Rain. The sound of rain. Rain. I turned around and tried to fall asleep one more time. But unmistakenkly it was already after dawn and pouring outside. I stood up and looked out of the window, mist was covering the slopes of the nearby hills. As usual, when staying with the Coadies, I was involved in some serious drinking the night before and I didn’t felt too well. I could still remember saying „No way“ when Stephen offered me another glas of wine, however I also remember that the glass in my hand was nevertheless moving in direction of an open bottle. Why am I wearing this ridiculous pajama?
Tom has arrived already, he just came back recently from his trip to Belgium and is still jet lagged. He tried to beat the rain, but couldn’t and is now relaxing on a mat downstairs in the house. It is Sunday, 7 AM in the morning in Ikusabata, close to Ome, and three hours before the Tokyo hill climb race, where the winner can collect a handsome price money of 100.000 Yen.
Finally everybody is up and Ryoko is providing us generously with coffee and a good breakfast. Still, with the exception of Tom, we do not look like a bunch of hungry young riders on the way to collect a fortune, but more like a group of middle-aged salarymen the next morning after a company party. Anyway, we grow accustom to the fact that we will race today.
It is drizzling when we leave the house. Somehow Juliane cannot get the shoes out of her speedplay cleats and it takes some time to somehow fix that problem. We give the cleats a good lube with the only lubricant we have: sunscreen. Not needed today. Stephen is nowhere to be found so we continue to ride to the race. First we go over the hills between the Route 411 and Nariki Kawa, not so easy if this is the first thing to do in the morning on a bike. Amazingly we see some other riders and they have are walking up the hill. Is this the competition?
We arrive at the registration, get some goodies and take cover under in some kind of barn. Julianes, davids and my bike are arranged in a pattern which is called in German „ein flotter Dreier“ and where there is unfortunately no equivalent English word which can describe all the wit, beauty and deep meaning of this expression. In any case, we have hope that in some days we will see small Italian race bikes with 20 inch wheels coming out from this. I think that perhaps I should do some warm up, but I really don’t feel like this. I look at all the other riders and bikes around me. It is just amazing, there is not a single „bad“ bike, famous brands only, a lot of carbon, expessive wheel sets everywhere. 90% of the riders are looking young, slim and if they could beat me everytime at any race. But I know that it is not like that. I will overtake a lot of these guys on there fancy bikes with their 60 kg body weight and I will be overtaken by 50 year old chubby guys on mountain bikes. There is really no relation between the price of a bike, the look of the rider and the chances he has in a race.
Finally Stephen arrives as well. I never asked him where he has been so long and as I am getting excited close to the start of the race I don’t need to know. I give up the plan to start in my Chinese silk pajamas and collect a price for best dressed rider.
There are some other foreign riders arround, all in all perhaps 15, so this is most likely the largest number of foreigner riders I have seen at one event. Tom starts a conversation and I later join briefly. Astroman looks pretty fit, he should be able to make a good finish.
We move to the start area and then we see Jacques, Stephan and Kenichi from the NFCC team. They have choosen this day for a club tour to Shomaru Toge and for some reason they are now at the start. Jacques recognizes me and comes up. I ask him if he would like to race, at this point I would gladly give him my Sekken, but he doesn’t get the joke. But he is one of the most funny guys I know and immediately everybody arround him is laughing and relaxing.
About 400 riders have assembled at the start area and are now taking off in groups of 50 riders. Later I find out that more than 80 riders have not showed up [Hello Knotty], most likely because of the very poor weather. But then, the temperature is between 20 and 25 degrees and that’s better than to race in the heat. Now it is getting exciting. But before coming to the race, some information about the race itself. I don’t write what I thought the race would be like, but what I learned AFTER the race about it:
The original plan nevertheless, called for two runs of 5 km each on the same road. The first run was supposed to be leisurely and one has to make it to the top in less than 45 minutes. The second run then was supposed to be the real race. However because of the poor weather, the first run was cancelled and the first and only run was the real race.
The road runs up next to the Narikigawa. It is a typical paved mountain road, about 2 to 3 meters wide and 4.14 km long. The elevation difference is 383 meters, that comes to an average gradient of 9.3%. One has to take care because there are many metal drains on the road [Hello david] and some slopes are much steeper than the average, my guess what be up to 15 – 18%. Once out of the saddle one has to balance properly, so that the back wheel is not loosing traction. Or, if staying seated, one has to take care that the front wheel still touches the ground.
To cut a long story short, it is basically a copy of the Wada Toge +10%. Fast guys can do it in 15 minutes. I checked the Wada Hill Climb Time Trial website: Fast guys can do Wada in 13:39 min.
Precisely 10% difference. Tom’s best time for Wada is so far 18:18 min, thus Nariki should be 20:08 min. My best Wada time is 21:56 min, I should aim at 24:08 min.
