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.