30 October 2011

Track Party!

Through work that my office is assisting with related to a charitable project (the Oranda-jima Foundation) to help the recovery of Yamadamachi in Iwate Prefecture from this year's devastating tsunami, I happened to be at a meeting last week where Jan Remie, the manager of Rabobank's Tokyo branch, and Harada-san, one of the other Rabobank Tokyo executives, mentioned that they were a prime sponsor of the opening event planned for today at the new velodrome in Shuzenji on the Izu Peninsula.  I immediately mentioned an interest in attending, and was delighted when Jan said that it might be possible -- as a guest, in the "midfield" seating in the center of the arena.  On Thursday this week I was told by Okawa-san of Rabobank that there was a second ticket available, so ended up planning a day in Izu with Jerome.

We drove down, and parked at the new velodrome at the Cycle Sports center.

We hopped on our bikes for the trip down into Shuzenji proper, headed South through central Izu, then East up over Hiekawa Toge (Frozen River Pass!) and down to Ito on the coast -- a delightful road I remember riding with David J., Juliane and MOB back in Golden Week of 2008.  Then a quick spin up the coast with wind at our backs, and onto Route 19 for the climb up over the Izu Skyline and part of the way down the western slope to complete the loop back to the velodrome.  The weather was spectacular, and even on a ride of less than 50 km, we were able to manage about 1000 meters of climbing.
Jerome heads up the forested climb to Hiekawa Toge -- no traffic!

The velodrome is great.  The wooden track looks beautiful and very fast, and the building is nice, new, functional, but not over-the-top extravagant.  I suspect that Keirin revenues paid for it.  After watching the day's festivities, I really want to try to ride on a track.

Thank you, Rabobank, for sponsoring a great event, and for raising money in support of a good cause.

I bought some Rabobank gloves, helmet, t-shirt, and a cap -- profits to go to the Yamadamachi relief effort.  I would have bought everything else they had for sale, including socks and a winter-weight long sleeve jersey ... but they were at least 2 sizes too small.  If you want to buy some similar gear, let me know and I will see if I can get it for you -- with the profits to go to Yamadamachi recovery.

For a cycling fan, this was a dream event.  Theo Bos, Olympic silver medalist and five time world champion at various track events, was there.

Late in the day, Mario Cipollini made a surprise appearance, and even raced and won in a team sprint event with Elia Viviani of Liquigas and another Italian rider.
Cipollini (center) and Viviani (right), in the glare of the spotlights
Cipollini still has quite a motor at age 44, and 22-year old Viviani cleaned up, winning multiple events during the day.
Liquigas' Elia Viviani and Saxobank's Michael Morkov await the medal ceremony after their victory over Rabo, a Japan national track team pair and numerous other pairs in the Madison.  They manage to find time to give an autograph to an eager fan in a Chinese dress.
Of course, the Japan national track team, and numerous Keirin stars joined.  There was a special Keirin race featuring the Japan national road racers -- including Fumi Beppu, Yukiya Arashiro, Yukihiro Doi and Takashi Miyazawa (who has recently joined Farnese Vini, several of whose Italian riders were in Shuzenji today).  41-year old Shinichi Fukushima, their sempai, won the event.
Beppu and Arashiro, looking relaxed and happy, post-race.

Jerome has told me in the past that he once helped Fumi Beppu get his French visa when Fumi first started racing in Europe.  Now, I finally can confirm that the story is true, and Beppu-san still appears grateful to Jerome.  He also seems to speak quite decent French.  Chapeau, Monsieur Beppu!
Up close to the competitors and, more important, their track bikes

And of course, there were the women's races.  Did you think Fassa Bortolo quit sponsoring a cycling team?  Wrong.  They still have a team, just slightly more attractive than the team Koki Nagai used to work for when he was the mechanic working on bicycles for Petacchi, Bartoli and Rumsas.

