Saturday, November 27, 2010

Last race of the year: Kanagawa JCF, Shonan Bank, Hiratsuka 11/27/10

Had a little accident at a training day last Tuesday. It's a a bit embarrassing, but as I was trying to take a photo of my Dolan all fancy-looking with it's go-fast hardware and crap on it I dropped it against some curbing and put a nice little dent in the disc wheel. It might be nothing, but since then the wheel makes a funny little squeaky/crunchy sound when flexed side-to-side. Not too confidence inspiring when you might be topping 65 kph in a 200 meter TT! As a result, I thought it was a nice opportunity to bring the old Panasonic back to the track and try a "standard bike" kilo.

All pro keirin racers have to ride bicycles that conform to the rules set down by the NJS, short for Nihon Jitensha Shookai (日本自転車振興会), or "Japanese Bicycle Promotion Association". A part of these rules deal with the equipment used by keirin racers, and this means that every piece of a pro keirin racer's bicycle (and helmet) must be stamped with the NJS logo.

My Panasonic here is completely in compliance with these rules right down to the tires (which are pro keirin take-off freebies- thanks, Wakatsuki-san!) with the single exception of the pedals, old-school Dura Ace's. They don't have the stamp, but they still look the part.

Rumor has it that at the examinations to enter the keirin academy a potential student must be able to do a kilometer time trail in under one minute eleven seconds on just such a standard bicycle in order to qualify for entrance. I knew that would be out of the question seeing as how my best ever kilo with a "modern" bike is 1:10, but I've been keen to see how well I could do. Last year I did it at the end of the season and got a rather disappointing 1:16.xx. I've improved a little bit this year, so was hoping for something in the 1:13's, or if I was on a really good day, maybe the 1:12's were not impossible?

Anyhow, the Panasonic has been pulling glamourless road-training duties all season, so it was high time to take her back to the track for some action.

How much time would I lose? How much time is a carbon frame worth vs. an old fashioned steel frame? Aerodynamic carbon wheels vs. old school tied and soldered 36 spoke wheels? Standard bar against the modern aero bar position? Nerdy aero helmet vs. the possibly even nerdier "mushroom-head" keirin helmet? Two seconds? FIVE seconds?? These are the nerdy questions I've been asking myself.

It was a little cold. Here I'm warming up, with a LOT of clothes on. I don't know how cold it was when we started, but the high for the day only got to 15˚ C (59˚F). That would cost me some time, too. My best kilo's and 200's were recorded in the heat of summer, and the increased air density that comes with cold temperatures slows things down a bit.

First up was the flying 200 meter time trial, the qualification for the sprint tournament. Only the top eight would make it. I was really hoping to break 12 seconds on the spoked wheels, which I had yet to do in training.

But-- it didn't feel that good. I bobbled the transition from standing to sitting a little, and then I just didn't feel snappy on the final straight. 12.42. Not terrible, and good enough for third place, but not great. At least I'd qualified. Maybe I was tired? Last weekend was hard, and it had been a long season...

Next up, the kilo:

-Yeah, um, that's pretty much exactly what you DON'T want it to look like! The start is ok, and I think I got a pretty good top speed on the back straight, but on the last lap I felt like I was riding through molasses. The final 200 meters really felt like I might as well get off and WALK the bike in! Wow. I died A LOT more than I was expecting to.

When I saw the time, it was a bit better than it felt like- 1:14.13, good enough for 5th place against the mostly high school racers on modern bikes. Almost in the 1:13's. Eh, not bad, but I was definitely not feeling too speedy. Oji-san sukaretta...

So, fellow nerds, the difference between a "standard bike" and a modern one is: About four seconds, according to this very un-scientific test.

On to the sprint rounds, and my first adversary was club-mate Nakagawa-san (note our matching Shonan Airinkai skinsuits). He went real early, and I thought, "no problem!", but then it was surprsingly hard to come around him at the finish! I managed, but only just...

