Maebashi Hill Climb – 2014 (前橋ヒルクライム)

Mt. Akagi Hill Climb bike race 2014

Up up and away!

Up up and away!

Up Up and Away!

Up Up and Away!

This year’s bicycle race as expected was a very well run and organized event.  Without a doubt it’s the biggest novice race of the year for Gunma Japan.  Anyone can enter as long as you register on time which is where the challenge lies.  About 5 months prior to the race they open up the on-line entry at 8 pm and within a couple hours it is sold out.  I believe they allow just over 3000 participants to enter.    However, I didn’t have any trouble getting registered on line and was done within 10 minutes of starting.  The biggest hick-up for most foreigners would be the obstacle of reading Japanese.

Can you see me?

Can you see me?

"This microchip strapped to my leg is weighing me down man"!

“This microchip strapped to my leg is weighing me down man”!

The night before the race I spent a couple hours cleaning the bike thoroughly, removing the cassettes, degreasing them and the chain and replacing the brake shoes with the ones for carbon wheels.  Sounds easy enough but to do it right takes a little time.  After that I took the bike to my friend Ka Chan’s house who is a master at adjusting the gears so that they change perfectly.  He also has an air pressure gun that helped get out some extra dirt from those tough places.  The bike was brand new and fast again!

Race Day

Da Boyz cycling club

I woke up before my alarm which was set to go off at 3:30 a.m.  My friend Masashi said he’d be at my house at 4 but he showed up 15 minutes early.   At that time of the night outside is still sleeping and blackness lies everywhere.   We loaded my bike into his SUV and headed to Maebashi where we have  a secret parking spot courteous of a friend’s friend.  For others I’m sure finding parking would be a challenge.  We saw some cyclists heading to the event by bicycle at 4 a.m.  and I was happy that wasn’t me.  Close to Maebashi we witnessed a vehicle accent where a truck in front of us flipped over onto its side.  Fortunately no one was hurt and we avoided the traffic jam that followed.

Once we arrived at the parking lot our friends showed up in separate vehicles shortly after.  We all unloaded our bicycles and got dressed for the race.  It was very cold in the morning with a strong wind adding to the chills.  I did my pre race tradition of going to the bathroom 3 times at the nearby toilet stall which my friends joke was put there just for me.  I joke back saying “why spend thousands on a lighter bicycle when you can drop a kilo or two in body weight”.   I had to go again just prior to the race but I’m not the only one – the toilets provided for the race have line-ups going around the block.  While this will make some angry at me, instead of standing in that line I went into the women’s room instead.  When you have to go you have to go.

The Race

2014 is the 4th year for this Hill Climb bike race to take place.  This is my third consecutive race here.  The Maebashi Hill Climb bike race is open to anyone.  It’s a 20 KM ride from Maebashi  to the top of Mt. Akagi.  It’s 20.8 KM of straight climbing with a total elevation gain of 1,313 meters.  The average grade is 7%.  The toughest grade is around 9.5%.  The first half of the climb is the easiest as you work your way from the city to the base of the mountain and then it gets quite steep in parts.

Since there are over 3000 participants the race is divided into groups.  Everyone has a Velcro microchip strap you attach to one of your ankles which reads the start and finish line to accurately record your person time and then later the results are shown to see where you stand with the fastest person or how you fared with your results from previous races.

My number this year is 322 and my group was the second to charge up the mountain.  The first group was composed mostly of pros and the fastest of the fast.  They left at 7.  My group  left next  at 7:05.

This year there was a very strong head wind so right from the beginning I found a team that were drafting off each other and I slipped in behind.  I think this helped me out a lot.  I just stared at the back wheel of some young guns and concentrated on an even rhythm and my breathing.  We did well to pass a lot of riders but the worry is to still have gas in the tank for the tough section.  I was careful to keep my heart rate to a comfortable level and make sure my legs didn’t burn up but at the same time pushed myself as hard as I could for the race.

