Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sad news: The JBCF race on April 3rd is cancelled, so I will leave Japan without battling the pros. Major disappointment, but given the current situation in the Tokyo area-- runs on drinking water, scarce gasoline, rolling blackouts and questionable radiation levels, it's really no surprise.

That made it all the more important to make Shonan Airinkai's last training camp before we leave Japan. When we got there, I got a surprise-- this guy:
Okuhara Ryo was all-Japan amateur kilo champion a couple of years ago, and also happens to be the first track racing friend I made in Japan. At my first ever race in Japan, the Keio Kaku Bike Carnival in 2008, he was kind enough to say hi and help a very clueless beginner who spoke almost no Japanese. Ryo is currently training to take on the next test to enter the keirin academy. It was a surprise to see him as he's not an Airinkai member, but turns out he's good friends with Airinkai pro Wada Makuru.

Ryo demonstrates flawless standard-bike kilo form.

Coach Wada-san announced that the first day's training would be a team competition, and there was money on the line. The winning team would take ¥5000 from the losers. The format was head-to-head matches in rider-selected events, with a final team sprint to decide things.

The group we had on the day lent itself perfectly to the head-to-head format. We had two pros (Obara-san and Wada Makuru), two top amateurs (Ryo and Kitaura-san), two masters (Kameyama-san and myself) and two women racers (Hamada-san and Wada Risa, Coach Wada's daughter and Makuru's sister).

Captains were the two pros, Obara and Makuru. The line-ups:



-Basically with Ryo and Makuru, a dream team for me!

I chose flying lap and flying 200 TT to try against Kameyama-san. Thanks to coach Wada-san my standing starts have really improved, and I was able to best Kameyama in the standing lap. Predictably though, he crushed me in the 200, as that's his specialty. Eh, I needed the practice.

Overall though, B-Team was getting the job done. Makuru handled Obara-san, Ryo took care of Kitaura-san, only Risa was overpowered by the much more experienced Hamada-san. Team sprint time!

A-team were precise and their formation was perfect. Coach Wada said, "kirei" (beatiful) as they approached their first half lap.

Ours was probably more ragged. Those behind me had considerably more horsepower, so as first man I strugged to get off the line fast enough, and as I finished my lap I pulled up too soon. Nonetheless, we did it! ¥5000, please!

Multi-World Masters medalist Hamada-san's slick TT position.

That night it was time for the traditional onsen, followed by dinner, drinks and hotel party. Good times, indeed.

The next day, Coach Wada announced it to be "David Day", in honor of my imminent departure for America. It was up to me to choose the training menu for the day. I chose a sprint tournament and 500 meter TT contest.

Post-lunch unconsciousness.

Yeah, I got the new team kit! Thankfully it's in slimming black...

I drew Ryo-kun in my first sprint, and just couldn't handle his attack with half a lap to go, so I was out early. As a consolation, I was third in the 500 behind Ryo and Obara-san.

Kameyama vs. Kitaura...

Obara-san vs. Okuhara Ryo...

But it wasn't just boys: Hamada-san and Risa.

There was even some boy/girl action, as Ishibashi-san takes on Hamada-san.

The final was Obara-san vs. Kitaura-san. Unfortunately, Kitaura-san had a low-speed crash in the first turn, so they called it. No harm done to Kitaura-san.

Here I am cold-blingin' in my Japanese National team warm ups-- a surprising going-away present from Makuru. I bet nobody else on my block in San Francisco has one of these! Thanks, Makuru!

What can I say? I'm so sad to leave these guys. An amazing team that I have so much more to learn from and also such warm and generous people. I will definitely miss them. みなさんほんとにどうもありがとうございます! Thanks for everything, it's been amazing!

But it's not over, I'm gonna stay on the team and hopefully come back to train and race with them as much as possible. The working plan is to come back next winter for a training camp at the new indoor track at Shuzenji. Fingers crossed!