Simona Frapporti accepts her victory lei and bouquet
Now it is the Fassa Bortolo Top Girls team.  Simona Frapporti won a race, and she and Silvia Valsecchi came close in others.  The Japan national track women set several "Japan Records" on the new track -- the first of many that this track will see.
Silvia and Simona, who tore up the track today
I wanted to go back again for more the next day ... now I can understand a little of the Six Days of Ghent.
Our hosts, Jan and Miranda Remie

24 October 2011

Chichibustan in Autumn -- Arima Attempt

On Sunday, a joint Franco-American expedition attempted to reach Arima Pass, a part of deepest Chichibustan long claimed by Belgian explorers for their crown.

We made it past the first bicycle portage -- the road construction having made noticeable progress since I was here in 2009 with Tom, the Belgian explorer, and Nishibe-san, our local guide.

But as we climbed, the jungle closed in, the road condition deteriorated, made worse by recent storms that had left the road covered with wet leaves and gravel in many places, our wheels slipping if we pushed too hard or tried to ride out of the saddle.  Eventually, we reached a stretch where the leaves hid an almost complete washout.  My rear tire flatted.  We turned around, defeated by the road, to head back for an important television event (NZ v France 2011 rugby world championship final).  Jerome flatted less than a kilometer into the descent, but the return trip was otherwise without incident, and swift.
Debris across the road to Arima
Unfortunately for the crowd at Chez Bouhet, the valiant French team -- which "showed up" for the first time in several weeks for the final match -- could not quite keep even with the almighty All Blacks of NZ.  On the other hand, my new Canyon "shows up" every ride, and performed well again yesterday with the fast HED Jet 6's -- a first try as I will definitely want them on for Saiko next month.

18 October 2011

Nov 3rd / 5th Tokyo Sanda (Kobe)

Due to a new business trip I have decided to modify the itinerary. Will start either from Tokyo or Katsunuma to reach Hiroshima via Japan sea 3 day later...
Tokyo / Kofu / Matsumoto / Nakasendo / Gifu / Fukui ken / Ishikawa ken / Shimane Ken Matsumoto / Takayama en route towards Fukui ken according to potential participants wishes.


I am planning a revenge trip (Yutaka & I had to give up in Kyoto due to ice) from Tokyo to Sanda (Kobe) on Nov 3rd to 5th. The plan is to leave at around 3 in the morning on Nov 3rd, rest in Gifu in the evening for few hours before heading to Biwako / Kyoto (or try the north shore road which seems nice also)
Anybody interested? (need to take Nov 4th off however).


東京 / 三田 ・11月3日から


NB; よしまささnに靴下有難うございました


17 October 2011

Positivista Reunion; Beeren Anniversary Ride

A glorious October Sunday, a founding member Positivista visiting from Europe, and the 25th anniversary of the Beeren club team from Kobe, with two of its members now residing in Central/Western Tokyo, all created the perfect excuse for us to enjoy one of the classic Positivo Espresso routes -- the "reverse full Paul Jason" ride.

This involves riding up the Tamagawa and out of town via Itsukaichi, up the beautiful Akigawa, climbing to and then through the Kobu Tunnel, down the South side into Uenohara City, through the nasty, brutish but beautiful "Uenohara golf course hills", up the steep west side approach to Wada Pass, then down the front of Wada and home via Jimba Kaido, the Asagawa and lower Tamagawa.  135+ km and 1500-2000 meters of climbing.  Not time to blog much now, .. but enjoy these photos.

Classic victory pose on top of Wada Pass, with the rock at rear to prove the location.

Jerome edges out Juliane and Nishibe-san for the "Emperor's Cup" prize -- first hill out of Itsukaichi.
Juliane's borrowed "aero retro" helmet does little good on the climbs, as she strains with the
wide, 44cm handlebars of her borrowed steed, the Giant TCR

We tried for another group photo before the climb up the Akigawa, but the 7-11 employee had trouble finding the button on top of the camera that actually snapped the photo ... at least with my camera. ....

15 October 2011

Three years

On Thursday, it was three years to the day that I completed my first road bike day ride: http://positivo-espresso.blogspot.com/2008/10/izu-west-coast-cruising.html. A month earlier I had gone to the headquarter outlet of Canyon in Koblenz, Germany, and picked up my first road bike. On 13 October 2008, MOB finally found the time in his busy racing and training schedule to take me onto a weekday ride to Izu.