Last year I started in a later group because my time the year before was 1:15 but this year they put me in the fast group because last year’s time was up in the top 2% at 1:09:36.   So this year when climbing I was thinking I wasn’t very strong because I wasn’t passing many people.  But later I realized it was because I was just in a group full of similar riders.  I am happy to have been put in this group where other strong riders forced me to compete at a higher level.

Mentally, the race went by a lot faster this year.  I think working on not letting other riders get away from me helped keep my mind occupied.  I was quite surprised when I realized there was only 1 KM to go.  When I went around the last hairpin corner and saw the 600 meter straight to the finish I went all out like everyone else and was neck to neck with another cyclist who immediately became my obsession to beat and on every last ounce of energy I could muster I beat him by a small wheels length to finish up this year’s Maebashi Hill Climb.

Almost there!

Almost there!

Unfortunately just like last year, once you finish there is nowhere to warm down and my leg muscles pretty much went into shock and started squeezing and burning up on me.  I tried to ride around in small circles and keep the legs spinning but it didn’t help and for a good hour after the race my legs were in pain and I couldn’t sit down.    I waited for my friends to make it to the top and then we all headed to the parking lot near Onuma Lake to get our bags that were sent up prior to the race.  There, we all enjoyed a coffee and cake courteous of a coupon that came with registration.  I had to enjoy my coffee standing though and that was worth a few good jokes and teases from my friends.

"Maybe I should call a Taxi"?

“Maybe I should call a Taxi”?

My time this year was 1:08:45 which was almost a minute faster than last year.  It put me  14th out of 1000 40 year olds, and 45th out of 3000 cyclists.  That’s in the top 2% again so I’m quite pleased with my results.  My weekly riding partner and good friend Yukiya Watanabe who turned 60 this year managed to get 3rd place over all for his age group.  We were all thrilled for him.  He got to stand up on the stage and receive a handful of prizes and a kiss from the good looking women.  I think he liked the kisses more than the prizes.

After the race was over and my legs started to feel a little better, I rode my bike home via the other side of the mountain.  It was only about 35 KM and mostly downhill.  I rode home so I could get back quickly and shower up and head to my afternoon gig.  I had a showtime at a theme park which I performed until 4 pm.   After that, I got home, showered again and then went to a BBQ with my family to hook up with our cycling group “Da Boyz” that rode the race.   We ate and drank without a care of calorie intake and celebrated the day.

 

My legs got cramps. Here I'm stretching them.

My legs got cramps. Here I’m stretching them.

It was a perfect day!

See you next year.

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Have Bike Will Trouble – I mean Travel – PART 1

Madone 6.7 SSL WSD™

OCLV2 SSL Carbon, E2, BB90, internal cable routing, DuoTrap compatible

The Worst Luck.

When it rains it pours they tell me.   Seems to be the case for me when it comes to cycling lately.  First let me remind myself I have my health and a beautiful family.  Now, let me share my story to get some much needed sorrow off my chest..

My beautiful TREK Madone 6.7 SSL WSD with all the trimmings got a crack in the seat stay a week ago.   It wasn’t from a crash or from banging it into a wall.  It was from attaching a light to it.  It pains me to share this because I NEVER attach a light to the seat stay.  I got home from work late and there was little light left in the day.  Somehow I couldn’t find my regular lights I use and I was running out of daylight so I called the search off and grabbed an old cat eye light I used to use on my mountain bike.  Now, I always attach my back lights to my seat post but this time I decided to throw it on the seat stay because that way my left leg wouldn’t rub against it when pedaling.

So I head out to climb route 145 to Lockheart castle which is a ride I do sometimes for intensity training.  It’s perfect for a short ride as I ride it at usually over 80% of my max heart rate and get the heart and legs both rocking.  On my way home heading down hill at about 65 km/hr the back light moved into the spokes of the rear wheel and got eaten up in a hurry.  I stopped, swore, looked at the remains of the light and checked my back wheel and spokes.  When I saw there was no damage on the spokes and the wheel seemed true I was relieved and went home.

