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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Giro de Hotaka bicycle race.

November 6th, 2011

It rained just once this week.  Yep, during race day of course.  Oh, and it rained hard.

I couldn’t sleep that night due to nerves and finally got out of bed at 4 a.m.  I arrived at my friends’ house at 5 and we drove to the race together talking strategy and pace. 

It was early, cold and wet and I was concerned about being able to ride the 120 km race (74.56 miles) in those conditions.  Because I work 7 days a week I haven’t had the time to ride over 100 KM all year.  Most of my rides are around 50 or 60 km (31 ~ 37 miles).  I knew I could do it but I wasn’t sure how sluggish I’d be. 

Giro de Hotaka. 7th Place.

This race was a little different from regular races and it doesn’t attract many pro riders.  In fact, out of the 128 riders there were only 2 at this event.  They were mostly using it for training I believe.  I think because we shared the roads with traffic and even had to stop at 1 or 2 traffic lights makes it less attractive.  However, when the awards were being handed out at the end, both pro riders agreed that it was one of the toughest courses they’ve ridden.  There is hardly a flat section to the race and if you’re not going down one side of a mountain, you are climbing the other. 

So, my plan was to start off with a comfortable pace and ride my own ride.  Let people pass me.  Don’t get competitive.  Save energy.  Finish!

The ride started with a 10 km (6.2 m) downhill and then 26 km (16.15 m) up and up and up.  There was an aid station at the top where I fueled up before going down the backside.  It was cold, wet and slippery with leafs and switch back corners but only one accident that I witnessed.  He went over a bank and into the river the poor guy!  I think only his pride was hurt though.

The last 20 km (12.4 m) was by far the toughest.  At the 100 km (62 m) mark the climb up Semene mountain pass to Katashina became really steep.  To my surprise those riders I let go ahead at the beginning were starting to appear in my sight.  Again, I just wanted to get up and over the hill but while doing so I passed a lot of riders.  I must confess when I finally reached the top and saw the tunnel I’d been praying for, I was bagged.  Then there was a nice 9 km downhill coast to get the legs back (somewhat) before having to do another grueling last 9 km climb to the finish.  How evil of them!

On the final 9 km I saw another 3 riders who I overtook.  The bike race brochure reads “120 km Giro De Hotaka”.  During the last stretch my bike computer was reading 118 as I climbed the tough grade.  I was thinking to myself,  “No, not another 2 km of this!  I don’t think I can do it.”   Then as I rounded the corner I saw the finish line in front of me at the 119 km mark.  That was a welcomed surprise (finishing 1 km earlier than I expected). 

I crossed over the line exhausted as they yelled out, “7th.   I said to them, “No, my race number is 98”.  And they said again, “No, you are in 7th place”.

Wow, that completely surprised me.  I figure I owe a big thanks to all my Dailymile friends for keeping me motivated and inspired.

Of course the 2 pro riders got first and second place respectfully and I should make it clear that they finished a good 30 minutes before I did!  Ha-ha

But heck, I’ll take lucky 7.

Click here for an earlier post I wrote about Giro de Hotaka.

Course and elevation.

Beautiful Fall bicyle race in Gunma Japan.