Little did I know back then that I would end up cycling at least once a week, become addicted of climbing mountains rather than staying in the flat, win a racing championship (more here:
http://positivo-espresso.blogspot.com/2010/01/championship-memoirs.html) and end up doing dusk to dawn rides, sometimes two to three days in a row.

In these three years, I cycled 37,275km: 11,800km in the first twelve months, 12,500 in the following 12 months, and 13,000km in the last twelve months. I did not keep a total tally of the altitude meters climbed, but it must be somewhere between 400,000 and 500,000 metres.

When I was deciding on what bike to buy, I was wondering whether a carbon bike would last more than 6,000km and then disintegrate. I took the risk - very naively. My Canyon carbon bike has clocked 27,300km by now, without anything more than normal wear and tear. I'm about to replace the break pads and wheels, as the breaking down the mountains has worn the rims a little thinner. Nonetheless the wheels are still perfectly usable and will move to my cheaper aluminium Canyon kept in Germany (which so far has seen a modest 3,800km).

The remaining 6,200km have been on my Red Bull cyclocross which has enabled me to expand my "discovery" of rindos (forest/mountain roads) to unpaved ones, and winter conditions.

I should celebrate the fact that I have been accident free throughout these three years. The worst that has happened to me is road rash when my cyclocross went sliding, twice, ironically both times on paved roads, once over moss, the second time over oil.

All this riding has also kept me fit and healthy. My cholesterol measurements have never been better, for example.

If only my back had not suffered. My first half a year on the bike was entirely trouble free. Since then, however, on every ride I would develop pain in my lower back. Depending on how long I was riding without break and how hard I was pushing, this pain would come earlier or later in the ride, and develop sometimes such intensity that I could not continue riding without a few minutes off the bike. On most rides, the pain from my back would far outdo any kind of exhaustion. What kept me still going was the wonderful scenery in the mountains, and the ambition to complete a big ride.

Since August of this year, things started to deterioate, steadily. My back would not only hurt on rides any more, but permanently. In early October, the pain became worse day by day, and it is now so bad my walking is impeded. MRIs show that two disks are squeezing the central nerve.

I must stay off the bike to avoid advancing things even more than they already do by themselves. Even if my back gets better again at some point, it is unlikely I will ever be trouble free. Passing a three-year anniversary in this state is not filling me with much joy. It is difficult enough to miss the best cycling weather in Japan, the mild and long autumn.

As my present state and a look into the future is filling me with pain, it perhaps wiser to look back and think of all the great moments I have had on the bike.

First of all there is all the great countryside I have had the chance to discover. Three years ago I largely ignorant of the geography surrounding Tokyo. When I landed in Japan 16 years ago, I would occasionally go on hikes in the Okutama, Jinba and Tanzawa mountains, but in later years hardly venture outside Tokyo on weekends.

Today I can proudly claim that there is basically no mountain road or pass in rural Tokyo, Kanagawa, Yamanashi and Saitama I do not know. I have also covered most of Gunma, Nagano and eastern Shizuoka. This includes the highest mountain pass in Japan - Norikura at 2,700m - which I have climbed three times.

It also includes unpaved roads, many officially closed roads and rindos, some hiking paths, a forbidden tunnel, and even an entire forbidden (but really stunning) valley somewhere in the Japanese Alps (I had to promise not to reveal more when I got caught).

I also have made occasional excursions beyond the Kanto-Joshinetsu area: Hokkaido, Kansai, Yamaguchi and Kyushu. There is still so much more to see of course.

In Europe, I have had a good time in southern Germany, England and the Tyrolian Alps in Austria. The "real" Alps are simply stunning, and also quite challenging, more for the variable weather than the slopes - though doing 1,200m up the Kitzbueheler Horn at an average of 13% (!!) is always a killer.

