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Competitive cycling in Japan


May 28, 2007

I just joined the TCC as I have recently made a return to competitive cycling (was a former Cat II road racer in the US and Canada until 1993).

I participated in my first race in Japan at yesterday's Elite level 35km criterium race at Oifuto, and was very dissapointed with the horrible bike handling and risk taking of almost all of the local competitors, in fact, it was the worst I've ever seen. The disregard for other competitors safety that I experienced at yesterday's race would simply be unthinkable at race situations in North America and most parts of Europe.

I am determined to continue competing in Japan, and the US and Canada when I am able to travel however, and I'd be interested to connect with other local cyclists to learn about their experiences at races throughout Japan. Better yet, I'd be glad to train with anyone who is equally serious about competing here, sharing knowledge on local licensing of amateur competitive cyclists, etc.

Although my return to racing is recent, I've been living in Tokyo for 13 years, speak Japanese and curently run my own business.

Valentino Sebic
It often depends on what grade you race in with regards to safety & etiquette.

We had 3 members in A-S class yesterday and all 3 of them had to crash over somebody that went down in front of them. 2 Years ago (the last time I raced there) I was a victim of an old fool racing above his experience and lost more skin than I ever had before.

The safest place to race in Japan is to lead all the way. That's one of the reasons they go hard from the start and don't let up.

Elite level was S class? Were you wearing the white cap or the bright green one?

That race has a bad reputation for 'danger'. Do a few more races and you'll find it much safer.

The other problem with this race is they have to have all races go off early so there is as many as 5 or 6 classes/races on ther course at the same time.

The A class finished on the tail of the S class who still had a lap to go.

I actually love that circuit as it suits my racing style. I'll make my Oi comeback next year.
Much obliged...

Thanks for your valuable thoughts.

Yes "Elite" was the A-S class on Sunday (I was wearing the bright green helmet cap). I was told this would be simiar to a Cat II level in North America, which I think it was from a power perspective but not from a bike-handling and "respect for other riders" perspective. This was "dirty" racing.

I was really sorry to hear about your guys going down at the race. It is not worth getting injured and damaging expensive equipment so carelessly after they obviously invested a lot of time, effort and money to acheive that level of fitness. I had at least 3 close calls myself, and norrowly missed all including the 1st crash where a guy on my left went down within the 2nd corner where the red cones were placed; bottle necking the course in a corner!

I was in the top 5 riders in the last corner going into the finishing sprint when I got boxed in with a slower rider in front of me, and it was then that the huge crash happened with at least 8 riders going down hard at mid-pack. I instinctively looked back for a second where the crashing sound was coming from, and remember seeing a rider in mid-flight, hands and feet in the air like a thrown rag-doll and a dumbfounded look on his face as though he was thinking "oh sh** I'm road pizza".

I felt it was inevitable that such a big & ugly crash was going to happen, and when it did, I just sat up and let the truly insane risk their whole season for a such non-ceremonial 35km crit race.

Looks like you know exactly what I'm talking about after your own crash 2 years ago. The pain in the shower after that race and the bed sheets sticking to your road-rash is something I'm sure you haven't forgotten.

I think the root of the problem here is the fact that riders aren't segregated by skills and experience, which is based on a accumilated points system such as is incorporated in N.A. and Europe...hence you get guys like the one you pointed out who rode above his abilities and took people down (including you) with his own reality check. This odd "non-licensing" system, and sticking multi-level races on the same course at the same time are truly recipies for disaster.

I was shocked when I learned we were going to ride like this, and I was almost equally shocked when I learned that I had to wear a lime-green condom on my head...negating the ventilation of my helmet on the hottest day this year! Every country or region has it's quirks...but things really are done VERY differently here...I would have thought that officials would have copied and improved upon the "foreign formula" as the Japanese are so fantastic at doing with most things.

I will likely not do this race again, but I wish you luck if you do! Not surprised to learn of this race's dangerous reputation and am glad to hear other races have a better safety record! I'll be doing others such a the Tour of Okinawa 200km road race in October, but if you know others good races...am always willing to learn!

Let me know if you train on Sundays at Oifuto. I live in Shibaura (a 10min ride from Oifuto) and do that course every Sunday for about 3 hours. I usually put in 5-6 hours on Saturdays, riding from Shibaura to Yabitsu or Okutama (climb those mtns) and back...about 160km. Sometimes I just drive there and climb and drive back.

Would be great to meet others who'd appreciate the occasional training partner and just plain fun rides from time to time.

Hi Valentino . . .

Most Saturdays a few of us get together for a long ride (200KM+). You can read the ride reports in the BBS index under Unofficial Rides. Your very welcome to join. Your standard and experience is obviously very good. One of us would give you a run for your money, whilst you will find yourself waiting for me at the top of climbs. If this suits you I will give you notice of the next ride.

