The long summer holiday is over but luckily I only had a half-day today and spent the afternoon napping as phase two of my recovery from the weekend’s cycling excesses. Phase one was completed last night by attacking the bottle of shiraz that recent guests Brynley and Akiko left behind. I’d never heard of Marchand and Burch before but I can confirm it tasted pretty nice and I didn’t wake up with an hangover so it gets the Rollo two thumbs up.

The weekend was the highlight of the Sapporo cycling season as the Tour de Hokkaido (TdH) came to town. It’s easy for it to be the highlight as they don’t hold many races but it was a great event nonetheless. The real Tour de Hokkaido has cycling teams from all over Japan and a few international ones and is four stages plus a prologue. The citizen’s events were a 1.3km time trial in Kutchan, which I didn’t enter because I resent paying good money to go more than 100km to hang around all day for the sake of less than two minutes cycling, a road race and a criterium.

Before I get into all that, though, I’ll backtrack to chronological order. You’ll recall in the last post I was mildly disappointed in my efforts at the all-important Team Attic Cup time trial (The only time trial this season longer than one-and-a-half kilometres. Am I harping on about this too much?). In an effort to get my mojo back and prepare for the TdH I spent a bit of time early in the week riding up and down my favourite local climb, Teineyama. I even managed to break my best time up there and I probably should have left it at that but Kazuko picked up her new wheels on Thursday so I just had to test them out on Friday. She got a set of Shimano Ultegra wheels which I promptly stole for the TdH but she can have them back now. I think they are really good wheels and quite reasonably priced. I think they are the cheapest wheels around that will take tubeless tyres and I wouldn’t mind giving that a go at some stage but I’ve put clinchers on them for now. On Friday I rocketed up Teineyama hoping to use them to further whittle away my best time but instead, by the time I got 6km up the hill, my legs gave out and I had to turn around and head home. This could be the reason my legs felt heavy over the weekend but I strongly feel it could also be the near-complete absence of beer during the week.

Brynley and Akiko arrived on Friday evening. Akiko, as you may guess from her name, is Japanese and Brynley, who is not Japanese, are in Japan to visit Akiko’s family and so Brynley can go and watch something to do with motors and GPs somewhere in Japan. They had a few spare days so came up to Sapporo. We spent Saturday wandering around town and, for my first time, went up Sapporo’s TV Tower where we saw this view over Odori Park:

That's Odori Park, in the middle of Sapporo. And if you squint, you can see the Olympic ski jump in the mountains behind it.

At the bottom of the TV Tower, on our way to buy the half-price ice creams that came with our TV Tower entry tickets, we were accosted by the TV Tower character and Hokkaido’s lovable green algae cluster, Marimokkori.

Marimokkori is trying to give me a touch up with his codpiece.

Unfortunately, we had to neglect our guests on Sunday and Monday for the sake of the Tour de Hokkaido. Sunday was the road race and also the first time the weather has turned cool since the start of summer. The real TdH riders had a 169km stage with three good climbs, elite, second grade and junior riders got to do 96km with two climbs, and all the rest of us got the last 50km of the course from Shikotsuko to Eniwa. I’ve ridden this course a few times this year as preparation. The last time was with Dimitri* and Mr Kon, so I was prepared for what lay ahead. If I could get up the initial climb without losing too much ground on the leaders, I hoped I might be in with a chance to get them back on the descent. Here’s what the course looked like:

*I still haven’t got a new power adaptor for my external hard drive – must get around to doing that!

Along the lake and through the hills. (click on the image for the ride data)

And here’s the profile:

Flat, then up, then down.

After my warm up, I made a point of telling anyone who would listen that my legs felt heavy and already had that burning lactic acid sensation but as most of the people around me were Japanese, that person was a friendly Scottish bloke called Martin who you may recall from the last brevet I rode. He was riding with me in the fourth grade as was an Australian bloke called Kierin.

