Thursday, July 29, 2010

A couple of weeks ago I did a two-day master's race at the Shuzenji Cycle Sports Center in the beautiful Izu peninsula:
It's a seriously wonderful area, and the Cycle Sport Center is a riders paradise. In addition to the 400 meter track I was racing on, there are a few road loops closed to car traffic that are used for training and road racing.

Right next door is the famous keirin school where all of Japan's future professionals undergo a year of seclusion and boot-camp like training. The keirin school has another 400 meter track as well as a concrete 250. Under construction is a world-class indoor 250 meter wooden track.

On the first day (Saturday), I was to race the kilo and match sprints. Sunday was gonna be team sprints and keirin. But the real story for me on the weekend was my rematch with (cue ominous music)-- Tanuma-san! Last year Tanuma-san beat me in the sprints at this race in a tightly fought three-race final, and this year I was out for revenge! However, two weeks previous to this race Tanuma-san had beaten me pretty handily in the semi-finals of the Kanagawa Kokutai qualifier. Uh-oh...

Tomo and I had to get up at 3 am in order to get picked up by our friend Ishibashi-san for the trip down to Shuzenji. Painfully early! We got to the gate with plenty of time to set up all our stuff, and then leisurely start rolling around trying to wake up our legs. It was a beautiful day, but a bit frighteningly, it was already HOT at 7 am!

First up, flying 200 meter time trials to qualify for the sprint tournament. I felt pretty good in warm-up, but then messed up the timing a little bit as far as when and how hard I jumped off the banking. Basically, I went a little too hard a little too early. The conditions were perfect- hot and no wind- but all I could come up with was an 11.9. This was not a true sprint tournament as the qualifier led straight to the finals. My 200 was good enough for the #1-2 final, three rides against (of course)-- Tanuma-san!

Next up, the kilo. Had some drama at the start-- I pulled my right foot out of the pedal coming out of the gate. They gave me a re-ride right away, but now I was nervous. Second try, got away pretty well, but then after I settled in and looked for the "float"- it just wasn't there. It was pure suffering all the way. Maybe nerves were the cause? A little disappointed with a 1:11, but it was good enough for a win in my age class and best time of the day across all classes so no complaints.


After lunch it was time for the sprint rides. I REALLY wanted to do well in this. I've been learning that while I may have an ok 200 and kilo time, my tactics leave a lot to be desired. To put this delicately, I am not a "smart" rider. This is a serious flaw. I'd recently been beaten in match sprints by a host of "slower" riders. But this weekend I was bound and determined to use my head and not get out-foxed.

I'd been told by wise heads that I was more of a "long sprinter", that I had good top speed and sprint endurance, but that my jump was a little weak. That meant that I would need to make the race faster earlier in order to be able to use my speed, and make the race harder on the other guy to favor my sprint endurance.

Here's the vid for the first ride with Tanuma-san:

I stuck to my plan, took the front with one to go, and then just gradually applied more and more pressure, giving it a few small accelerations. Took that one fairly easily. I've got your number, Tanuma-san!

Ok, next ride:

Got him in two! In that one there was a little playing around on the front straight, and it seemed like he wanted the front with one to go, so I kind of let him have it, then went high and attacked again and was able to get by him before that last turn, and that was pretty much it. In yer FACE, Tanuma-san!

Here's what the finish line camera saw:

And that was it for me for the first day's racing. Two races, two wins- not too shabby! Must have been the magic suit.

My buddy Ishibashi-san won the sprint tourney in his age category, too.

That night, my plan was to CONTROL MY DRINKING. Last year, I found that there is a sizeable number of "older" racers that are there more for the party than the racing. Of course that's all to the good. However, last year at this race I allowed these fine fellows to railroad me into overdoing it with the beer and sho-chu. Oh, it was great fun, but I was wrecked the next day. I spent a miserable points race holding back my breakfast and a painful keirin tourney wishing the pounding in my head would quit and that everyone would stop SHOUTING everything they said.

Mission accomplished. The coercion tactics were devious, but I stuck to my guns and held it to three or four beers. The highlight of the night was a hot karaoke set by fellow racer Harusawa-san. He had brought a dashing lounge singer costume and his own mic. Aapparently his stage name is "Koji Taira". Ok, then. Sadly, complaints from neighboring hotel patrons brought a premature end to the fun. Damn stiffs. Get a life.