In these three years, I have on basically every ride "discovered" something new - never just repeated a previous route. The only exceptions have been group rides where I held back my urge to discover something new.

Apart from the mountains, there are idylic rural villages (almost anywhere), historic towns (notably Tsumago, Magome, Narai, Takayama), and great onsens.

The highlight has been ten days this year at the Kusatsu Music Academy where I was able to combine cycling (albeit far too little because of the bad weather) and music.

Then there is the great camaderie with other fellow cyclists. I owe to MOB a ride on his older bike in July 2008 which would get me all excited about buying my own bike and giving it a try. He then took me on many rides, teaching me all the basics about getting in and out of Tokyo, also about how to compete in the JCRC championships. We were a good match in me taking photos and him publishing entertaining ride reports.

After MOB left for Germany in Spring 2010, I felt somewhat on my own, and started expanding the length of my rides, often venturing beyond 200km and 3,000m of climbing a day. This is also when I completed my longest ride to date - 340km leaving home at 4am and arriving to just catch the setting sun across the Sea of Japan in Naoetsu 15 hours later (and this being Japan I was still back home three hours later).
I used the newly found endurance to do three-day rides with Mike, discovering the highest mountains in Nagano, which are all quite stunning. The mountain landscape changes above 2,000m - and so does the temperature, which is nice in summer.
Then Tom helped me to stretch myself not only in terms of distance but also pace. Tom rarely needs a break, and he takes all climbs at speed. By now we have done quite a few two-day rides together, where discovering a new (well, often, very old) minshuku to stay is part of the fun of the weekend out.
Finally it is always fun to join a larger group ride and meet new people or see old faces. And these rides almost always end differently as planned.

This is why I like cycling so much: there is always something new and unknown, and yet things always end well (at least so far).

I hope I can return some time in the not to distant future.
In the meantime, I will be as stiff as this monkey in Tama Zoo.

12 October 2011

Another Reason NOT to ride a Mountain Bike on Single Track

The first few times I rode single track, when I was just getting into cycling 10-12 years back, a friend took me twice to a forested park in Montgomery County Maryland that had some very nice trails -- plenty of small logs and other obstacles to cross over, slopes to go up and down, branches to dodge, good clean mud.  It was a great course and a lot of fun. But on each short ride, we passed an ambulance that would come into an evacuation point at the edge of the forest to take out someone who had broken a bone.  I decided that I would rather stick to road cycling than risk injury on a mountain bike.  To those who do ride offroad -- chapeau. 

You have probably seen this video already (it was on CNN yesterday), but if not, maybe it can compensate some for the lack of photos, video or humor in the most recent posts by myself and Froggy ...

11 October 2011


来年8月の15日ぐらいから (10日間)フランスのツールを企画したいと思います
これからはお値段調べないといけないですが、30-40万ではないですかね (飛行機込)?何人行くかに関係しても少し細かいコストが出ます

Tour des Pyrennees 2012 at a 1st glance

10 days route over 28 cols / 16 000 m to climb
Altitude (m)
Col Saint Ignace /169
Col Pinodeita / 176
Col Budincurutcheta / 1135
Col Bagargui / 1319
Col de Marie-Blanque / 1035
Col d’Aubisque / 1709
Col du Soulor / 1464
Col des Borderes / 1156
Col du Tourmalet / 2115
Col d’Aspin / 1489
Col de Peyresourde / 1569
Col du Portillon /1293
Col de Mente /1349
Col de Portet d’Aspet / 1069
Col de la Core /1369
Col de la Trappe / 1111
Col d’Agnes /1570
Port de Lers / 1517
Col de Marmares / 1361
Col de Chioula / 1431
Col de Pailheres / 2001
Col de Moulis / 1099
Col de Garabel /1267
Col de Jau / 1513
Col de Palomere / 1036
Col Xatard / 752
Col Fourtou / 646
Col Llauro / 380

Journey subject to change according to participants wishes... Might be a good idea to visit Spain to get cheap booze