The groups are taking off now. david and Stephen are already gone, Tom is one group behind me, Juliane another one. Off we go, there are maybe 30 riders in my group. The first part of the race is not too steep, along the river and some houses. I can keep a good pace and I move up, taken over some of the riders. Thanks to the good training by Alain, I am not afraid of getting into physical contact with the others any longer, so I rechlessly overtake. But after 500 meter there is the first steep climb and I fell back. From there onwards it is a succesion of very steep climbs followed by steep climbs. But the steep climbs offer some room to relax. I loose contact with the fast guys from my main group and my heart rate goes off to 170+. Now the first riders from the previous group come in sight, mainly mountain bikes. They are suffering. And now I am getting overtaken by the first riders from the group behind me – oh they are fast. Yoshinori in his Belgium jersey is the first one. But he is way ahead of the other guys in his group. There is a second guy coming and Tom is then right behind him. I shout: „You are in third place“ and he answers „I know“ and keeps sprinting after the second guy. Astroman overtakes some time later.
I have now given up any hope to go fast and go into survival mode. I am used to this, after the excitment of the start, the next 10 – 15 minutes are the hardest one. However, I overtake some more riders from the previous groups and even some of my own group. There is a guy in a Yellow Alphahawk jersey how groans loudly all the time. I screen my memory, but I do not recognize his face from the Japanese AV’s I have seen in my life. I am down to 10 km/hr and still HR 170 but I am managing one steep slopes and one hairneedle curve after another. Sometimes my back wheel is slipping on the ground but so far no critical situations.
More steep slopes and more hair needles. My cadence is going down and I am more and more relying on brute power than on spin. I feel like giving up, but somehow I manage to stay focused. A mountainbike on 1:1 gear ratio is passing by, the rider spinning like hell. I catch up on him again and see some riders who have gotten off their bikes and moving them up the hill. No way, that I will do the same thing I think and move on.
I have now covered about 350 meter of climbing and I mistakenly think that there are 150 meters still in front of me. Behind me, I can hear #396, Ueda-san, aka the rider in the yellow Alpha Hawk jersey. It seems that he is now experiencing his seventh orgasm of the race. He overtakes me, I think let him go, or come, I will catch him later when he has his cigarette after.
But now there is a group of people standing on a corner, one foreigner is shouting: „Only one more bend“. I can’t believe it, I thought the race would be longer. So I asked stupidely „Really?“ and he is answering postive and I think OK, I go into sprint mode. I quickly take up speed, but Ueda-san is already too far away. Obviously he has done his research and mapped a good strategy. I can still overtake one more mountain bike rider from my group (#374) and which substantially improves the result from 269th to 268th place out of 403 attendants. The time is 25:16 min which is less than I have expected (after making the Wada calculations after the race, without the calculations I was aiming for less than 30 minutes).
Stephen has come in slightly earlier, so I did not manage to make 2 minutes time on him. he finishes in 318th place with 27:05 min. Tom is already there since a long time, he has made 2nd place in his starting group and overall 77th with 19:37 min; clearly better than his Wada benchmark. He should try to set a new Wada Toge Baka record. david is also hanging arround, waiting for Juliane to come. He has finished in 24:35 min, 245th place. He also seems to be 36 years old, according to the result list.
We are waiting for Juliane. There she is. Amazing. I mean, how good she looks after such a hard race. Oh yes, and she also felt good, she says, she could have even gone faster but was also unsure about where the goal would be. So she finishes overall #206 in 23:10 min, but more important, in 2nd place of the women category. Unfortunately the second place does not receive 100.00 Yen, but zero. david is looking happy as well. The expected outcome, Tom clearly better than everybody else, and Juliane, david, me and Stephen very close together. I don’t know the TCC riders so well, but Astroman made finished with 20:07 min in 90th place. Most impressive is Dennis, who managed an incredible 36th place with 18:15 min.
So we hang a little bit around at the goal area and I speak with some of the other riders. There are some Cervelo bikes and some nice guys from a club in Kamakura. I am happy that this race is over and given the fact that I am not a hill climber, I am also satisfied with my result. I guess I would have made first place, not in my age, but in my weight group (> 100 kg with bike, I have some pretty big water bottles). The general atmosphere on top of the mountain is not really inviting but it is easy to speak with many riders. Water melon pieces are handed out. Juliane has just eaten one and as this is organic, 100% natural stuff I think it is absolutely politically correct to throw this over one’s shoulder into the scrubs. She does it, turns around and the next thing I see is a hailstorm of water melon pieces flying in the same directions. Obviously some other riders had the same problem and looked for directions. Japan.
We then move down to the start area are the last riders have arrived. The winner had a time of 15:01 min, and there were only two riders with times over 45 minutes, so the cut is very generous indeed. The complete results are here.
We don’t wait for the ceremony and the free potatoes to be handed out. Potatoes for Germans, really, I could think of nothing more practical. So we go again over the hills and head back to the house in Ikusabata, where the house warming party is already in full swing.
There are a lot of nice people and a lot of good food. Dennis shows up and clearly, he is not only a very skilled rider and generous person, but also the best dressed guy I have ever seen at a after race party.Apparently he have picked up his new line of clothing during a recent trip to Equador. I am not 100% sure if I should believe this, but the combination with davids trousers on the left would have been even more vivid and colorful.
We are in good mood but after all the suffering it is time to go home. It is however raining hard. Later I see in the news that this has been a very rainy day for the Kanto area. But again, we were lucky that we didn’t had to race in the heat.
All in all a very nice racing day to remember. A special thanks to Ryoko and Stephen for organizing the entry to the races for all of us and providing us with food and shelter.