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.
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!