All the grades started together but they put the third grade at the front, then fourth and so on. I managed to be at the front of the fourth grade so I had the 53 third grade starters ahead of me but most of the 105 fourth grade starters behind and probably all of the 95 fifth grade starters behind me. The first eight kilometres were along the flat and there wasn’t much jostling for position where I was – everyone knew we had the climb coming. I’m pleased to report that, although my legs were heavy, my soul was light and I managed to hold my own in the climb. I can’t recall many people passing me, although Martin caught me near the top of the first climb. I escaped him again on the next descent and he reckons he was just behind me again at the top of the second climb. My computer tells me it’s actually the best I’ve ever climbed so I can’t really complain that the front-runners were well in front of me by the time I crested.

I had a lot of fun passing people on the descent and a few people were able to get on to my wheel so that by the time the steepest of the descending was over, we had formed up a group of about seven or eight riders, including the Team Attic boss, Mr Katahira. Mr Katahira gave every appearance of relishing the role of patron of the peloton and was barking instructions at all the riders. Sadly, I had no idea what he was saying but we worked pretty well together as a group. A bloke on a motorbike came and shouted a few things at us from time to time but I had no idea what he was saying so I just got my head down and rode and hoped we were gaining time on anyone ahead. I also had to keep a crafty eye on race numbers to see who else was in fourth grade in our group. There were two others but we dropped one of them along the way. As we neared the finish, I decided to live up to the motto on the back of the Team Attic cycling cap: No Attack! No Chance! and had a go at a solo attack. It didn’t work and two people passed me on the line but they were both from third grade so it didn’t really matter. Martin later suggested I cross out the words No Attack! for a better description. I had no idea how I’d finished. It turned out there was just one group ahead of us but they beat us by 1m40s so I think I can reasonably say I couldn’t have done better. I couldn’t have climbed better than I did and I don’t think we could have got our group working well enough to take that much time out of the leaders. There were three fourth grade riders in that front group so they wouldn’t let me stand on the podium.

The next morning, we got up early for the criterium and said farewell to our guests, who were off to spend the night in an onsen in Jozankei before heading to Tokyo. Kazuko and I cycled out to Moerenuma Park to catch the real TdH criterium and wait for my race.

Here's the proper Tour de Hokkaido riders going about their business.

As it got time for our race, the wind came up quite a bit and it started raining a little although we were lucky that the real rain held off until after our race. Although there were fewer riders for the crit, we still had a big field with the 3rd, 4th and 5th grades all riding together. During my warm-up, as soon as I tried to put any pace on, my legs started burning so I didn’t hold a lot of hope except to try and hang in with the front group.

This is Mr Katahira waiting for the start.

Again, the fourth grade had to line up before the third grade, so I was chasing from the start. With such a range of rider abilities, the field was always going to spread and I spent the first few laps bridging gaps to try and stay with the front group. Because of the rain, people were going into the corners very slowly so I was having to brake very hard into the corners and accelerate particularly hard out of them – something my legs weren’t appreciating at all. To avoid all this bridging and slow cornering, I managed to get myself up near the front until, much to my horror, I was the lead rider and having to do all the work into the wind. I tried slowing down but no one seemed keen to pass me. Eventually they did and with legs on the verge of spontaneous combustion, I could only sit in and try to hold my own at the back. I couldn’t accelerate at all out of the corners and risked getting dropped a few times but managed to hang in there. I counted at least three other grade four riders in our group but they were all going better than me so I didn’t hold much hope for a podium finish.

That's me behind Mr Katahira. God, I'm in pain.

There was one short, sharp climb on the course and I had to fight particularly hard at the point against these much lighter Japanese blokes but on the second-last time up it, there was a crash in front of me. I was lucky to avoid it and ran over one guy’s wheel but managed to stay upright. Unfortunately, this left me chasing the pack. I was able to get back to them but was completely spent. On the last lap, that climb and the sharp corner after it did for me and even though I was at the point of giving quite unnervingly incomprehensible shouts every time I tried to up the pace, I couldn’t catch the pack and ended up 11 seconds behind the front pack, which left me in fifth place in the fourth grade.

So all in all, I had a fabulous cycling weekend, Kazuko can now have her new wheels back (although I do like them very much) and I hope I’ve learnt not to overdo the training the week before the biggest racing of the season. The last race of the year is another criterium in two weeks’ time so maybe all my efforts over the last couple of weeks will have me in good form for that.

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