A decent night's sleep and a convenience store breakfast later, it was time for more racing action. Sunday would bring the team sprint and keirin tournament. The chief antagonist: who else but Tanuma-san?! His Shonan Airinkai team looked tough and were a lock to take the team sprint, and they had strength in numbers to control the keirins, too.

First up, my keirin heat. Looking over the field I didn't see any reason I couldn't make it through to the finals if I kept my wits about me. I'd lucked out- most of the talent was in the other heats. Out of the start, I took last wheel planning to attack with one to go, a move the keirin folks call a senko. After the pacer pulled off, things heated up a bit but I sat tight for half a lap, then went hard. One guy was able to come after me but I won without much problem. Ok, through to the final.

Team sprint time. This was gonna be the first time I'd done a team sprint in competition, having only practiced it that one ill-fated time (see previous blog post). My VC Splendor club teammates were not too impressive on speed, so I was thinking to use it just as a practice for the real thing in Yamaguchi, and just have fun with it.

As it happened we were the first team to line up for the start. Team captain, Numano-san was the starter, Taizo-kun (primarily a road racer and points racer) was second man, and I was the finisher. Numano-san gave it a surprisingly good blast out of the gate, and we were off.

Numano-san did a pretty solid lap, but about halfway through Taizo's lap he was really suffering, and already starting to fade. As he pulled off I went for it, but keeping something in reserve for the keirin final at the end of the day. We weren't smokin' fast, but we had stayed in good formation and done it right. It was fun. Since we were first off, our time was first to be on the "top time" clock. Our time for three laps of the 400 m track: 1:29.010

But it seemed like that time was faster than I'd believed. Team after team came and went and our time was still on the board! Finally the all-conquering Shonan Airinkai team lined up. Solid start by Hattori-san, but then- what's this? Tanuma-san in trouble? The big guy was clearly struggling on his lap. Kitahara-san had to really nail it to get it back. I was watching their time and it was gonna be close.... As he came to the line throwing the bike -my jaw must have hit the floor- 1:29.019!! We'd won it by a helluva squeaker!

After lunch and a lot of other folks' race action, it was time for my main event: The keirin final. After winning everything I'd entered thus far I can't pretend I wasn't feeling a little pressure. I really wanted this but I was nervous. Matters were not improved when the race was restarted after a problem with the pacer on the first try. Once we got underway I found myself second from the back, with Tanuma-san first wheel right on the pacer. Perfect! Right where I can keep an eye on him. I planned on blowing by him with another senko attack with one to go.

But it didn't quite work out that way. My buddy Shinji was moving up with the pacer still driving and two to go, and I followed in order to have a good spot to launch from. It wasn't to be- I kinda panicked! As soon as the pacer dropped I was just attacking before I even knew it myself. I think I surprised Tanuma-san because I got a pretty big gap before he could react:

I was just pouring it on, nailing it again and again in a desperate attempt to add to my lead. It was working! But with 200 meters to go, I ran out of gas. The lactic acid was up to my eyeballs and I was struggling. I should have saved something for the last straightaway! Tanuma-san came by me with about 20 meters to go, and it was all I could do to hang onto second place.

Tanuma-san gets payback:

In a shameful fit of jealous rage I attack Tanuma-san on the keirin podium.

Eh, but what the hell. Three wins and one second is pretty nice. Anyhow, the real hero of the weekend was this guy in the yellow:

He is SEVENTY-EIGHT years old and still kicking ass! Tomo and I were in awe of this guy.

He is still racing match sprint and keirin, and still winning! No shuffleboard for THIS badass. Respect!


  1. COOOOL... always look forward to your posts, nice, clear and descriptive I shall now live my own desire to track race through you, as I neither have the time nor facilities to do it here in Australia at the moment. Recently picked up a fixie which I ride around my suburb as a poor excuse for exercise, but thats the extent of my physical exertion.

    Look forward to your next update, if you have a moment come see what im seeing and doing at

  2. Great post, love reading the detail and seeing the vids to go with it, that's fantastic. Congrats on a great weekend...