Then I was up against a young whipper-snapper in the semifinal. He let me control things, I razored him successfully, but it was very close. At the line it was less than half a wheel. Hmm.

Then the final. Me vs. Morii-san. He had been pretty impressive in his semi. At this point, Tomo said, "You're too relaxed today. You've got to wake up!" She has this uncanny sense...

In the best of three, he took the first ride easily. I was on the front, and I was doing a pretty good job messing up his rhythm, when he dove under on the last banking I blocked-- but he was onto the apron. -Was my block too aggressive? -Would he be called for leaving the track? As I pondered these things for a microsecond, I stupidly hesitated, and was thus lost. My head did not seem to be in the game.

The second ride was a lot better. Morii-san was on the front, and he was crafty, but I was careful not to play his way. He tried to squeeze me against the rail a couple times, but I maneuvered out of it. This is what sprinting is about, fun!

With a lap to go, I dove under while he wasn't looking, gave it a blast to protect the back straight. Floated it in the corner..., he goes! Perfect, I can hold him there...

...but at the line he was just too strong for me. He took it by half a bike. So, second in the sprints. Didn't feel too bad. Perhaps the magic of the moustache had disappeared (I'm shaving it off tonight!), or maybe I was just more into hanging out than racing that day.

In any case, it was a super fun day, and the end of an absolutely amazing season for me. Last year marked my first win EVER in any sanctioned bike race, and this year I had-- SEVEN! Yep. As well as a trip to a national level competition representing my prefecture. Not too shabby for this middle aged English teacher!

But now it's time to chill out, up the beer and ice cream intake, get a little (more) fat, and recharge for next year. Next I'm looking forward to losing some money at the Keirin Grand Prix at the end of the year...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Yes, I grew a ridiculous moustache to amuse/annoy my friends for the occasion of the Toyohashi Team Pisto race last weekend in Toyohashi, Aichi prefecture. But-- would it be a moustache of sweet victory? Or a moustache of bitter defeat?

The Toyohashi Team Pisto is a race for three-person teams competing for points in keirin, sprints, elimination races, four kilometer speed-races, and team sprints. The team with the most points at the end of the day takes home the coveted Toyohashi Team Pisto Cup, and keeps it until next year's race.

Here's our team. Team captain Mikuni-san, Ito-san and myself. The name of our team was "David/Ito/Mikuni392". I can't understand the significance of this name, other than to say that apparently there was a Japanese comedian named David Ito, and that the numbers 392 have something to do with the kanji (chinese characters) of the names. Whatever. All I know is that whenever this team name was announced over the PA everyone laughed but me.

Ito-san and I were competing in keirin, sprints and team sprint, while Mikuni-san was doing keirin, elimination race and team sprint. Let the mayhem begin!

But first, on the way to Toyohashi the team VC Spendor race transport (mini-van) stopped off at some historic landmarks. This is Kakegawa-jo, an Edo-period castle in Shizuoka prefecture. VC Splendor team captain Numano-san turned out to be a real castle-nerd, so he explained all the details. Thanks, Numano-san!

The view from the top level of Kakegawa-jo.

Inside the castle is all gorgeous untreated wood.

Tomo at a nearby Meiji period geisha house. Apparently it was in regular operation until fairly recently. It was completely original and unrestored inside.

When we got to Toyohashi, we met up with most of the rest of the Kanto contingent for some food and many, many drinks. It's very important to drink heavily while you plan the next day's race strategy.

Good times. Second from right is Hamada-san, fresh from taking three medals (two silvers, one bronze) at the Master's Track World Championships in Portugal. Omedetto! To her right is Wada-san, a Toyohashi pro keirin rider. He wasn't racing with us, since pros don't bother with pesky amateurs, just along for moral support.

The next morning was a bit cold, but by race time it had warmed up into a really nice day. We quickly learned we had underestimated the strength of the locals during the first event of the day, the keirin. We found that these guys were quite serious. All Kanto riders except Mikuni-san were eliminated in the first heats, and Mikuni-san was out in the next round. None of us made it to the final.