Gifu / Ashiya / Nagoya: the revenge

I finally could avenge Yutaka & myself aborted attempt to reach Ashiya (had to stop before Otsu due to icy conditions) from Tokyo.
The only difference is that I started from Gifu & cycled back to Nagoya
I left Kawabe san house (my home stay family when I arrived in Japan) on saturday morning & litterally flew towards Biwako on route 21 (no interest at all) & stopped for a quick lunch + naked - forgot my underwear this time - bath in Biwako (you will probably remember Noto Hanto picture of myself coming out of the sea - as Ursula Andress did a few years ago in James Bond doctor No.-). The ride along Biwako was much longer than expected & traffic conditions were horrific. I started to enjoy (& suffer) when I rode on route 477 (north of Kyoto) towards Sanda. Had a brief dinner before climbing to Royu & reaching Ashiya.
Sunday was dedicated to resting & celebrating Beeren 25th anniversary (I will try to post some pictures as soon as available) with nearly all members (48 riders). After a couple of drinks, we talked about a Positivo Espresso / Beeren joint Tour des Pyrenees next year: Nishibe san, the honorable boss of Beeren, named me as general race director for this trip & asked me to plan this event after O Bon so that he can join it.
Since it was far too late to consider going back to Tomoko family home, I decided to stop at Yazaki san place (another Beeren member / 68 years old) for some more food & drinks.
I hit the road again (towards Nagoya) on Monday morning but wanted to try another road. Route 37 across Sasayama, 732 towards Kyoto & route 1 till Omi green road an alternative road which brought me to the other Suzuka Pass.
Cycled down to Yotsukaichi & Nagoya at an incredibly dangerous speed along 477 & route 1 (it took me an hour & 20 mn for 40 kms between Yotsukaichi & Nagoya in a congested traffic). As a whole it took me around 12 hours for 250 kms. Very nice journey but need to find a way between Nagoya & Biwako to skip route 1 which is a nightmare. As Davil L. suggested, I should have tried to head up toward the Japan sea...

Will keep you updated about Tour des Pyrenees but you could have a good hint about the route checking velopeloton home page.

Next week end
The good news is that Juliane is stuck in Tokyo. I would suggest organizing "a souvenir journey". Since Juliane did not bring any bicycle, it could be a good opportunity to use the tandem...

Last Brevet of 2011

Sunday (into Monday), I joined the last Brevet of 2011 held by any of the Audax Japan chapters, the 400km Saitama Audax "Attack Miho".  It was just 2 years ago, in October 2009 that I tried my first Brevet ... hard to believe there have been more than a dozen since, and a fitting end to the year's Brevets.

I was able to circumnavigate Mt. Fuji, just as on that first Brevet in October 2009.  Also, the turn-around point, at Miho on the coast in Shizuoka Prefecture (home to a famous coastal pine grove, from which you get a spectacular view of Fuji, was just off of the East end of the "Strawberry Line" and the route of my first Brevet of this year, back in early January.  The weather was ideal, other than some wet pavement on the return, from rain that had missed us (but caught the fastest riders).

The 400 kilometers was probably 75% roads that I had traveled before, and about 25% new territory -- a good mix of the familiar and the new, with the comfort of knowing the climbs and not worrying much about if they would overwhelm me.  And the route we took around Mt Fuji included many roads I had ridden in August -- after comparison, I much prefer Route 469 along the South slope of Fuji in the dark of night in October to the same trip in the August noonday sun.  As usual, instead of taking the straightest distance between two points, a number of extra hills were added (e.g. Kobu Tunnel).  By the time I reached the top of Doshimichi, just over 100 km into the outbound leg, I had already logged over 2000m of climbing, and elevation gain for the full ride was in the 5000m (16,000 feet) range.

I recognize many of the Saitama staff and participants now, after 3 Saitama Brevets in the past two years, and also seeing and sometimes riding with their big contingent at PBP.  I am definitely in the lower 50% of these events in terms of my finishing times, whereas at the Kanagawa, Aoba or Shizuoka events, I'm in the upper 50%.  As usual, I started (too) fast and quickly got 3 hours "savings" over the time limit, and then was able to barely hold that margin until the finish.  I suffered a lot on the climbing portion of the return leg -- a mix of stomach problems and the usual fatigue, the former clearing up so that I could eat at least convenience store spaghetti or cup noodles at the last two checkpoints and get enough energy to complete and yes, enjoy, the ride.

