Here you go then. Read this elevation profile and weep:
And if weep you must, my suggestion is to do it near the top of that highest peak, right in the middle of the profile. That’s where I thought I might shed a tear, anyway. Almost 20km of riding steadily upward and all I wanted was just a little downhill section to give my legs a rest. Happily, once over the top, the descent was the highlight of a day of tough but scenic riding in the hills to the west and south of Sapporo.
The last brevet that I entered was my longest ride to date, so why not up the ante by 50 per cent? And for good measure, instead of being mostly flat, why not throw in 4000m of climbing? My plan, which was a good one, was to stick with Mr Kon for the length of the ride which would mean setting a good pace but without getting carried away and with the bonus of having a companion to chat to as well as someone familiar with the directions. 300km is a good, long day in the saddle, so even with a 6am start, we wouldn’t get back to town before the early evening. Here is Mr Kon at the meeting point in the middle of Sapporo while Kazuko clearly needs some energy drink after her gruelling 10-minute ride to town on her mini-velo:
And here is me and Mr Kon, all ready to go. I should also point out that whereas I am relaxing on the sofa today, Mr Kon has got up again for some more, entering a 120km ride. Chapeau.
And all this time, I was thinking to myself, no, I’m not going to do anything silly like take off and chase the front-runners, I have no desire to finish in some sort of fast time, I’ll be happy to just get around the course. The course, if you’re interested, looked like this:
I’ve chosen the terrain version of the Google map just to emphasise the hilly bits.
There must have been 30 or 40 starters and you’d think that a group of people starting out on a 300km ride would set a mild pace to start with and then work up the speed later when you can tell if you’re feeling strong or not but apparently, no, the trick is spread the field out as soon as possible by racing madly to each set of traffic lights. Mr Kon was a bit ahead of me so I had to put the pace on just so I was near him and didn’t get caught out as the traffic lights changed. Eventually, we lost the first few riders at a red light, so I went to the front of our bunch to try and drag us back up to the leading group. This worked well except that I didn’t realise we eventually lost most of the riders in our group when the lights went red behind me. So just like that, my plan to stick with Mr Kon was blown out of the water and I found myself in a group of four. One of these was a bloke I rode with for much of the last brevet but I’m now pretty sure I got his name wrong in writing about that one so for the sake of safety, I’ll be calling him that nice chap in the Bob Marley top. Another was an Irish bloke named Denis and the third was a student who dropped his water bottle and I didn’t see him again until he passed me near the end. Here’s a photo of Denis signing on:
Together we arrived at the first check point where there was just one rider ahead of us. Denis left when he did while I enjoyed chocolate bar and left soon after for our first big climb of the day which took us out of Otaru and inland toward Kutchan. I’m familiar with this climb, as I rode it just the other week but it’s also the road I took to get to Niseko when I road the Trucker there last year. Unfortunately for Denis, the guy he was chasing was pretty quick up the hills and he soon fell behind. The nice chap in the Bob Marley top and I cruised past him and rode to the next check point in Kutchan together.
Here he is climbing out of Otaru.
Here he is saying give me that camera.
And here I am not managing to look back at the same time as the photo was taken.
He’s lighter than me, so he probably pushed me a little harder than I would have gone on the uphills and I probably did the same to him on the flats and descents. At Kutchan, somehow we caught up with the first rider and the three of us left together just as Denis arrived mumbling something there being something wrong with his bike. I wished him luck and took off only to very quickly fall behind the other two riders. That first bloke was setting a hell of a pace. Bob Marley soon dropped back as well but I couldn’t keep up with him either once it started climbing so I did the next leg of the course by myself. I caught up with the other two at the next checkpoint at the coastal town of Iwanai and we had a fairly long break with Denis eventually arriving as well. It turns out he had broken one of the rails on his saddle. No problem, he said he’d just have to sit on the front part of it. At least 150km with a broken saddle – I find that pretty impressive.