Sprints were next. Ito-san and I had no trouble with qualifying. I got through my preliminaries and semi-finals without too much drama, and soon found myself in the final ride-off.

I was up against Urata-san, who looked to be a pretty serious opponent-- HUGE legs. He's a member of Team Cheblo (who ended up taking the teams prize), whose members compete in Jitsu-Gyodan-level competition-- it's a kind of semi-pro racing license. I'd watched him storm through his first rounds and was suitably impressed. And a little intimidated...

For our first of three rides, I was on the front. I didn't really know what to expect from him, so I just rode my standard race, which is kind of to gradually lift the pace, keeping the opponent behind with little short accelerations before making a final push on the home straight. There was a headwind on the back straight, which complicated my plans: I've found that I'm a bit of a "long sprinter", that is, it's to my advantage to make the race faster sooner, and make it hard for the other guy. But the headwind on the back would play against any rider leading hard there, and with a tail wind on the home straight it would be easier for a rider to come around. This was a 400 meter track as well, so the straights were looooooong.

So I led it out, and tried not to expend too much energy early on. Tried to bait him to the front with no success, and coming onto the home straight he came around, I still had some gas left in the tank but he just got me by less than half a wheel. Missed it, but it was fun and I was closer to Urata-san than I thought I'd be.

2nd ride, we have video courtesy of Tomo:

This time maybe I over-thought it a little. I was pretty stuck as to what I should try, so last lap I surprised him by taking the front. But then on the back straight I sat up right when normally I would go, and he was back on the front. He gave me a little look at this point like, "Huh?". Maybe it was a mistake. I let him tow me around, jumped coming out of the last corner, but at the line it was too close to call.

As we rolled by his friends they cheered, so I thought he had taken it. I asked him, "You?" He said, "Me". So he'd won it in two rides from me, but the last ride had to have been by a tire width, no more. VERY close. So I was disappointed, but I could feel good about a strong second place in the tournament. I congratulated Urata-san and went down to the roller roller room to cool down in preparation for the team sprint.

But when I came back up track-side, there was a commotion. The officials judged that I had been the winner of the second ride-- I was back in it! Urata-san appeared as surprised as I. We lined up for the final ride:

The video is a little unclear (I think Tomo was excited!), but here I decided to just keep it simple, ride a progressive, paced sprint (sometimes called a razor), heeding the back straight headwind, and jump really hard out of the last turn, hoping that Urata-san was tired.

It worked! I rode the final back straight even slower than on the first ride, really conserving for my jump, and at the line I had him by about half a bike. YATA! I did it! Victory for Team David/Ito/Mikuni392 and the Kanto contingent!

After a break it was time for the last race of the day, Team Sprint:

We did pretty well. Maybe a slight hesitation on Mikuni-san's exchange, but very smooth over-all. We did our best and we were all in serious pain afterwards. 5th place, which is pretty good given the serious competition. In addition to Team Cheblo, there were some pretty bad-ass young guys going for it. With my win in the sprints, Ito-san's third in his sprint tournament and our 5th place in the team sprint, Team D/I/M392 ended the day in 8th place in the teams competition. Not too shabby! Ganbarimashita, dudes!

The Kanto Wrecking Crew. Koide-san (bottom row, second from left) also got a cagey win in the elimination race and (I think) a second place in his 4 kilo speed race, while I believe Hamada-san was also third in her elimination (against men, I should add). We successfully upheld the honor of Kanto region!

My haul. The bags of rice were given to riders who had travelled a long distance to Toyohashi. We have three because our friends donated theirs to us. Thanks buddies!

What a great weekend! Maybe the most fun I've had on a bike all season, hell, maybe ever. And the moustache? Obviously it had turned out to be a moustache of most glorious victory! I'm keeping it. Well, at least for another week- last race of the year next weekend...