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.

JCRC – Gunma Bicycle Race. July 14th, 2013. Winner!

Sunday July 14th I entered a race with JCRC (Japan Cycling Racing Club)  My first time to this event and I was a little nervous. There were heaps of intimidating riders who had come from all over Japan. It was as expected a well organized event.

One lap is 6 km.

One lap is 6 km.

We followed the pace motorbike for the first 2 km until we reached the first hill and then the race was on. I wanted to stay near the front of the pack because of all the dangerous corners, hairpins and bad road sections. I thought I might have an advantage on the hilly sections if I was close to the front because I live in the mountains and climb them every day, so that if a chance came – I might be able to break away. Well, in the very first loop as we were climbing the steepest section near the end I pulled away effortlessly. I didn’t know if they all were saving themselves or what? I thought about falling back into the pack and waiting until later in the ride to attack but it was only a 24 km race so I didn’t. I said good-bye and left them and rode behind the pace bike until the finish. I totally expected to be swallowed up by the group near the end but that never happened. I won by a good 1 minute and 20 seconds. I totally surprised myself. I wanted to finish in the top 5 but instead, left everyone behind.

That's Me at the Top.  Woot Woot

That’s Me at the Top. Woot Woot

A happy day pour moi.

It reminded me of my youth in Canada when I used to do well in the race circuit but never thought at this age I’d still have something to offer. This ain’t the Tour de France I know! But it was packed and riders came from all over Japan, booked hotels and probably set out to do well, too.  I’ll pat myself on the back, sleep well and then go about my daily life again tomorrow like it was dream!

Vitus frame, the first look clipless pedals and the first Oakley cycling glasses.  Cooooool

Vitus frame, the first look clipless pedals and the first Oakley cycling glasses. Cooooool

Sorry for the bragging here but hey… I don’t get a chance to do it so often!  And… this is my blog. hee-hee

Avg HR: 169 bpm   Avg Pace:  37 km/hr

I Lost the Fight with TREK – Part 3

The 3rd and final episode of the ongoing saga regarding my TREK replacement frame ended with the protagonist getting a pump shoved in his front wheel by TREK and sliding on pavement with road cherries.

The new Frame colors.  Not ugly at all.  But not what I wanted.

The new Frame colors. Not ugly at all. But not what I wanted.

Goes so well with my gear.

This is the paint job I was hoping for but lost.

The non Hollywood story is much more anticlimactic with a simple email from TREK Japan that reads:

Hello Kelly,

We are sorry to keep you waiting.

This past week the US customer service manager, APAC customer service manager, sales rep and I discussed and concluded that we cannot replace this frame.

The reason is that the store sold the custom painted frame, and then it was taken home.

However, we are working with the shop on options to help you on their behalf.

The store mentioned that they would like to contact you but have had difficulty contacted your cell phone.

Could we tell them your email address?

We appreciate your patience in working through this!

Regards,

XXXX

Forced to use my winter bike for races since my Madone surrendered to the cycling Gods.

Forced to use my winter bike for races since my Madone surrendered to the cycling Gods.

So I talked to the store out of curiosity what those “options” could be and unfortunately they didn’t lead to a discount.  The store owner just said he looked into finding someone who privately re-paints frames but came up with no one who will do carbon frames. 

So the story ends there.  No riding off into the sunset with a gold medal around my neck on my dream bike.  But, at the end of the day this story is still pretty good.  I love the frame, like the colors and am fortunate to be able to enjoy riding a very, very nice bike.

Read Part Two

Read Part One

TREK Madone 6.5 Replacement Frame Part 2

My baby.  We've been through a lot of miles together.Since my 2012 TREK Madone 6.9 Frame had a crack in the seat stay I had no choice but to give it to my retailer to return it to TREK.  From there, TREK examined the bike and said I was entitled to a replacement frame (which means buying a new frame with a 30% discount off retail price).

"It's nothing Ma, it's just a scratch".Since they don’t make the 2012 frame any more I have to buy a 2013 frame.  So what do I buy?  They don’t make the 6.9 anymore.  The top of the line 6 series is the 6.5.  Do I upgrade to the 7 series?  I do race a lot but I am not a pro cyclist.  After a lot of consideration I decided to get the 6.5.  It’s slightly stronger, hardly any heavier and hopefully will last through all my training and racing for a few years to come.

