Good heavens. Now my external hard drive is on the blink and my Bianchi Mono-q frame has officially died. The result of this is I’ll have to come back to my report on Dimitri’s days in Sapporo, as his video’s of our rides are on that hard drive and I’m sure they are more interesting than my commentary on how he thrashed me both up hill and down dale. My only solace is that I had to ride my heavy touring bike because my carbon frame had started flexing a bit, making me suspect those cracks where the chain stays meet the bottom bracket were not just in the gel coat. The good news is a) my internet research suggests the hard drive problem is likely in the power supply so my data is probably intact and b) Bianchi are replacing the frame and I’m off to pick it up this afternoon. This is very exciting – it’s like getting a free new bike. More on this development later.

Last Sunday was my last brevet for the year. That’s right – they are not going to tempt me to enter the 600km and 400km events left in the calendar, not even with their descriptions of the beauty of riding at night. If I want to ride that far, I’ll be taking my tent and sleeping bag on the Trucker. And speaking of the Trucker, the choice for last week’ brevet was either that bike or my Bianchi Pista. As the ride included 2500m of climbing and as the Pista is single-speed, I think the Trucker was the better choice. Here’s how the ride looked (click on the image for more details):

Some really nice scenery. I'd like to do this one again.

I had to get up much too early to ride out to the start line, which was in the south of Sapporo. The good thing about this was that we didn’t have to wait at so many traffic lights once we hit the road. My goal for this ride was not to go particularly fast but to ride the whole thing with Mr Kon. I still feel guilty about saying I wanted to ride the 300km brevet with him but then managing to lose him at a set of lights before we even got out of town. I also feel guilty about losing his car keys a few weeks ago as well – it’s great having friends like me.

I ended up with an early incentive to ride quickly as, because there were 71 entrants, we were divided into four starting groups, leaving five minutes apart and Mr Kon was in the group ahead of me and I was in the third group away. This conflicted with my second goal for the day which was to not go too hard right from the beginning. In the other two brevets I’ve ridden this year, I expected a leisurely warm-up start because, quite frankly there’s hundreds (two is a plural!) of kilometres ahead of us and plenty of time to pick up the pace later on. Instead, they always take off at a break-neck pace with some pushing the pace and others trying to hang on to get in as much slipstreaming as possible before the whole thing falls apart. I decided to try and take it easy early on so I could save my energy for later on when I would need it. It turned out I couldn’t accelerate the heavy trucker enough to keep up when the pace went on anyway, so I was quite happy to cruise out of town on my own.

I’ve become very familiar with the road to Shikotsuko this year so at least I had a pretty good idea of how long the climbs were and when to pace myself for steep sections ahead. I caught back a few people from the group that started with me and was slowly passing people from the other starting groups as well. A few people from the group that started last caught me although my big heavy Trucker and my big fat stomach meant I could win back a little time on the downhills. There were three gaijin in the race (gaijin is Japanese for Johnny Foreigner as well as being a book by James Clavell). One started with me and I never saw him again and the other was a Scotsman called Martin, who started behind me and caught me just near the end of the last climb before Shikotsuko. We rode together for a bit but I eventually left him behind on the descent to Shikotsuko but not before we had both scared a scooter rider by overtaking him on the way down.

The road along the lake to Shikotsukoonsen town is nice and flat so I was able to get into a steady rhythm, although I couldn’t match my speed from a week earlier when I had sat on Dimitri’s wheel as he rode at 42kmh all the way there. I was passing fewer people and there was still no sign of Mr Kon but as soon as the road started climbing out of Shikotsuko, Martin caught back up with me and we were able to ride together to the coast where the first checkpoint of the day was.

One good thing about these brevets is the organisers choose some really nice, quiet roads. The road to the coast was a pretty easy climb through a leafy, cool forest followed by an equally pleasant descent to Tomakomai and finally at the first check point, we caught up to Mr Kon and after a drink and a bite to eat, the three of us set off together.

I had told Martin that once I caught Mr Kon, I was just going to ride together with him and I expected Martin would leave us behind, especially once the road turned upward again. How wrong I was. Mr Kon showed all his training this year has paid off and led us out for much of the flat coastal section while Martin and I struggled to keep up. I thought we had deviated slightly from the recommended route and was wondering why, when Mr Kon suddenly detoured to a bagel shop for a take-away. This is the sort of thing that makes brevets endearing – riding really hard but suddenly stopping at local specialty shops. A few cyclists had taken time out of their ride to sit down for their meal.

We got back on the road and when the climbing started, we lost Martin first and then I struggled to stay on Mr Kon’s wheel until I had to just slow down and fight the mountain instead. The road back inland from the coast was one of the nicest I’ve ridden with forest and waterfalls on one side of the road and views over the mountains on the other. The heat and steady climbing were doing for me, especially when I rounded one bend and saw the road extending still upward along the mountains in front of me. Luckily, near the top was a car park where one of the brevet organisers had parked his cars and put out seats and cold drinks. Mr Kon was waiting there for me and we took our time drinking cold water and resting. Martin caught up to us there and, when he was ready, we took off again. I had an Andy Schleck moment at the start of the descent when my chain came off and spent the rest of the descent trying to catch Mr Kon again. I didn’t take my camera that morning because the battery was flat so my only picture for the day was this one from the second check point, which I posted to Twitter:

Mr Kon not looking tired at all and the next one along is Martin.

Martin didn’t want to know about us any more and stayed to ride with the next group of people so Mr Kon and I took off together. It was another steady climb before a fast descent back to Shikotsuko. On the road back around the lake, I was finally starting to run out of steam and Mr Kon was leaving me behind on even the slightest uphill gradient. All the while I had some trepidation for the climb back out of the lake as it’s one of the steeper ones of the day. I fully expected not to see Mr Kon again until the finish line but we ended up riding the rest of the way back together. He won’t admit it but I suspect he was very kindly taking it easy up the hills for me. I barely had anything left in my legs so I put the Trucker into a particularly easy gear and just spun the pedals. I noticed it didn’t seem to matter if it was a nine per cent or three per cent gradient, I was in the same gear and turning the pedals at the same speed.

Relief came at the finish line as we came home with a time of about eight hours and 40 minutes. Of this year’s three brevets, the first one was the most amount of time spent in pain on the bike. The second was only painful at the very end but took me the longest to recover from and this one was the least amount of energy I’ve had for the last 30km or so. I really felt I had nothing left. It took me quite a while before I could pick myself up and ride the 15km or so home. As ever, it was a lot of fun and I think this was my favourite course. I’ll have to find a chance to ride it again by myself.

Well, this post has turned out longer than expected. If you’re sensible, you’ll have read the first paragraph or so, then skipped to this one. Still to come on the blog: World Cup of (Japanese) Beer – I’m slowly working my way through the finalists. Dimitri’s visit to Sapporo – just have to find a new power supply for that hard drive. Bianchi Mono-q 2010 review – probably the most common google search that leads to my blog is people looking for information on the Mono-q so in the warm glow of a new frame I may just have to do a short write up of it. Mind you, I think it may be superseded next year by the Bianchi Sempre, such is the ever-changing world of bicycles. Any other blog entry suggestions will be welcomed.

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