High fives all round, everybody. I’ve finally won a cycling race. This may never happen again, so I’m planning to spend this week basking in the warm glow of self-congratulation. The following blog entry is fairly self-indulgent so I recommend skim reading or waiting until later in the week (I hope!) when I post the photos of the race. It’s probably a great week to feel sympathy for Kazuko and relief that you don’t live in Sapporo. (Unless you do live in Sapporo, in which case it’s probably just a good week to find excuses to avoid me.)

This weekend’s race at Moerenuma Park* was also the last for the season. I’m mildly bitter about how few races I’ve been able to ride in this season – a grand total of only four – primarily because there simply aren’t many races but also because some were cancelled due to foot and mouth disease, some I couldn’t get to, one I could have got to but instead got sick and stayed in bed, and finally one was a 1.3km time trial that I simply wasn’t prepared to cough up 4000 yen to enter. I mustn’t complain too loudly though, as I also managed three brevets and plenty of  enjoyable long training rides.

*I really like Moerenuma Park. It’s one of the best man-made parks I’ve seen. I wish there were more like it. There are some more photos of it here.

Before I luxuriate in the details of my own race, Kazuko also had some success. The ladies’ race was three laps of the circuit but they had to share their race with the fifth grade and the masters racers. She started near the front row but got dropped by the main bunch quite quickly. However, she managed not only to finish the race but to beat both another lady and one of the masters racers. There was even a victory salute after she crossed the line. Also, Blogorollo regular Mr Kon was in the same race. He has been getting stronger and stronger all season and was leading the bunch after the second lap but didn’t quite have the legs to get away and ended up finishing fifth in the bunch sprint. One of our Team Attic members, Mr Tsukuda, videoed the riders making their way to the start of the race: (all videos can be found here – thanks, Mr Tsukuda!)

Here she celebrates finishing:

Note how much better her victory salute is than mine:

And here is Mr Kon leading the pack after two laps:

As for my race, it was the culmination of lessons learnt from my mistakes in this season’s earlier races (yes, this is the extent I’m prepared to go to drag out the details of my win). In my first race of the season, I resented having been put into the fourth grade and assumed I would simply have the strength to ride off the front of the bunch and leave everyone in my wake. Instead, I did most of the work at the front. When another bloke attacked, I used all my strength trying to catch him back but failed and the riders who had sat in behind me were easily able to sprint past me at the finish and I came sixth fifth. In the Tour de Hokkaido races, I had been disappointed with my result in the Team Attic time trial the week before and ended up over-training during the week and rode those two races with very heavy legs.

Luckily, that over-training helped me accidentally manage to peak for the race. It turns out that if you build up your riding over a month or so, really overdo it at the end of that time and then take it fairly easy for the next couple of weeks, you will eventually wake up in the morning with legs that feel strong and full of power. I’m starting to see how much work must have to go into planning a season for a pro cyclist, working out which races to target and designing a training programme around them.

 

The course was six anti-clockwise laps of this circuit for a total of 16km. Quite short.

 

Kazuko and Mr Kon’s race was at 8.55am, but by the time my fourth grade race started at 11.45am, the wind had come up quite a lot. One rider from an earlier race warned me not to get dropped around the first corner because the wind was so string that I’d have troubles catching back up with the bunch.

Also riding in S4 was Martin from Scotland who I’ve also ridden with in my last brevet and in the Tour de Hokkaido road race. He had joked about braking heavily on the first corner to cause a crash behind and open a gap for the front group. Unfortunately for him, there was a crash at that first corner but he was caught behind it. I was one of the first around so I didn’t know anything about that until afterward. My plan for the race had been to get into the front group, hide somewhere in the middle of them and try not to do much work, then assess how I was going and try to attack somewhere near the end. Thing I really didn’t want to do was sit at the front and do all the work, wear myself out, and then watch everyone ride past me on the last lap.

In the map above, the green marker shows the start/finish line and we had the wind roughly at our backs for that stretch through the middle of the park. For the rest of the circuit, we had either head or cross winds. I kept finding myself at the front of the group even though I wasn’t pedalling particularly hard. No one seemed interested in doing any work into the wind and I had to really soft pedal to get anyone to pass me and have a turn at the front. I was a bit cautious about this and assumed everyone was just trying to conserve energy into the wind but as my legs weren’t even mildly tingling, let alone burning from the effort, I was happy enough hanging around the front. After the second lap, I even managed to sit up and wave to the Team Attic members watching at the start/finish line.

Note the evidence of wind in this video:

With the amount of wind, I didn’t want to try and break away solo too early, only to wear myself out and be caught by the bunch but I tried riding ahead of everyone a few times to see if anyone would try to follow me so we could form a breakaway group but no one seemed interested. The S4 race was also shared with the junior high school riders and one of them tried to get ahead at one point so I followed him but he didn’t have the strength to get very far. At least he tried something.

In the end I realised I was also the fastest over the straight section with the wind at our backs so with two laps to go, I decided to use that to ride off the front of the group and just monitor how I went. I didn’t want to go too hard in case the bunch got organised into the wind and managed to get me back but instead the gap kept widening so that by the end of that lap I was at the start/finish line as the rest of the bunch was rounding the corner behind me. When I watch a race and see that sort of gap, I generally assume the race is in the bag but being in that position, I was terrified of getting caught so I went flat out for the last lap and couldn’t relax until I got to the finish line and looked over my shoulder and couldn’t see anyone behind me. Sad to report I completely forgot to perform any sort of victory salute for the crowd and just coasted through the line with a big smile on my face. And then, in a sign of true class, wiped my nose, as you can see in the video above.

Working on the assumption that there will be future wins, I don’t think I’ll ever have a victory as easy as this one. As mentioned above, I was a bit annoyed about being put into the fourth grade this season – I cycled the same race last year in the second grade – but in hindsight, I’ve been able to learn a lot more by being one of the strongest riders in the group. I’ve had the luxury of being able to think about tactics instead of just trying to hang on to the bunch, which is exactly what I did in the next race.

The Mayor’s Cup is five laps of the course and is open to riders from all grades. As S4 was the last graded race, I finished and then went straight to the front of the starting queue for the Mayor’s Cup. While I was waiting I was able to have a small rest while they ran the young children’s race which featured my five-year-old niece Sakurako in her first bicycle race. There’s no fancy equipment in the kids race and I’m pretty sure the winner had a basket on the front of his bike. Sakurako came in a respectable seventh.

The pace was a lot higher in the Mayor’s Cup but I was able to stay with the front group and even managed to bridge across to the early attempts to break away but I had no acceleration out of the corners and after a couple of laps I realised a reasonable goal would be to just finish with the front group. Most of the riders were from the elite grade but there were also a few from the various other grades. I knew I was no chance for the final sprint so half-way through the last lap I went and flew my flag at the front for a short time then let everyone pass me and cruised home at the back of the front bunch, pleased enough that I’d been able to hang in there with the top riders.

I just noticed I was quite near the front after one lap of the Mayor’s Cup, so I’d better put that video up here:

They gave me a medal and a certificate for my troubles but somehow I managed to be distracted when the photo below was taken. I’ll be sure to post other photos when they become available.

 

Winner, winner, chicken for dinner. (Photo gratuitously stolen from Mr Tsukuda's website. See more race-day photos by clicking on the image.

 

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