In the meantime, I'll be bringing the black, gold and red of Shonan Airinkai to the US. Major goal of the season: US Masters Track Nationals at Trexlertown in July. Ganbarimasu!
A few days after the disaster we decided to flee to Kyoto with some friends in case things really went sideways with the nukes up in Fukushima. Not exactly a vacation, but we managed to enjoy ourselves despite the situation...

I'm gonna miss that inexplicable english usage the Japanese are so uniquely adept at.

The least appealing plastic food we've yet seen. The golf ball (egg?) seals the deal!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

As the world is now well aware, last Friday Japan suffered a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, followed by massive tsunami and a still ongoing emergency at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture.

Tokyo was not nearly as hard hit. This is the worst of the damage at our apartment-- some stuff fell off the walls, and my bikes fell over. At the time it hit, I was at work in an office building in Shibuya, downtown Tokyo. Not a fun place to be! All the staff sprinted down the fire escape as things really started shaking-- we could see our eight-story building rocking back and forth at least a meter, while huge hotels and office towers swayed overhead-- so scary! It was by far the longest quake I'd ever felt, maybe 5 minutes? Several large aftershocks followed. Work was cancelled.

As the trains had automatically stopped, I was forced to walk the 15 kilometers home back to our town in Kanagawa prefecture, a four hour journey. It was a weird scene as Tokyoites made a mass exodus by foot from central Tokyo. The sidewalks were packed. A woman working in a convenience store made small talk with me- not normal in Tokyo! A strange almost carnivalesque atmosphere prevailed. The phone lines were jammed, and my cell phone was almost dead from constant attempts to reach my wife when we finally connected. She was ok, and only after talking with her did I begin to understand the level of devastation to our north.

Despite all this, I had my first race of the year scheduled for Sunday. At first I naturally assumed it would be cancelled, but it was pretty much business as usual in the Tokyo area, so after a call to a friend who works for the Kanagawa Federation, we found the race was still on. Maybe when something this terrible happens it's good to carry on as best you can? I don't know, but with no compelling reasons not to, I decided to go to the race as planned.

And I'm so glad I did. My teammates and coach were there, as well as some friends and people from the Federation I've come to know. The racing and camaraderie were a welcome distraction. I was even able to get excited about looking at some cool bikes, like this sweet hot-pink Kalavinka carbon above.

And this brand new Cervelo, owned by teammate and keirin ace, Ichikawa-san.

Ichikawa-san and Kameyama-san preparing to do damage.

Ichikawa-san in points race action.

I signed up for the kilo and sprints. It being March (very early, I usually peak in June or July), and given the extenuating circumstances, I had no high hopes. Just looking to have a good time. But after getting an 11.9 in my flying 200, I thought, "hey, that's a lot better than I thought!", and started to feel a bit more up. However, I didn't know it at the time, but there were several university team hard-asses there, one of whom clocked a phenomenal 11.3. Usually at local Federation races I can count on Kameyama-san to post best time, with me trailing closely behind. Not so on this day: I just squeaked into the tourney in 6th place. Presumably, Kameyama-san qualified narrowly ahead of me.

Then it was kilo time, a time I both anticipate and dread. I know it's my best event, but as I've said here many times before, it's an event only the insane could enjoy! Oh well, saddle up...

The start felt good, mostly in that it just felt automatic. I think this is down to the excellent coaching I've been getting from Wada-san. He's given me some great mental cues to latch onto, and I guess maybe I've started to internalize them well. Later Wada-san confirmed this, telling me my first 200 meters was 16.9 seconds, probably my fastest kilo start ever.

I was a little bit disappointed with my peak speed, but the "float" was excellent. There was almost no wind, so I was able to hang onto the float until well into the last lap. Of course then the pain kicked in like it always did, and the last 200 meters was pure hell as always, but overall I felt I'd done it pretty well. It felt pretty automatic, which in my experience is usually a good sign. But given the fact that it was March and about 16˚C I had no wild hopes about the time. Just happy with a proper execution.

