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...

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