On the podium.

Finally, our five-week holiday is here. It may well have been raining when we arrived at New Chitose Airport, but it was summer rain and it was warm. Kazuko’s Dad picked us up and whisked us straight back to town and to a sushi shop where he took it upon himself to continue ordering until we could take no more.

More sushi?

He then dropped us at Kazuko’s sister Masako’s place where we are staying when we are not off cycling and where Masako’s husband Kii-chan was waiting with beer. Alas, I had to disappoint him as sleep caught up with me. I didn’t sleep much on Tuesday night thanks to Steve at ERC giving me two cups of Vietnamese weasel coffee that had me up until the small hours. I didn’t sleep well on the plane either, so a couple of cans of beer was enough to send me into a lovely slumber while Kazuko stayed up late chatting with her sister.

On Friday we headed off for the first part of our holiday, a couple of very short races in Obihiro that they laughingly call the Tour of Tokachi. Our friend Kon-san picked us up at midday and we drove to Obihiro.

Here we are on the way.

We took Kazuko’s Giant on the plane with us and Kon-san was kind enough to lend me his road bike for the races. Once we had dropped everything off at the hotel, we headed in to town to have Obihiro’s signature dish, butadon, pork on a bed of rice. It looked like this.

The next day, we were up bright and early to get along to the river for the Tour of Tokachi road race. In fact, the race was on a 5km circuit on a bike path and road along the river and then back along the river bank.

Kon-san gets ready for our warm-up ride.

Martin demonstrates his Scottishness by frugally bringing his own breakfast. Which was, of course, porridge.

Kazuko was the first of us to race. They put the ladies in with the masters for this one.

Here she is warming up and talking to her agent.

While the rest of us just loiter.

The start of Kaz’s race.

Kazuko’s been doing lots of riding lately but she does have a habit of getting dropped easily, so it was very pleasant to see her sitting easily at the back of the bunch as they went past the first time.

See how she’s showing up those blokes with their expensive wheels?

She says she was able to hang in there and didn’t get dropped until the third lap. This was enough to secure a place on the podium (please refer to the top photograph) and the formidable prize of a certificate bearing her name and a carton of iced coffee. She managed to refrain from opening the coffee and spraying the crowd with it.

Here’s the big sprint to the finish.

And here’s the happy feeling of knowing you’ve had a good race.

Also, Martin is concerned he’s been crashing too often. I think I’ve solved the riddle. It’s the Euskatel Euskadi hat. Whenever there’s a crash, there’s an orange outfit in the middle of it somewhere.

Speaking of crashes, Kon-san’s race started with one as soon as the gun went. A bloke at the front failed to clip in properly and went down taking the guy behind him down too. Luckily, Mr Kon was able to avoid the mayhem.

Keeping clear of crashes.

He looked strong and led the bunch a few times but couldn’t quite keep up there in the final sprint.

Martin and I were in third grade together and managed to nab positions at the front of the start line.

The commissaire tells me about his Canadian exchange students. Their Japanese is no good.

The pace was pretty brisk from the start but Martin upped the ante by doing a few strong turns on the front and the pace stayed pretty high for the rest of the race. I was able to stay up the front and do a few turns without feeling I was doing too much work. I was surprised not to see Martin but I assumed he was hanging in the pack somewhere. Afterwards he said he’d done his early turns and was then promptly dropped at one of the first corners.

The average speed of our race was actually fastest of any of the grades (although we did ride fewer laps) which showed there were a few guys who were keen to win and get up to second grade. I had been able to chase down the wheels of anyone trying to break away from the bunch and decided it was time to start planning my own attack so on the third lap, while we were going along the river bank and into the wind, I sat in a little to give the legs a quick rest before trying to get away on the fourth lap. Alas, this led to my downfall.

The path veered to the right a little to go down through a tunnel. The deviation was such that the riders on the right were holding their line while those on the left were having to push right. In the squeeze, I ended up rubbing shoulders with the guy to my right. He started to lose control of his bike and when he bounced off me a second time, I tried to accelerate away from him so I didn’t get taken out by him when he went down. He crashed behind me and I managed to stay upright but he knocked me off the path and onto the grass. This wouldn’t have been a problem except for the tree which was suddenly looming in front of me. My Garmin tells me I hit it at about 38.5kmh. My first thought was: oh no! I’ve broken Kon-san’s bike. I assume I must have hit the ground but all I can remember is standing up and seeing three bikes on the ground and one bloke in a bit of pain. I checked the bike and it seemed okay. The only damage was that the left brake handle had been pushed out of place. The handlebars weren’t even twisted so I jumped back on the bike and finished the race.

Interestingly, my last lap was actually slower than my third lap including the crash, which is enough data to allow me to tell you what would have happened had I not crashed. I would have attacked on the fourth lap and used up all my energy trying to stay away but would have been caught by the bunch anyway and then had no strength left to compete the final sprint. I think it’s fair to say my finishing position was probably not much affected by the crash.

I’ll just analyse the crash a little further. Here is a close up of the GPS map of my ride.

I think I can see the crash.

Then, if we change to satellite view, we can even see the tree that I hit.

Only one tree and it had to be there.

I got a few scratches for my troubles and Kazuko made me go and see the medic after I finished. They guy that knocked me off was lying on a stretcher and looked in a bit of pain with a back injury. He left in an ambulance. I wanted to console him a bit at the time but when you’re in pain like that I’m pretty sure you don’t want to have a half-baked, stilted conversation in pidgin Japanese. Kazuko later said he was also saying he felt bad because he thought he’d caused the crash. Luckily, we stuck our noses in to Cycle Shop Ono yesterday and were chatting with Mr Kubota who works there. It turns out the guy from the crash is a customer and had brought his bike in to be looked at. His injury wasn’t so bad after all and neither was his bike so it was a relief to be able to pass on our regards and hear he was okay.

After a day of adventure, with victory for Kazuko and a crash for me, we headed out for a couple of beers and some okonomiyaki.

Yum!

Okay – looks like this is a two-part post. We are so busy holidaying that I haven’t got enough time for blogging. More details on day two: the criterium to come as soon as I can get it all typed up (and do keep in mind that I’m a very slow writer). Cheers!

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