The next morning when on a group ride my friend behind me asked what happened when he saw the crack.  I stopped and initially we both thought it was just the paint.  But a few more tests concluded indeed the frame was cracked.  How easy it was to ruin the frame.  A plastic light attachment that couldn’t break the spokes or untrue the wheel ruined my frame.

"It's nothing Ma, it's just a scratch".

So next I decide on what to do, either buy a new replacement frame or try to get this one fixed. I took it into Takezawa cycles where some friends work and asked them to switch the parts over to my winter bike which is an older TREK 5.2 carbon frame.

Today, they call me and said, “Did you know your top tube on your 5.2 has a 4 cm crack in it”?

All I could do is laugh because well…. Crying aint gonna do no good.

I feel like we’re going in reverse here.

So that’s where I stand.  I have a bike race on Sunday and I will ride it with my winter bike. I have double checked the winter bike frame top tube and I personally believe it’s not cracked but just scratched.   I will continue to use it as a winter bike and as my only bike until I get a new frame or get the 6.7 fixed.

Stay tuned and please, whatever you do… be careful with your frames friends.

Read Part Two Here.

Utsukushigahara Hill Climb Bike Race 2012

It'd be better in English I'm sure!

The Distance:  21.6 KM.   My Time:  01:22.54   Average speed:  15.6%

21.60km | 13.42mi

Starting Altitude:
680m | 2,231ft

Finishing Altitude:
1,980m | 6,496ft

Average Gradient: 7.5%

Elevation Gain:
1,300m | 4,265ft

Surface Type:
Paved

Difficulty: High

It's like the start of a roller coaster ride.

I expected to see a lot more foreigners at this race as it’s very popular. I guess it meets its 2500 rider quota in half a day when registering and maybe many of them couldn’t get in? I’ve been to a dozen races in the last year and usually there are some very strong foreign cyclists at the events.

This is a short steep hill climb to the top of Utsukushigahara. It’s a very tough race with the first 4 km at a grade of over 18% (20% depending who you talk to)! The riders leaving in groups at 1 minute intervals. The pro riders left first. It decided to rain hard the whole day making it even harder to climb. Standing was tough as the back wheel slipped quite easily. When you reached the top it was foggy with blasting high winds and extremely cold. Fortunately the event it was well organized and we were able to send up a bag full of descending colder weather wear and what-have-you for when you finished the race.

After the race returning to the base.

I felt strong, passed a lot of people and never got passed once (mind you, I wasn’t racing with the pros and I was one of the later groups to leave)! I had no idea how I did over all when I was climbing but I was certain there is a lot of room for improvement. Hill climbs are races that give advantage to tiny light weight riders which I am not. As my DM friend  says “no point buying lighter wheels etc when the body itself could be lighter”.

All in all a fun event and now I have a time I will aim to beat next year. Hopefully the sun will be out by then. :))

First Group Ride of the Year.

It’s been a long winter.  There hasn’t been a lot of snow this year but the winds and the temperature have made it exceptionally cold.  Yesterday was Tuesday but it was a national holiday here in Japan and for a rare occasion it was sunny, calm and warm (8 degrees Celsius).  I met up with two Japanese friends at a local 7-11 and headed out for our 60 km ride.

Start of the season is always painful on the pride.

I could tell we were all a little less fit than we were before winter kicked in.  I can usually ride 60 km with juice left over but today I was happy it was finished.  One of the guys bonked about 40 km in and so the other friend and I spent a lot of time at the top of hills waiting for him.  I guess all my indoor stationary cycling wasn’t in vain after all.

This was only the 2nd time I got to try out my Garmin 500 with heart rate monitor and cadence.  It was great to see all the details of the ride later on my computer and I’m looking forward to comparing my fitness down the road.

First race of the year is just a month away on April 22nd.  It’s only a short 13 km hill climb but I better get some more interval training in if I’m going to have a time I’ll be happy with.