This was the first time to participate, and even visit Yahiko Village, a spa town in Nigata. The course layout looked like a fun 10km with average 5% grade and some steeper sections to attack. Getting to Yahiko is best done by Shinkansen or Car – both somewhat expensive modes of transpo if you are coming from Tokyo. Based on that, I decided to try the highway bus which is generally cheap, reliable and mostly on time. The highway bus runs at night, leaving Tokyo at 11.30pm and arriving to Tsubamesanjyou around 6.00am.
After my wife found out that Yahiko was a noted Spa village, plans were altered so the whole family could come! Accommodations were a little more difficult as everything in the Village was booked. I heard about camping as possible so we decided to try that.
We arrived too early to check in with the tourist center so we decided to head straightaway to the Cultural Center which looked to be close to the camping ground (according to Googlemaps). Of course the EXACT location was not to be found – but we learned from the first arriving security guard that it was, in fact, located right next to the Cultural Center in the Picnic Area! Great! We moved our stuff there and pitched the tent. We had the entire picnic ground all to ourselves! After pitching the tent and unloading everything we took some time to hang out in the village, enjoy an onsen spa and basically get prepped for the race.
I might add for anyone visiting Yahiko:
1) There are NO supermarkets or places to buy food except for a single lonely ‘Circle K’. So you better bring your own! Or plan on eating in the various Japanese restaurants around town.
2) Most of the Onsen hotels do NOT allow ‘spa only’. So – if you are camping and want to use onsen – you should try to find one of the few that DO allow this. We found one called ‘Hotel Weiss’ and the spa was excellent and affordable. As well they had a great European style lunch and dinner.
After several trips to the Circle K, we had stocked up enough junk food and beverages to settle in for the night. The best part about the camping experience was that it was super quiet and we literally had the whole place to ourselves. I could prep my bike under a shelter easily and we started a nice fire to stave off the mosquitoes and create an enjoyable atmosphere.
I went across the street to the Yahiko Keirin track and snapped this shot. I was so tempted to scale the fence with my bike a give it a few laps!
Next day was race day and I was up early. Just about the time I arose it started to rain. Camping and rain generally don’t mix, but we were lucky. The place I put the tent was highest ground and under a tree – so we didn’t get flooded. The picnic shelter kept the rain off the bike and allowed me a place to get geared up. Once we were geared, got my numbers and headed towards the starting place. Japanese races typically follow a ‘registration’ – ‘opening ceremony’ – ‘parade’ – ‘start’ format. With the rain going full tilt, I just went back to our convenient camp ground and waited until 30min before the starting position. I ran some short hill intervals to get warmed up and pre-load carbs prior to that. then tossed my poncho and headed to the starting line.
I ran the course the day before and decided that I’d keep my low (44/22) gearing as it was likely to be rainy and I wanted more power for hill attacks than the flats. I was definitely way too conservative since when I ran my test course, I kept a 70% HR just for sanity check and it felt OK. Though on race day, I was to need much stiffer gearing to match best times. My race strategy was simple – sustain the flats as much as possible without over spinning, attack on every hill section and use the slights for 10% max recovery. During the race I had the main problem that I just could generate as much ‘mash’ as I wanted on the hills and was way over-spinning on the flats. So- rhythm was a bit hard. But it was a very fun ride and the group I was in was highly competitive so I was enjoying every second of it.
One thing I should mention is that I did not see ANY OTHER fixed gear rider! And this was a hillclimb endorsed by the Japanese Keirin Association. AND it was in a village that has its own Professional Keirin track! I was really hoping to match pace with ALOT of track riders! But they just weren’t there! With one exception!
The Team Spirits, who enter this race yearly and consist of top Japanese Women Keirin members. YEY! I spotted a couple of the riders on the way up and my game was ON! I didn’t know at the time they were women riders – only that the distinctive MASH MASH up the hills and SPRINT SPRINT on the flats was just what I was looking for! After playing cat and mouse – I made my final attacks at the 2km point and literally just ran out of hills. I was getting hammered on each succeeding flat / slight portion and none of my hill attacks were holding enough ground to maintain distance and time. Grrrr! With the final 1km to go I just spun out the whole way including the short 100m uphill finish. I crossed the line and went to the post race staging area.
There I first met the TEAM SPIRITS! WOW – so COOL. The only other fixed gear riders in this event were these 4 members of the women’s keirin team! I took an opportunity to get some photos with them. They are super fit and very very competitive!
After the other members arrived , we posed for a group shot.
After the lantern rouges had all arrived, we headed back to the Cultural Center for the closing ceremony and then the long trip back home! I was lucky enough to snag an official poster and get the signatures of the Team Spirits. I’m planning to come back again next year with much higher gearing and hopes of a stronger challenge. Who knows, we might even be able to round up enough fixie riders to make this a super fun event with serious competition to the local Keirin riders.
My results below – not super, but not disappointing either – especially considering that I had matched pace with the professional Keirin riders! At least that gave me confidence my form was starting to get where I want it to be. These riders are all in the their 20′s, train rigorously and race ALOT. I’m, on the other-hand, in my 50′s train sporadically and only race when something seemingly fun rolls around.
The view from the top of a mountain can never be beat! Especially when you get there by fixed gear!