And as usual, after a short nap in my car and drive home, I bathed and slept most of the day, awoke to clean up my gear and enjoy dinner with family, then slept again through the night, very soundly, and now feel that great post-Brevet sense of relaxation and serenity!

Jerome could not join, as he went to Kobe for the 25th anniversary ride and party of the Beeren cycling club there.  As usual participants asked me about his absence -- I think his shoeless 600km won him many fans.

We will be back next year for more fun!

03 October 2011

Super HC Up Toyo Tires Turnpike -- A Tradition Since 2010

On Sunday I joined the second annual "Super Hill Climb" event as one of six participants from TCC (Tokyo Cycling Club).  After a nice early warm-up ride to Shin-Yokohama Station, the Kodama shinkansen deposited me at Odawara after a trip of only 15 minutes.  Outside Odawara Station there were at least 10 Japanese riders taking road bicycles out of their rinko-bukuro.  It was only a few kilometers' ride to the start, and offered a great close-up view of Odawara Castle.

4 out of the 6 TCC riders finished in under one hour.

I was the slowest of the 6, finishing at 1:05:50, 296 out of 507 in the 40-49 group ("Road D" group).  But for me this was a very good time, within 9 minutes of Thomas and Travis, whereas on the similar climb last week of O-Toge, I finished within 20 minutes of Thomas and 18 of Travis.  And the 507 riders in the 40-49 group all looked like typical Japanese "climbers" -- very low body fat, pencil thin types, some tough as nails.

The route, up the "Toyo Tires Turnpike", a toll road usually normally closed to bicycles, involved a climb over 10 km from just above sea level (25m elev) to around 1000m elev., then 3.3 km of riding up and down hills along the top of a ridge, until one last uphill sprint to the finish.  There is plenty of 13% grade, and several kilometers where the average grade is higher than 10%.  I tried to keep a 10-11 kph speed even on the steepest stretches, and was pleasantly surprised that I could do so.  Including the up and down sections along the ridge, the aggregate ascent is close to 1100 meters, much more than the Ekiden climb up Route 1 in Hakone.

After a brief rest at the top, my real ride began.  Down to the lake -- Ashinoko -- and up and down small hills along its Southern shore, in heavy weekend tourist car traffic.  It took longer than I expected to get to Sengokuhara, the flat-ish area at the East end of the lake, where the tourists were parking and hiking among the tall grasses.
Hakone, Sengokuhara, looking toward Otome-toge

Then a short climb up Route 138 toward Otome Pass, through a tunnel, then down, down to Gotemba, and on the first plausible road I turned off of 138 and struck off to the N/NE through the valley toward the base of the next climb, Mikuni Pass, stopping at a convenience store for spaghetti and to check a map and make sure I could get to the climb without too many detours.

Mikuni was relentless, starting at below 500m elev and peaking at over 1150m elev, and much of the way 13-16% grade.  At least it was reasonably cool. I got off the bike once for photos and some water when the "circular" pavement pattern appeared.
The dreaded circular pavement pattern. The grade was already crazy below here.
Unlike most roads, it did not change noticeably when the circles appeared.

I dismounted a second time higher up ... and needed to walk 100 meters or so up the hill and around a bend to find a place where I could actually manage to re-mount the bike and clip into my pedals safely.
The clouds got darker and darker, but we had dry roads all the way back to town.
The Mikuni climb flattens out a bit the last 2 kilometers or so to less than a 10% grade.  At least now I've climbed it once, and can go back another time to try it fresh from bottom to top without a foot down.
I met Jerome, who had ridden out to Yamanakako, and we enjoyed a fast trip down Doshi Michi and back into town in the failing light.

Around 175km and around 2500-3000m of climbing.  At last I think I am fully recovered from PBP.