Unfortunately I will be participating in a triathlon this month and need to cut out the long rides in preparation so I will not be out again until July. However, I do intend to visit Ooifuto this Sunday (June 3rd) if you want to touch base.


They could be stricter.
You have to do well in a lot of races though before you're supposed to even enter an S class race.

The JCRC system is if you haven't raced before (including in Japan) you should enter a JCRC X class race. It's for beginners and people who don't know their level.

If you win easily the officials sometimes put you in a higher rank based on that performance. I've only ever seen somebody jump form X to C class never any higher.

I started in X.
If you don't do well you go to E class.

To get out of E class you have to finish top 6 in a JCRC race.
I've finished 3rd, 4th & 5th in E grade and then went into D grade.
I've been in D grade now for almost 2 years. I know I am as fast as the C class riders but I'm not going to enter C till I fullfill the regualtions of coming top 6 in a D grade race. I also don't want to finish less than 1st to go up to the next rank so I'm playing a waiting game.
There are only about 2 races in the year that suit my frame. One is possibly in Hitachi that I haven't raced yet and the other is in Yamanashi in November.

I'm trying to peak for those races and th elast 2 years I was out of shape and had other commitments.
This year is my best shot at either of those races. I even think I have a chance of doing well in C grade in Yamanashi.

Some people though don't want to go through the stages or think they are better than everybody else and put themselves in a rank based on their own assessment. Our team manager got angry at 2 of our members who tried to jump up a rank with out winning their way up.

I find the races to be too aggressive from the start. It would suit me a lot better if the races started slowly and built up into a crescendo but a lot of riders know they can't win a race like that so they try and keep the pace 100% for the whole race. When they get tired they start to wobble and have erratic cornering.

If I know I'm beat and out of shape I don't mind dropping off out of everybody's way.

Another problem is people who have earnt their rank still race in the rank after injury or many years of little training. They are too proud to go down a rank. I'm not even sure if the JCRC has a backwards ranking. We have an S class rider who says he's too old and it's too hard but if he goes in A class the other riders see his S class rank and complain.

As more and more riders race and it gets harder to control they'll have to make more ranks and more races.

The Bridgestone team often give lessons on race technique, manners etc and if you get a chance no matter what your level you should try and attend those events. We even got them to come to Mt. Tsukuba and give out club a one day training ride with personal coaching. Koji Fukushima spent a good 2 hours with me.

Look forward to meeting you some time.
Look for the big fat guy in the Semas Racing colors....

Mr Sewbicのおしゃる通り、日本のライダーは「神風ライダー」かも?!しれませんね。





West-Tokyo Basso.fan.JP
Perusing these forums and I should say - be glad you have fully organized/sanctioned races in your area. I'm on the southern end of Honshu in Yamaguchi Prefecture. The only races nearby me are unsanctioned and always mix-categoried with no regard for ability or handling. I hope to travel to Kyoto in July for a criterium there, but other than that - it's all "recreational" racing where I am.

More about me and my racing here in Yamaguchi is on my web site:

Interesrting post and thanks for sharing your thoughts, I haven't raced in Japan for over 10 years so this is very retrospective but in comparing the racing here in Japan to the racing in New Zealand I am not really convinced that the skills of the riders are any less than back home but the style of course most certainly is different. Back home most roads are wider, better maintained and certainly not as tight as they are in crowded Japan. On a crit course he who leads is least likely to fall, here or in any other country hence the mad dash to get to the front. I was poohing myself in the first crit I did back home and with good reason, people went down hard.The margins for error are much less than they are on a typical out and back course. The same applies here and although I have have never riden in the states I wonder wether the litigious nature of things over there ensures all possible precautions are taken to minimise risks. This would envolve grading and rigorous monitoring of racing. Here such legal threats are rare or virtuallly nil as they are back in my homeland.
The other sad fact I was forced to realise in my last visit back home was that as we get older we get a greater appreciation of risks and mortality and adjust our behaviour apropriately. Although I can spin on the flats with most people on the downhill segnemts of a mountain bike race in March I was most definitely thinking of the kids needing a driver to take them home so when the road got tight and the young bucks got white eyed I got sane and let them go. Looking at the skid marks going straight over banks into scrubby fences I knew I had chosen the right option and would do so again. What I guess I am trying to say is that your eyes are not the same eyes you had 13 years ago and as a comeback race, by choosing a crit, you have bigger cajones than me !. Don't dispair the scene over here but choose your races, go hard and ride to get to work on Monday road rash free. Joining a club team will give you valuable help as will the guys at TCC. Good Luck.
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