Welcome to day 3 and more importantly, to the premier local hill climb race in Niseko, the 14km long Hanazono Hillclimb. I posted this pic the other day, but to help set the scene, here is what we were staring down the barrel of today:
So, not dramatically steep, but any race up a hill is hard and going to make sure you spend a lot of time either feeling lactic burn, chewing the handlebar, desperately trying to grab wheels or wondering why the fuck you do this sport! I shall attempt to keep todays update snappy, but given it was an excellent day I may struggle.
First to the warm up – Its never a good sign when you feel the need to smash a gel in the warm up, but that’s exactly what happened to me today… I had a distinct sinking feeling as I watched the son of Clarso dance up the road on the warm up climb, I released a few involuntary fart noises and realised that I was going to have to concentrate quite hard today!
Given that we were in ‘S2’ (which starts one behind ‘Elite’, they have an official JCF ranking and points system here), the plan was simple: I would get on the front and work to ride the iHawk across to the Elite bunch for him to then infest, spread and ultimately dominate using his scarily lean chassis and iron form. Before that though, there was the all important sign on, which was pretty cool to do, as I can’t remember having to actually sign on for a race before:
With warm up and sign on done, it was time for us to get busy taking photos of each other, you first iHawk, resplendent in his new Team Niseko kit:
So, we kicked back on the start line awaiting the usual Japanese ceremonial opening to get sorted before the GO… The Evo’s doing a fine job of holding our places:
Matching is cool once again… Anyway, our plan went out the window straight away when we worked out that S2 actually started with Elite, clearly my Japanese is still not up to scratch when listening to the race briefing (but I have been thanking the fuck out of everyone – the only word I know). Anyway, my plan to be a domestique for the iHawk until I blew had to be hurriedly replaced with the new #1 fallback plan – Get to the front!
iHawk and I worked it, making contact quickly (all shots courtesy of bike cam – Yes, I lugged it up a Hillclimb race FFS):
There was literally 30 seconds of peace and quiet and I thought maybe this wouldn’t be too bad, when BOOM, Tora Tora Tora! – Ken (one of Hawk’s team mates) went for it… Early… Hawk got on the wheel and went with him and of course, monkey see, monkey do for me as well (Idiot), we managed to get a small gap and left Ken on the front to work it:
That’s the hand of hawk telling me to chill out like fonzie and safe my effort… Well, thank fuck for that as I was already over threshold and we had only done a few KM’s. Like the Monkey Road break at Crazies, this one was doomed to failure, but as we were caught, another rider leapt off the front and like a BOSS, the iHawk screamed down from his perch and latched on to this hapless rodent for some fresh road kill. Here is the race defining moment:
That’s Ken Watanabe on the left, blown, iHawk on the right about to ride off and in front of him, the cycling condom.
Cycling Condom? Yes… As once out of sight of the Peloton, the Hawk used him up and threw him away. Like a skinnier version of Tommy V, he pushed on alone… Just a solo Hawk vs the mountain, his own personal pain barrier and of course, a feverishly chasing Peloton. I had elected to stay behind and disrupt the chase, something you become expert in the more your form is suspect.
Eventually however my race began to resemble the innings of the Aussie cricket team on tour:
- Promising start – Not a bad opening, but short lived
- Middle order collapse – Just dreadful in the middle, if Peter Sagan had been on the side of the road he would have pushed me off my bike and taken the Evo home
- Stubborn tail fight back – Yes, can dig in at the end and manage to claw back some pride and finish with a flourish
As it is with my TT efforts, today was the same. Here is what getting swamped by a squadron of Zero’s looks like:
#45 on the left there eventually went on to finish third in Elite… Any way, it was at this stage I was doing an impression of the Yamamoto’s anchor, desperately trying to hold a wheel while the little mexican on my shoulder reminded me “Hey Esse, you no hillclimber cuz… you too fat… Just relax, take a siesta…”
Meanwhile, up the road the Hawk was gone, out of sight of everyone and machining his way to the top like a scary experimental Clarso & Wilkins offspring, he could smell victory and almost taste the Potatoes (I shall elaborate later).
For me? I was tailed off the lead chase group and in the second group. As the road levelled off a bit in the middle I decided I wanted to try and bridge across, my Japanese is still not good, but I am pretty certain I heard my fellow competitors comment to one another “Lets put fat white monkey on the front and get a free ride”, I obliged and so did they… Like a domestique for everyone I worked my guts out to try and bridge, to no avail, except everyone coming past me and me again forced to try and hang on as I approached the butt hole of the group… Which I managed to by the skin of my teeth. I just kept repeating those famous words once said to Jan Ullrich “Take the pain you fat pig” over and over again.
A few minutes up the road… The Hawk had been caught by a group of 3 Elite riders in the run up to the steepest part of the climb (11 to 12%), with 4km’s to go… He dug deep to go with them, but his ride of folklore had taken its toll and he had to settle into a rhythm to hold the S2 lead and try and come back at the Elite 3.
Meanwhile, I had found my legs, head and resolve and had started to actually resemble a proper rider again… Slowly I picked off fading riders one by one as we counted down the KM’s… Alternating between chain rings and trying to not lose my shit again I ploughed away right on the limit of what I could manage, mere moments away from blowing to pieces. Into the last km and with it flattening out, I had one fucker on me who wouldn’t take a turn. Looking at his 40kg frame I thought “Well, fuck you little man, I am going to rip your legs off in the sprint to the line! This is bread and butter for me”… Er… Well, appears that I was Yakatori for him:
Yes, the Go Pro is a bit fucked by this point, but that blur is the little man sprinting past me and slaying the white devil… My fault for letting him sit on. So, across the line, close to vomiting and to the post race wash up. Best told through photos and minimal words:
That’s iHawk with the cycling condom. Of course, the Hawk held on for the S2 win and almost caught the 3rd Elite rider… An awesome ride and effort. Time to refuel:
And of course, a team photo for the Niseko boyz from the hood:
The dude on the far right was so excited he refused to open his eyes. Fever pitch. My favourite moment at the top came when a rather skinny scotsman (not Fraser) came up to me and said:
“Did you ride the big chain ring all the way up there?”, my reply was humble of course “Pretty much, I’m fucking strong though”, to which he said, deadpan: “Yeah, I was following you and thinking, far out, this guy is going well for a big boy”
WTF… Hold the phone… ‘Big Boy’? I’m 74kg! Right, I am NOT eating for the rest of the holiday…
So, given we had a winner in our midst, it was time to return to Kutchan for prize giving… Luckily for us we were distracted from the faffing around with results by the Japanese version of Glee doing a number to a Rhiana song:
After a reasonable amount of fucking around, it was time for the moment of glory… Yes, the WINNER of S2 on the podium to collect his 2 dozen beers for first place! GOLD! (no really, the beer is called GOLD):
But, the moment of randomness we had all been waiting for… the overall winner of the day won his weight in Potatoes… No shit, serious… to prove my point, here he is (not the most handsome man in cycling) on the seesaw working out his weight in the finest of local product, turns out he was about 60kg’s… Maybe I am a big boy:
How do you top off such a cool day? Well, with an interview with the Japanese cycling federation media person, that’s how – They are avid Dirty Nomad fans and wanted to know all about my time in Niseko, random? Yes, awesome for my ego? Fuck yes… did I play up to it massively like only a Rapha model can? You bet I did:
If you can’t win… At least have the best photo shoot (Balls – the ONE time I forget my Rapha cap):
After I had worn myself out being a total wanker we cruised home with empty legs for some beers and to relax, well, for me, but not for the iHawk who went out and did a 10km ‘recovery’ run, EPIC… Before I roll for today, here are some stats and word from the winner:
Stats – 33 starters in S2 (14.1km climb @ avg of 4.4%, 580m elevation gain)
- iHawk – 1st place: time of 32.27 (winning S2 by 2.12), avg speed of 27.07kph, avg HR of 164
- Me – 5th place: time of 35.12, avg speed of 24.96kph, avg HR of 168
A word from the victory hawk
“Was just like old times lining up on the the start line with Jimmy today. After sizing up our competition and marveling (sniggering?) at some of their wacky bike setups we rolled out of Kutchan on our matching Team EVOs with a gameplan that was quickly thrown out the window when we were both on the front and chasing the first breakaway attempts. A long solo ride later I came in 1st and Jimmy 5th in Cat 2. Maybe the most enjoyable day racing I’ve had made better by the positive potato festival vibe among the townsfolk. I took home a box of beer and the Dirty Nomad was interviewed by the local news. Throw in a hip hop dance-off by the local schools and some grilled local delicacies and you have a pretty awesome day out I my new home town!”
All in all – Another awesome day on tour and in Japan… Time for some victory beer!