The three of us left together but I knew there was a big climb coming and I had no intention of trying to keep up with these guys for the length of that and was a little relieved when I got caught out at a red traffic light and was able to wave them goodbye. My legs were already turning to jelly and I didn’t yet realise I had the longest climb of the day ahead of me. Nutrition turned out to be a bit of a problem for the day. I couldn’t stomach anything solid once I was properly under way. It was a pretty warm day and I was drinking lots of Pocari Sweat sports drink but I don’t know that it has such a lot of sugar in it. In any case, I think from here on in, I just wasn’t getting enough sugar to my legs, but I’m no nutritionist.
The climb, as mentioned above, was a long one and had me wishing I had a lower gear than my 11-23 cassette could offer. It wasn’t entirely unpleasant, though and the scenery was really quite nice. Sadly I lacked the energy to get the camera out of my back pocket again by now but it was strange to get to the top on such a warm day and still see plenty of lingering snow on the ground. Once over the top, the descent was fantastic. The scenery was beautiful and the road was empty.
At the next check point at Niseko, I caught back up with Denis and Bob. I assume the other bloke had left them in his dust quite soon into the climb. I had a couple of energy jellies and some sports drink. A few other riders arrived while I was resting but I decided to take off ahead of them. Along the next section I found I had really run out of steam and a couple of these guys caught up to me and just having them there helped me pick up the pace and I rode along with them. After a while, one of them offered me his hand. I wasn’t sure what was going on until I realised I was getting a Madison sling. I take it he had had enough and was giving me a little helping hand before slacking off for a bit. What he didn’t know was a) I would have preferred a Singapore sling and b) I would happily have joined him than the fast-moving chap I was now riding with. The one good thing was that a little up the road, we stopped at a convenience store and I got a fizzy pineapple Fanta drink and although the fizz didn’t help my stomach, the sugar was apparently just what my legs needed. We rode together for a while until I got left behind again up the next climb but we reassembled at the next check point.
Seeing the benefits of sugar, I upped the stakes with a can of cola at the next check point and left ahead of the other riders, anticipating that they would catch me quite soon. I was blessed with a nice, long downhill section and when I was finally caught, my legs weren’t feeling too bad again.
Here’s the chap that caught me. He was riding pretty strongly for this stage of the ride – about 230km in. We worked quite hard together for a while until my legs magically ran out of energy again. I noticed he slowed down quite a lot once he’d left me behind as well. I cruised around Lake Shikotsu realising that I wouldn’t have the energy for the last big climb out of Shikotsuko so at Shikotsukoonsen town, I hit the hard stuff and bought a bottle of guarana cola drink and sat by the roadside resting and waving to the three or four riders who passed by me. Eventually, I had to grit my teeth and tackle the climb out of Shikotsuko, knowing it would be followed by a nice long final descent into Sapporo.
It was a bit of a struggle up the hill out of Shikotsuko but at least I managed to keep the speed over 10kmh. With my vision tunnelling and my focus just on keeping the cranks turning, my thought turned to Tom Simpson. However, I couldn’t match him for effort, exhaustion or stimulants and if had come off my bike, there was no one around for me to famously request to put me back on. So instead, I continued entertaining myself with a combination of these fantasies and a combination of the music of Serge Gainsbourg and Burt Bacharach and pedalled on.
The good thing about the ride was that although I couldn’t get enough energy to my legs, I wasn’t in nearly as much pain as I had been for the last 60km or so of the previous brevet. My back hurt a little and my shoulders hurt a little but it wasn’t until the last 10km or so that I really felt in pain all over.
Just as I got back to the edge of Sapporo city, I looked over my shoulder and my Madison sling friend was behind me. I don’t know where he’d come from because he had passed me earlier at Shikotsuko but I was happy for someone to ride with for the last few kilometres. Sapporo is laid out in a grid fashion and the intersections in town are given numbers eg. 20 south, 13 east, which makes it fairly easy to figure out where you are. The first one I saw was 34 south so I knew I had just 34 intersections to go and I counted them down all the way back. We caught another rider – the student who had dropped his bottle at the start of the day and the three of us got back together at bang on 13 hours after we left. The final check point was a convenience store and as much as I would have enjoyed the taste of a beer, I probably made the right decision not to have any. I’ll have a couple tonight, though.