The new Frame colors.  Not ugly at all.  But not what I wanted.

The new Frame colors. Not ugly at all. But not what I wanted.

But the story doesn’t end there.  Eagar to get the new frame in time for spring training I ordered it from a TREK retailer using the managers iPad to search through Project One frames.  My bad.  When the frame arrived both the store manager and I realized the color scheme was not what we thought it was.  We were both surprised to see purple in the frame color.  Also, during the wait for the frame I did a lot of research on the H1 and H2 frames and wish I had ordered the H1.  So here I have a TREK 6.5 Madone frame that cost a handsome amount of money and I don’t like the color and I don’t like that it’s H2.  To kick myself even more, when it arrived I talked myself into thinking, it’s not really that bad.  But a few sleepless nights wishing I could exchange it got me back to the retailer asking to change it in.  After all, when I spend this kind of money, I want to be 100% satisfied.

When I told the store manager what I wanted to do he hummed and hawed about it.  The Frame has never been out of its box except the one time to look at it.  When he finally said it can’t be done, I emailed TREK directly.  I live in Japan but I emailed TREK USA because I wanted to speak English and make sure there were no misunderstandings. They told me it is possible but needed some more information first.   When I explained that I live in Japan they turned me over to the TREK JAPAN.  The last email I got from TREK JAPAN says:

Hi Kelly,

Thank you for contacting us.

Our sale representative for “Retail Store” already knew your situation and provided the shop with our answer.

Please let us consider what we can do for you.

We will talk with you when the solution is decided. 

Regards, 

Name

I haven’t heard back from them yet (3 weeks later).  But they did call the retail store and try to get them to tell me “No”.  But the retailer couldn’t give a reason why.

I went to another bike store where I’m good friends with the mechanics and they told me all the frames they deal with (ie BMC, Specialized etc) have a return policy if the customer isn’t happy.

Some pondering questions:

1)   Why can’t the frame be exchanged?  It’s brand new and never been used.   It’s not a custom paint job.  It’s a factory chosen color.

2)  TREK USA said it is possible to do.  Why is TREK Japan different?

3)  Is this a TREK policy or is the retailer the one that is refusing to let me exchange the frame?  No one is giving me direct answers (Which is very typical in Japan).

4)  TREK claims to have the best warranty in the business.  My Frame has never been used, and it is a 2013 model.  I simply want to upgrade and spend even more money with TREK.  Why is this not possible?   TREK is the 2nd largest bike company in the world.  Isn’t customer satisfaction important?

I sent the guy at TREK who’s in charge of my case the same questions (but more polite) and have not heard back from them.

This sounded like a good idea when I registered.

Riding my winter bike in a race because my Madone 6.9 had a crack in the seat stay.

NOTE:  Now, I should clarify, I actually do like the frame I have.  More so, if I can exchange it I will.  The goal is to search out all possible angles so that I leave nothing on the table.  When I find the answer either way, I will be satisfied.  🙂

Story to be continued….

Read Part Three Here

Read Part One.

Winter Cycling. – I’ll ride it out.

zig zag is a good thing.

zig zag is a good thing.

Winter is here bringing with it on most days, bitter cold weather with strong winds and very little sunlight.

I try my best to juggle things around to squeeze a ride in when I can but it’s a lot harder while fighting the elements.  I don’t mind not going out as regular during this season.  I’m a guy who enjoys taking a short break from training hard every day.

Winter is a time to get back into the gym, work on the upper body and the core.  It’s also hockey season and skating is another great cross trainer.  Still, I like to get out on the bike at least once a week so the legs don’t completely forget all that hard work they did throughout the year.  The gym also has a trainer that I ride every day for around 30 – 40 minutes. But they should replace the word “trainer” with the word “boring”.

It serves its purpose.

I’ll be excited to ride come March.  I have a new TREK Madone 6.5 waiting for me and it’s sure to bring a load of inspiration.

For now, I’ll ride out the winter.  🙂

IMG_0595

 

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.