„And this is the brake, yes !???!“
„No, there you can shift the gears.“
„So, where is the brake, then?“
Should one be worried, if the rider next to you in the pit during a bicycle race is getting instruction from the friends like this? Well, the weather was fine in Motegi and the course has wide roads, so all kinds of beginners and the usual assortment of fluffy animals, kappas, ultramen and riders dressed as cockroaches can be tolerated I guess.
Our team for the seven hours endurance race in Motegi consisted of David „Jerome“ Litt, James „Augustin“ Machin and me, Michael „Michael“ Kraehe. With the exception of James Augustin, who is 11, we were all at least 18 years old.
Therefore the objective was not to win the race, but to race as hard as we could and have a good time.What has the above and the below in common?
We started the night before at the Positivo shop where we had last minute maintenance to our bikes. Why?
Answer: The gravity zero wheels emitted more noise than the average right-wing truck. I bought this wheels some time ago from David Marx and they are not only the most wonderful wheels I ever had but also for sales. I was very excited when I unpacked them the first time and then I found the owners manual which clarified that „high performance = high maintenance“ and that every time I ride in the rain with these wheels I need to disassemble the bearings and re-grease them. So when riding home from the race in pouring rain with the bike mounted on top of the car I could hardly think about anything else than the bill Nagai–san from the shop will present me after having done his part of work on the wheels.
We left for Utsunomiya to stay at the Richmond Hotel. The next time we meet, please ask me how we parked in front of the hotel because the story is so long and complicated that it can only be verbally transmitted.
But it’s a nice hotel nevertheless and father and son can save a lot of money as a single bed seems to be wide enough to accommodate both of them. And in addition there is also space for our bikes in the room.
An early start next morning saw us crossing through an ugly Utsunomiya. This is not the pearl of the orient, in case you wondered. This is in fact really the problem mid-size towns in the Japanese country side have: They are not old, so nothing of historical interest or beauty is left in town. They are also not new: in times of prolonged economic crisis in the countryside (basically since 1990) and few investments in the last 20 years, everything is modern but old, poorly maintained and not built to last. There is also no natural beauty left. Go to any of these smaller towns in Japan and leave depressed.
Working for a Japanese construction company in the early nineties I had a superior who bought a house in Utsunomiya and commuted by Shinkansen every day to Tokyo. This made sense in pre-bubble Japan for two reasons: first land prices were still rising in the city and it was almost impossible to realize the dream of the own home close to the center and second, working for construction one needs his own own house in order to stay true to the system.
He was a particular bad tempered guy and after having seen Utsunomiya, his fate, I may begin to understand why.
Sorry for leaving the red line of this story, the only positive thing was that there was thick mist so not all of Utsunomiya was revealed to us.
We arrived at Motegi, secured a place in the pit and made some training laps. The course is basically flat, two difficult corners, 7.2 km long, I like it and it is the third time after 2006 and 2007 to race there. Also the weather was becoming better: warmer and blue skies.
I was the first rider at the start and as I was late I ended up pretty much at the end of the field, composed of more than 300 riders. But I could make my way up into the top 50 or so during the rolling start, which lasted for one complete lap. The race then started for earnest and I managed to stay with the top group and climbed up the first small hill at 30 km/hr+ always with the top 20 – 30 riders. So the second lap went good and the third lap as well. Slowly the top field was also becoming smaller and smaller. At the end of the third lap only 30 riders or so were left with the fast group. And you need to stay with a group as otherwise you loose so much time fighting alone against the strong wind.
But then the inevitable happened.
As I pointed out alreday the track in Motegi is very flat, expect for a small hill which can be easily over-sprinted. This statement is true, but only for the first three laps of the race (in total we made 36 laps). I am not sure, but one of the two things written below happened after lap #3:
- Hydraulic mechanisms located under the hill and operated by the race organizers jacked up the slope for about 100 meters so that a relatively modest hill became a murderous slope for the rest of the race or
- Tectonic movements had the same effect on the slope.
In any case, I was fighting my way up the hill and lost contact with the fast group in lap #4 and once lost and basically alone in nowhere land between the very good and the good racers, it is a lonely and futile fight against the wind. I handed over to Jerome in 36th position and he fighted the next four laps before handing over to Augustin who made one lap with Jerome providing draft for him.
The endurance races are very hard and one is pushed to the limits: One has constantly to motivate oneself and make contact with riders in front. And that is pretty much how the race continued: Having small breaks, trying to stay focused and motivated. Then out on the track, finding a good groups of riders to stay with.
I thought that the pit would close half an hour before the end of the race at 15.30hr, so I tried to squeeze in four laps between the closure of the pit before handing over to Jerome who would do the last three laps. This worked just perfectly, I made in about 30 seconds before 15.00hr into the pit only to realize that the pit closes only at 15.25hr. OK, but now it was Jerome’s turn to finish the race.
Which he did in a very good manner. I haven’t see the lap charts yet, but as usually I would guess that he would loose not too much speed compared to the start of the race because of his big, big stamina. Augustin was also doing very well, averaging 30 km/hr on his laps.
And then the race was over. I checked our position and we had finished in 50th position with 36 laps in 7:05:51 hours. Not too bad, I thought at first, considering that we only had three guys on the team, one of them (James Augustin) only 11 years old.
But more surprisingly, I checked against the performances of 2006 and 2007 once I was back home and I found out that:
Racing there in 2006 with Stephen and a guy called Larry Banks (actually a motorcyle guy) we finished in 39th place with 33 laps. With our 2009 performance we would have finished in 8th position, with the winner doing 38 laps. Not bad.
In 2007 our team consisted of Tom, Marek, Stephen and me and we finished in 11th position, also covering 36 laps, but one minute slower. OK, it was raining hard that day and the race would have been faster if the weather has been better, but nevertheless, we had beaten our strongest club team in comparison.
A 39th place in 2006 and an 11th place in 2007 adds up precisely to a 50th place in 2009 which is the weakest position so far but still the best race we made. The competition is also getting stronger, the winning team this time made 41 laps.
So there was much to talk about on the way home in the car, during prolonged hours of traffic congestion and at a nice yaki–niku dinner somewhere close to Tsukuba. It is really a joke, we raced almost 260 km in seven hours, and then it takes as 5 hours to ride home in the car 140 km.
We were all done but as usual proud of ourselves. And of course we can do this again any time (see next posting).
PS Sorry, I forgot to take my camera with me, so no photos this time.