Utsukushigahara Hill Climb Bike Race 2014

Utsukushigahara homepageWe drove up to Matsumoto from Gunma’s Numata city around 12:30 pm on Saturday.  We took the low roads instead of the highway because it is really only about 30 minutes difference and it’s a much nicer drive. 

Looks easy via this view doesn't it?

Looks easy via this view doesn’t it?

It rained all day Saturday and it poured buckets during the night.  But by 5 a.m. it had stopped and the clouds started to break.  The 4 of us woke up in our small room, had some coffee, energy bars and what not, got changed, prepared our bikes and headed to the race.  I did this race 2 years ago and my time was 1:22:23 .   I beat it by ove 7 minutes this year.  Stats are at the end of this blog.

Utsukushigahara Hills of ustsukushiWhen I entered for this race on-line my friend talked me into going in the “expert” class which I totally regretted this morning when I woke up and started getting really nervous.  Then to make it look like I’m really cocky, I placed my bike right at the front of the line where I stood next to Japanese legend Imanaka Daisuke san (He has raced in the Tour de France) and shared a lengthy conversation.  I’m sure it will appear on the NEWS and make it look like I’m some “foreign” ex pro or something. 

Me and Imanaka Daisuke

But that image quickly changed when they counted down and we all raced off to start the climb and I got swallowed up!  The first 5 KM are very steep with an average grade of 18% and everyone was out of their saddles. 

IMG_4012 IMG_4010

That quickly separated the men from the boys but to my surprise I was still somewhere near the front 30%.  I found a young guy and stuck my wheel right behind his and kept my head down.  By the 8 KM mark I thought I had over exerted myself too early and I was thinking of falling off his wheel until we got a nice 4% grade for 400 meters which got my lungs back.  After that I actually ended up pulling him for a little while (you never know how the others are holding up do you?).  Then out of the blue Mr. Imanaka smoothly rides by me and says in Japanese, “Hey, you’re strong”! And I replied, “Yeah, up until this moment”.  I’d love to say “It’s all down here from here” but that really has a different meaning in cycling does it?

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My heart-rate was quite high and I worried about how long I could hold on but I somehow managed until the 16 KM mark where it leveled out and even descended in some parts!  At my 72 kg weight I’m not designed for hill climbing.  I carry a lot of upper body muscle.  Especially with these 58-62 kg riders next to me.  But at the top when it leveled for 3 KM I was strong as could be and I actually left a few of the guys I was riding with behind.  Don’t ask me how!  However, one of them stayed with me and we raced the last 200 meter hill and I lost by a foot!  I think he sling shot from my draft but I don’t mind though since he was half my age and that’s a smart tactic.  In fact, as I mentioned, someone carried me for about 6 KM. I had a great time.  My time was 1:15:25 which is about 7 minutes faster than before.  In the champion class I finished 39th.  Most champion riders were in their 20’s though.  Plus out of 498 forty year old’s, I placed 13th.  But here’s the weird facts.
If I was in the 20 year old group I’d have placed 9th out of 134 riders.

Finally over the topCrossing the finish line.

In the 30 year old group my time would have made me 31st our of 354 riders.  And in the 40 year old group I’d have been 14th out of 491 riders.  So, all in all I’m happy with that.  More important “Da Boyz” and I shared some great moments and a heap of laughs.

IMG_4022 IMG_4014 Da BoyzBeer time.

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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. :))