I’m not even sure that criterium is a real word but it does at least turn up in some dictionaries. For those not among us cycling cognoscenti, it’s a type of bike race that takes place on a small circuit with either a set number of laps or a time limit plus a couple of laps. If you get lapped, you’re out. Because they are usually relatively short, they are normally raced at a pretty quick pace. On Sunday, I rode both my first criterium and my first bike race in Japan.

It was back at Moerenuma Koen, scene of the Tour de Hokkaido criterium. I had to get out of bed early to ride out there for the 7.30am registration. Kazuko was still sleeping when I left but I mustn’t complain as the children’s clinic where she works was the rostered open Sunday clinic (remember the old petrol station rosters?) and she ended up working form 8am to 9.30pm thanks to lots of kids having the flu. Lucky Kaz. I don’t think any of the kids at Moerenuma Koen had the flu but some of the kiddies races were first and I think the toughest part is waiting on the start line for all the parents to take photos before they can finally start.

That's Mr Kawakatsu from team NSR photographing one of his kids.

That's Mr Kawakatsu from team NSR photographing one of his kids.

Note the full range of bikes from road bikes through to the kid on the right who is racing with a basket and headlight. These kids just did the one lap of the 2.7km course and although it was a young chap on a road bike who won, the lad with the basket didn’t do too badly either.

My race didn’t start until 10.40, so I had plenty of time to hang around. The owner of Attic, Mr Katahira spotted me when I arrived and invited me over to their tent, so I made that my base. The Team Attic guys are all pretty friendly and tolerate my hopeless Japanese quite nicely. I’m pretty sure that whenever I have a conversation with someone, we both walk away with quite different ideas of what we were talking about but I enjoy it all the same. I hope at least that it’s helping my Japanese improve.

The kids’ races were followed by other short races. The masters and ladies only did three laps. That’s hardly value for money. Thanks to Mr Kawakatsu putting in a word for me with the cycling body, I raced in S2 division – the next one down from the top Elite division. Apparently you usually have to start in S4 and work your way up. Maybe this wouldn’t have been such a bad thing for my ego, as I realised pretty soon after the start that my dream of making a big break on lap five and riding the last five laps with an enormous solo lead was just never going to happen. In fact, we took off at full throttle and the pace never eased up. My cornering was terrible so instead of tucking myself safely behind someone and staying in their slipstream, I spent a lot of time flapping about in the wind trying to find a position where I wouldn’t get in anyone’s way. I thought for the sake of pride I should try to have a break anyway so I made a burst on the second last gap and lasted about five seconds before being put back in my place. I ended up third last and with a lot to think about.

That's my name at the top. I came 22nd. But I beat three people.

That's my name at the top. I came 22nd. I beat three people.

Even though I sucked, it was pretty exciting racing about at the speed and I was already looking forward to doing another one. Luckily, there was a bonus extra race at the end of the day: the Sapporo Mayor’s Cup was open for entrants from any division. I just had to hang about for another couple of hours while some other races got under way, including a toddlers race:

Dad with the camera is keeping up with his youngster and in the background, someone's elder brother is giving a push. Just like Valverde in the Spanish mountains.

Dad with the camera is keeping up with his youngster and in the background, someone's elder brother is giving a push. His mum took over soon after. Just like Valverde in the Spanish mountains.

I thought this one was easily the most exciting race of the day and I used it as motivation for the 10-lap Mayor’s Cup. Unfortunately my mum was too far away to push me when I got dropped after lap 6 so I just had to grit my teeth and try to finish as well as I could. Luckily I found another guy to ride with and we worked well together and even managed to pass quite a few of the riders who also got dropped by the main bunch. I’m pretty sure we were both right at our limit. There were a few times I thought I wouldn’t be able to keep up with him and I think he was the same.

I was 48th and my buddy was 50th. I managed to sneak ahead of him a little at the end.

I was 48th and my buddy was 50th. I managed to sneak ahead of him a little at the end.

After the finish, we did the polite Japanese thing and thanked each other formally for our hard work. We were both so fired up from the race that we spent the next five minutes excitedly babbling to each other. I didn’t understand a word he said and I’m certain he had no idea what my pidgin Japanese was meant to mean but we both went away pretty happy.

And if the physical exertion wasn’t enough, instead of wallowing on the sofa as I should have done, my brother-in-law Kii-chan took me out to an all-you-can-drink izakaya to ensure there was little of me that didn’t suffer on Monday.

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