Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Return to Japan...

Finally! A chance to go back to Japan for a family vacation. Though my wife and son have been back three times now, this would be the first time for me since we moved back to the US in the spring of 2011. Of course, I managed to sneak my bike aboard the plane...

Our first destination was Aomori, my wife's family's ancestral home. We made it in time for the famous Nebuta festival, a parade with gigantic paper sculptures, taiko drumming and dancing. Oh, and plenty of drinking, of course.

 No Japan-related blog would be complete without a nonsense t-shirt thrown in.

 Quick jinja visit...

This was our sweet Japanese-style hotel (Ryokan) the night before our visit to Izu Velodrome. Very nice. Complete with outdoor onsen and an old set of samurai armor in the breakfast room.

And there it is! Completed the fall after we left Japan, I've long dreamed of coming back to ride this brand-new wooden, indoor 250 meter track. Though I'd already been on the similar track in LA, I was not disappointed!

Beautiful. The skylight obviates the need for artificial lights in the daytime and gives the place a warmer, less gymnasium-like feel.

My buddy Nakagawa-san insisted I try his Campy front disc-- a first for me!

Yes, and he had new a new Dugast mounted! Thanks dude!

Front discs were de-rigeur . Pretty much everybody was rocking one. This is Kameyama-san's BT. When I started riding with this crew nearly everybody was on a steel bike with NJS wheels. Things have changed! In fact, I was the only guy still using traditional clips and straps, which I'd been required to convert to to start training with Shonan Airinkai! The irony... .

Flying 200 meter time trial, 11.872, which is my best yet on a 250. Video and photos at Izu graciously provided by Yoshioka-san. 

What the hell, a kilo? Why not. Actually, I'd been looking forward to having a clean crack at a 1km on a fast track for some time. Unfortunately, I came down with some kind of bug a couple of days prior to this, but still managed to turn a decent time (for me). Turns out the track is not as fast as I'd hoped, nor is it at altitude like I thought it might be. In conversation with coach Wada-san that night, I learned that it's actually considered a "slow" 250. All the Japanese records are still on the indoor 333 track at Maebashi. Whatever, felt fast to me!

Start was clean.

Time ended up being 1:10.114, which I certainly can't complain about. Pretty damn close to 1:09, though...

My buddy Ishibashi-san had the best 200 of the day at 11.679, nice! These guys have been getting faster while I was gone!

I also did a 500 meter TT, and got a decent 35.515, just a hair off my best time of 35.43. Got my best ever standing 250 meter time of 19.551, though. Not bad!

Shane Perkins rainbows and a cool Panasonic track tandem in Izu Velodrome's lobby.

Requisite blurry documentation of that night's drinking. Thanks guys, so much fun to ride and hang out with you all!

Next day was a visit to my old home track, Shonan Bank in Hiratsuka. It's had a bit of a freshening up while I was gone-- I don't remember the blue track surface!

You don't see too many tracks outside of Japan with their own pond... .

Sweet chrome Kalavinka... ,
And Shonan Airinkai jitsugyodan teammate Ichikawa'-san's ultra-exotic Koga Kimera. The Theo Bos bike!

    I tied with Kameyama-san for best 200 at 11.98. This track is fast! Man, so smooth... , I've forgotten how velvety and great these tracks are. You do not ever have to think about the track surface- it's perfect. You just ride.        

Keirin was getting hyped up to be a fight between me and Ichikawa-san, who is jitsugyodan natl keirin champ. I was having none of it, it was 38 degrees celsius! Just trying to survive, I wasn't even sure I'd do a keirin. But having done no keirin at all in the US, I was really looking forward to trying. Strapping on the mushroom head...

Nine-man keirin gate. No holders.

Ichikawa-san is red/three.

Keirin action shots by Ishibashi-san.

Ota-san made a bold senko, but I just bided my time and sat glued to Ichikawa-san, knowing he'd have to do the work of bringing him back.

I somehow found some power and started to make a pass coming out of turn four...

But Ichikawa-san had just that little bit too much, and held me off by less than half a wheel. Nice race! That's what I've been missing!

Well deserved win by Ichikawa-san. Super fun stuff. I was thrilled to have been that close to him, and second felt like first.

Final cool stuff, a national team jersey gifted to me by Wada Makuru, who is now an S-class keirin pro and full member of the national sprint team, amazing. Thank you Makuru-kun! This visit really reminded me how lucky I am to be hooked up with such a great group of guys who are also high quality riders. Damn, I love Japan!