Thursday, 2 September 2010

Big In Japan: World Tour Victory

Show your pants!
On my right cars rush by, on my left an endless stream of vending machines stretch into the distance against a neon surround. Meanwhile a bullet train flys overhead and all around me there is a bing bang bong from technology that has been seemingly integrated into the thousands of passing citizens.


I am here for the Japanese round of the XTERRA World Tour and I have come early in order to immerse myself in Tokyo culture, eat Sushi and take in a country that has fascinated me for years.

It was touch and go whether I would go to Japan but after a fantastic week it was unquestionably the right decision – I loved the visual feast that was served up and also loved the fact that I won the XTERRA World Tour race! – now that is truly worthy of a “Get In!”

I left the humidity and rush of Ueno station by Toyota Crown; an inordinate amount of baggage in tow and armed with only one method of communication; sign language. My destination a traditional Ryokan stay near Suidobashi. The plan; mix three days of light training and jet lag loss with some of my trademark city mincing – most prominently around the more obscure and better Sushi joints…

So with my shoes firmly off, my head bowed and prior to my naked butt being firmly shown (in the Japanese communal baths) I built up the Indy and set about planning a Tokyo Raid!

I packed a small rucksack and headed out into a navigational nightmare. From the quiet ordered backstreets of Homeikan it was south amongst the Nissan community and into Shinjuku where the neon came on in waves. Japan immediately met my expectation and to be in the midst of it and on my bike was perfect time. I took in the crazed super consumption of Ginza, the world's busiest pedestrian crossing in Shibuya, I late lunched in fashionable Daikanyama then took in desert in a temple strewn park before a final sweaty roll back home for green tea. 
The rest of my time involved great backstreet food, city wandering and flat out running intervals amongst the water lillies and temples of the local park. But come Thursday it was time to head to Maranouma for the XTERRA.

I had been told to meet at the Shin Maranouchi building by Tokyo Station. It turned out that this was home to Mitsubishi Securities, one of my favourite clients in my past life - but this time there were neither biscuits nor negotiation with Hywel Richards and John Doze! As I waited there for the bus to arrive I realised that I had very little contact information for anyone involved in the event! Visions ensued of being stranded - but lets face it there are worse places to be.

In typically efficient Japanese fashion the bus did show and amongst its occupants were Ben and Seb, two very funny American's from Guam and Leuiwe Boonstra the 2009 XTERRA South Africa Champion.. cripes. Once the bus got going it became clear just what a Megaopolis Tokyo was as it was a good hour before real green was sited. When it did arrive that green was better than expected. The hills themselves  were much larger hills than I had envisioned. Another hour and the bus begun to climb through beautiful woodland and then... it climbed some more.

Maranuma was the beautiful race site, buried deep in the heart if the Gunma prefecture. For starters I hadn't counted on it being at altitude! Upon arrival I was shown to a beautiful Ryokan room overlooking the race start and also found the communal baths to be of a level up from those in my budget Tokyo set up. I was rooming with Singapore based Scot, Fraser who in the true tradition of bike type people was keen to talk about two wheels - it was fun. After brief discussions it was time to take on the food.

The Japanese welcome was second to none and the food - well extremely interesting. I didn't know what half of it was and also needed about twice as much!
So to the race or should I say first up, the course. Japan has a reputation for being the most technical XTERRA on the circuit and I could see why. After a still lake swim it was onto the fantastically difficult if a little staccato bike. A Canadian settled in Japan, Paul had designed the route and his North Shore roots were there for all to see. Perilous switchbacks, narrow bridges and rock steps were all evident within the first few kilometers of trail! After a lake section with a sheer drop of about 20 feet to the left the trail hit some unrideable sections before skirting through a small village and up a long climb. From there back to the start; a bamboo lined singletrack descent and then a sheer mudface which only the world's best riders would take on .. I scrambled. The run was technical also with a long off camber rock section around the lake and then a rope climb up a slippery bank. It all represented a big challenge but if I am honest did not play to my strengths.. the bike was a little too technical for me (I prefer technical flow) and it was also very difficult to unleash my true run speed.

So to the race. 

12.10 Kick off and it was into the swim of around 1400M. Even before my least favourite discipline had begun I was in tricky waters. The Japanese had invoked the unusual rule that pros could not wear wetsuits - BIG disadvantage! By way of a consolation Fraser was kind enough to lend me a speed suit. When the gun went I was in big trouble. Swimming at altitude is an experience which I shall not look forward to again.. within about a minute I was swimming the doggy paddle rasping for air. Ahead I could see Lieuwe a sensational swimmer burn off into the distance and I was stuck just off the key group and in no mans land. Yet as is increasingly the way with the swim I was no where near as far back as I thought and I came out about two and half minutes behind Lieuwe but ahead of the Japanese pros. 

On reaching my bike I had what can only be described as the worst transition in history - my front tire was flat. For some reason I used my mini pump to frantically try and raise the pressure - hoping it was a valve issue and that Stan's would seal. After over nigh on three minutes and being passed by the Japanese pros I finally was on my way - Angry! Needless to say I hammered out of transition like a lunatic.. but the language issues meant I simply could not get by on the singletrack.. luckily the course opened out and I caught Yu Yumoto and then after ten minutes was on Tokura Ogasawara's wheel, the Japanese Mountain Bike Champion. What then ensued was a technical lesson from Oga. I was clearly stronger but his skillset and knowledge of the course had him pull away or pull me back on the drops. After dropping him on the long climb he reappeared on that unrideable downhill with a breathtaking sense of control.

The last five minutes of the bike saw me get away from Oga and then there ahead was Lieuwe - excellent I had pulled back around five minutes. I got to his wheel and it was into transition. Lieuwe was super sharp and had 30 seconds on me but I was sure I could take it on the run. Yet on the rocks he was super quick and I was merely holding him. Come the climbs though and I was onto him. I attacked quickly and after holding him at 20 seconds I moved away to a minute or so to take the Win. Just as I did so the heaven's opened meaning an empty finishing chute! If someone had told me that I would win in 2010 I would have laughed. I now know the previous results are not lucky and I head toward Hawaii thinking seriously about how to get right up there.

Lessons were learnt though - there was unacceptable carelessness that led to delay - this cannot happen in Switzerland, The US or Maui where every second will count.

After a long Japanese bath it was time for the evening festivities and what festivities they were - live drumming and dancing, massive barbeque, being sung Happy Birthday by hundreds of Japanese and then making a tool of myself on the stage by having my jeans too low slung and hence showing off my pants at the prize giving (in front of the Japanese politician). Good prizes too with a four figure payout, great trophy and a top of the range Suunto training system. Best of all Ben, Seb, Fraser and Lieuwe were excellent company enjoying a drink and a lot of laughter.

I had a day back in Tokyo to savour the whole experience. I walked, shopped a bit , ate more Sushi and looked up and around me at the visual feast whilst all the time I had a great birthday soundtrack made up for me by my friend Susie. 

Music – recommendations – Well that birthday mix included The Leisure Society, Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, Julian Casblancas, The Shins and The Album Leaf - so all nice and mainstream then!

Thank you – Sam Gardner for the 2XU V1 in the right size, Fraser for the speedsuit.. the Brighton guys for constant help.. Quest  and Mr Palmer and most of all to Taro for putting on a great event and treating me so well.

Roll on Switzerland.

1 comment:

  1. way to rock that tallywhacker sector to the masses whilst getting the top trophy it...see you soon