As I rolled by Wada-san, he shouted out the time to me, "one-oh-nine!", "REALLY?!" I said in shocked disbelief, before rolling onto the infield grass and collapsing off the bike into the usual post-kilo fetal position. Here's evidence:I'd set a new PR in MARCH! I would have been surprised and happy with a 1:10, satisfied with a 1:11, maybe secretly disappointed with a 1:12. But 1:09.70..., shocked and ecstatic best describes my feeling! And not only a PR but a win in my first race of the season: 2nd place was a 1:10.34, 3rd a 1:11, followed by a gaggle of 1:12's. All great times given the time of year. Thank you Wada-san! Maybe I can hit 1:08 this year...

EDIT, 3/16/11: This just came in the mail. Not even a nuclear catastrophe can stop the Japanese postal service! Ganbarimashita!

Apparently this was a Kanagawa Federation selection race for another national competition (like the Kanagawa championship race I won last year), so the federation head, Ochiai-san, asked me to represent the prefecture again. Sadly, due to our impending move back to the States, I had to decline. Extra bummer, it's close- in Tachikawa! -and soon, April 24th. We fly out on April 12th. Dammit!

On my own personal cloud, I was brought back to earth abruptly: Time for the first round of sprints. My opponent? Kameyama-san. Shit!

He destroyed me easily, jumping on the back straight with a little less than a lap remaining, I had no answer for him. His jump is super explosive- he gets a gap so quickly, and has the speed to make it stick. I had no chance! My day finished, I became a spectator.

Kameyama-san won the first race of the final easily with his patented back-straight jump.

But he couldn't hold off the strong university rider in the last two rides, so had to settle for second. Probably he is not too disappointed. Coach Wada told me he doesn't usually come into form until summertime. Just a training race for him.

Kanagawa Cycling Federation coach Yajima-san, killing it in typical style.

Japan Cycling Federation official Miashita-san totally chilling.

Beautiful Shonan Bank Keirin-jo, I've been calling it my home track for two years. Maybe my last visit there, so happy to leave it with a win, while wearing the Kanagawa jersey no less! I have to say 'thank you' to the place and it's people for a day of perfect distraction from the real world, and a couple of great years of racing and friendship. ほんとにどうもありがとうございます!

Here's a great way to donate to help the victims of the disaster:

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I was able to spend an entire weekend at the last Shonan Airinkai training camp. Two days of pain, what fun!

Two of my teammates showed up with some sweet new machinery-- brand new BT's! Same as used by the Australian national team. The Edge model belongs to young professional keirin racer Wada Makuru, while the Stealth belongs to the teams top amateur sprinter, Kameyama-san.

I got to play with the team's world-class Mavic wheelset for a while. I must win the lottery, soon!

It wasn't all business, though. After the first day's training, we headed for the hotel and hit the onsen (hot springs), then copious food and drink were consumed.

The next day, my training menu included work on the last lap of a kilo or team sprint. Coach Wada had me do three flying 500 meter time trials, with a three minute pause between. First one wasn't bad at all, second one definitely hurt, but the third one was enough to send me to the port-a-potties anticipating a second appearance of my breakfast. Ouch, and ouch.

After lunch (I managed to keep down my breakfast), it was time to work on the standing start. Here's a video comparison of Maruru, Kameyama-san and myself:

Clearly I need some work, especially on the first few strokes. Makuru is a very serious badass, and is about one second faster than me and Kameyama-san, who are actually pretty close, on a standing lap time.

Some cadets from the neighboring Keirin Academy came to hang out with Makuru, who most expect to be a future star of pro keirin. He's already got several wins in his first season, which just started in January. The real deal! Note how the guy on the left is, perhaps unwittingly (perhaps not...), giving me the "fuck off" sign.

Beautiful indoor 250 and a ghostly Fuji-san. The roof is now closed, perhaps they've begun the woodwork inside.
Here's a cool little folding work stand for track bikes. Pretty sure it's only available in Japan.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Here's an interesting little film about Japanese professional keirin. Thanks to Gordon Knight for hipping me to this: