The Tour de Kusatsu is a very misleading name. You really don’t tour anywhere. In fact, there is a heck of a lot of standing around in zero degrees Celsius weather waiting for the race to start.
That’s not to say that it isn’t a great race. I really like it for a race that kicks off the season. It’s very well organized with volunteers, police, radio, TV, sponsors, samples, pro riders and more!
However, this year in particular was a little disappointing. The course is suppose to be 13 km’s straight up to the top of Shinane (an active volcano ) but the weather turned for the worse the day before and the top of Shinane was snowing and the fog was as thick as clam chowder soup. So instead of canceling the event, they shortened the distance to 6 kms. You can bet out of the 3000 participants a lot were disappointed. Many had driving from Tokyo or farther and booked rooms to sleep in the night before. I myself thought about turning around and heading back to Numata (60 km south) but though since I’d already paid the 5000 yen fee I might as well ride it.
My friends Yukiya, Masashi, his wife and I left Numata at 6 am. We met at a 7-11 and headed up in two vehicles. The weather was cloudy and threatening to rain and the forecast said it eventually would. The question was if we could beat it and get the race over with before it came down.
On the drive up, Yukiya received a phone call from his son who is a pro rider for Takezawa cycle and was already up at the race with team and crew. He told Yukiya that the race was canceled due to really bad weather at the top. I couldn’t believe my luck because I entered another race back in August last year that also got canceled thanks to heavy rain. Regardless, we decided to get there and check things out further and found out it wasn’t really canceled but “shortened” to only 6 kms. I was told going any farther up the mountain would result in thick fog, blizzard like winds and snow on the road. It was 0 C at the base and everyone looked very cold but as they say on Broadway, “the show must go on”.
We changed into our winter cycling wear and tried to warm up by climbing the first kilometer of the mountain several times but the decent was freezing fingers and toes.
Finally, when over the speakers they asked us all to congregate to the start line, they then showered us with speeches from everyone and their dog. Anyone who brought rollers or attempted to do a warm up prior to the race quickly found themselves shaking for 20 – 30 minutes while waiting. Finally, they wished us all luck and the elite athletes took to the hill first.
6 km’s hardly seems like a race at all really. I’d been training for the 13 km ride for six weeks climbing up and down route 145 to Lockheart castle 3 times in a row, once a week as interval training to get ready for this. I had improved immensely from the first feeble attempt at doing that a month and a half ago. My last time up to Lockheart had been my best by a good 1:30 and got to the top at 18:05. The climb to Lockheart is much steeper and more grueling that the Tour de Kusatsu so I was looking forward to seeing my time here but I will have to wait until next year to see the full 13 km race results.
Everyone seems to be sporting a beautiful bike these days and to stereo type a Japanese person if I may, they all buy the best wear and look the part of a pro rider. I was intimidated to say the least and almost relieved that I wouldn’t be punishing myself for the full 13 km. Add to that the fact that is was a race against the clock and it was hard to tell anyone’s time besides your own and I managed to feel relaxed before I charged up. Everyone had a microchip device attached to their front fork that records the start and finish of your time accurately.