of it should be buried in the garden behind the house and at least an „Otsukaresame, Tire-sama“ should be mumbled in reverence to the good service provided.
Well, that was the end then and we should be also be very carefully not to fall into the same trap. It is nice to talk about „traditions“ and rules, but we should not stick to them if they are not coming in handy. James made a good remark, when we stopped at the Family Mart in Matsuzaki: „Oh yes, that is the local traditional one.“ so let’s see it in this light.
Positivo Espresso always had a slight anarchist flair to it, not to adhere to rules (traffic ones or others), not to put too much restrictions on it’s members. We were not even able to draft in a group of four and change position for more than 50 meters. I think this is defining the spirit of Positivo Espresso best and that makes it easy for other riders to join us. Sometimes it is hard to organize a trip or a race, not to mention to design a jersey which everybody would like to wear, but that is the price we have to pay for a club of which Bakunin or Kropotkin would have been proud to join.