While some of us were lazing aways the hours in Tomamu, elsewhere there was a bicycle race going on and I’m not referring to the one where the whole world is, apparently, conspiring yet again against Cadel ‘woe is me’ Evans according to his Twitter entries. You would have to be completely heartless not to have felt sorry for him during the stage, though. He got a flat tyre at the worst possible moment. What tickled my fancy was the message of “support” from Danilo ‘I’ve never doped’ Diluca:

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And at least Cadel doesn’t talk about himself in the third person with the definite article:

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But no, the race I’m talking about is closer to home than that. The Tour de Hokkaido is a five-day stage race that started last Wednesday and finished on Sunday. It looked as if we were taking pains to avoid the race. Apparently the annual holiday is usually in Asahikawa, where this year’s race started and last year’s fourth stage actually finished at the magnificent Tomamu Alpha Resort. Then on the way home from Tomamu on Friday, we drove part of the way along the roads where the race would be the next day. I don’t think the race deviated to take in the Anpanman shop, though.

Luckily for us, we didn’t completely miss the racing. The Tour finished with a 61km criterium in Sapporo so while Kazuko was working on Saturday, I got on my bike and did a quick reconnoitre of the criterium course, which is at Moerenuma Park about 30-40 minutes’ ride from where we live and a likely candidate for cycle training because I can ride round and round it without traffic lights every 100 metres.

On Sunday morning, Kaz and I got up bright and early to make sure we didn’t miss the start of the race. Without much traffic on the road, the trip out there was pretty quick so we had plenty of time to do a few laps of the course before the race. We got to mix it with a few of the tour riders who were warming up, including one who was even polite enough to say ohayou gozaimasu (good morning). We cheered for him later but it didn’t seem to help him get into the breakaway. I was also either convincing enough to fool a few people into taking my photo or, more likely, I was used by several photographers to check their camera settings. The course was pretty flat but with one short, sharp hill so we thought the top of that was probably the best place to watch the race.

This was the only climb.

This was the only climb.

Kazuko keeps an eye on things.

Kazuko keeps an eye on things.

Most of the teams were Japanese but there were also one team each from Korea, Malaysia, Austria, Denmark and the Australia Drapac Porsche team. One of the Shimano guys made an early break. I heard he was from Hokkaido so assumed he was just flying the flag in the capital but in fact he managed to stay ahead of the pack all day. About halfway through the race, the peloton split in two and at the same time, another Shimano guy and one from Drapac Porsche managed to join the lead. And that was how they finished. I suspect the main bunch was content to just finish the tour, while the chase group had all the main contenders where they could keep an eye on each other. I thought the Drapac Porsche guy was looking strongest in that group of three but in the end he was beaten by a wheel to the finish. We had a quick chat with the Drapac Porsche guys after the race. They seemed a friendly bunch. Sadly they didn’t get much time to enjoy Japan. They were on the plane the next day.

Through the park, quick left, then right and up the climb.

Through the park, quick left, then right and up the climb.

Map of the course.

Map of the course.

After the race, there was a series of criteriums for the public to enter. We had already been baffled by the entry process earlier in the week but this was a good chance to get in touch with some cyclists in Sapporo so I used my translator (thank you, Kazuko!) to ask pertinent questions until we could find a group to ride with. In the end, I got in touch with a team called NSR (no one knew what this stood for) who the officials said had some foreigners riding with them. It turned out that meant they had one foreigner but apparently their key question in recruitment is ‘do you tell bad jokes?’. And I think we all know the answer to that. Hopefully it won’t be long before my first group ride in Japan.

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