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Joining a pro team in Japan? (and some advice for a bit of a noob)

Archimedeez-Nuts

Warming-Up
Nov 8, 2021
2
2
Hi,

This is my first post here, so I apologise if what I am asking is against the general ethos of this forum. Mods -- please remove my post if you think it is inappropriate.

I'm making this post because I would really like some Japan-specific advice about progressing as a competitive cyclist. Before getting into things I should say: I am very much a noob when it comes to cycling culture, and I would like to learn more. I'm apologise in advance if my way of explaining things comes across as ignorant, please correct me if you think I am wrong about anything. Moreover, I understand that the sort of questions I am asking are probably the kind of thing that you should ask a cycling coach, however I am too poor to get an expensive coach, and I expect that any coach I would find would not have specific knowledge about the Japanese racing scene.

Ok, so here's the story: I bought a road bike during lockdown in April 2020 as a way of keeping fit whilst my kickboxing gym was closed. I fell in love with cycling, bought myself a mid-range bike with a power meter, and by the end of 2020 I clocked around 5000km just riding around casually. A few group rides here and there, but mostly solo. On New Year's Eve I decided to apply myself to structured cycling training. Although I did not test at the time, I would guess that on the 1st of Jan. 2021, my FTP was somewhere around 260W. Checking back, I can see that my best powers for 2020 were:
  • 760W for 30 seconds,
  • 550W for 1 minutes,
  • 350W for 5 minutes,
  • 315W for 10 minutes, and
  • 275W for 20 minutes.
All of this was at around 80kg, which yields an estimated FTP of 3.25 w/kg.

Anyway, fast forward. Mostly doing the Strava 1-month training plans (in hindsight, cringe), I worked my ass off and managed to do 11 months of ok training. Because of this, my power has increased to:
  • 1000W for 30 seconds,
  • 720W for 1 minute,
  • 475W for 5 minutes,
  • 415W for 10 minutes, and
  • 380W for 20 minutes.
Moreover, I dropped the excess fat and I'm now at 70kg. My FTP is now at 360W, which is about 5.14w/kg.

To give some background, I am 28 years old, and I started cycling almost entirely untrained -- in the past 10 years I haven't done any cardio training except that used for karate/kickboxing. It is worth saying that whilst I was in high school I used to run middle distance at the competitive level (i.e. regional and occasionally national), and this might explain my rapid initial growth.

I am now starting to hit the "pro" ranks on the Coggan power scale (i.e. on Strava Sauce), and its making me start to wonder if I have a shot of seriously getting on a team. I have several questions about this, and I would really appreciate it if someone could help me out with some advice. Here goes:

  1. What are the pathways into pro cycling in Japan? I am a gaijin, and my Japanese language skills are poor. From my research, most of the conti pro teams are comprised of only Japanese riders, but there are some with some foreigners as well. I understand that my best bet is to enter some of the serious amateur races (e.g. Tour of Okinawa, Niseko classic) and to place highly, but these races keep getting cancelled due to COVID and I don't know what else I can do at the moment except train alone.
  2. Am I being delusional in thinking that I have a shot at making it to pro? I understand that racing bikes is more than just fitness, but still, I am quite shocked by my development over the past year.
  3. Do you know where I can find a coach that will be knowledgeable about the Japanese pro scene? Preferably one that doesn't cost me everything I have!
Aside from all that, I would really appreciate it if I could get any advice in general. In real life I don't know many other cyclists, so it would be nice to speak to some enthusiasts who love cycling as much as (if not more than) I do.

Thanks,
Archimedeez-Nuts


EDIT: Sorry I forgot to mention, I live in Okinawa. This is quite a big problem: there are basically zero races on the island, except a few low level amateur races on the US military bases. According to my estimates, it will cost me at least ¥50k to attend races in mainland (flights, accommodation, race entry, food, etc.). Given my relatively-low salary, I can probably afford about 4 or 5 trips to mainland in 2022. As such, I think that I have to carefully select my race calendar.
 
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Ruda

Maximum Pace
Nov 22, 2019
76
80
5.14w/kg in one year is awesome!

I know that the Yowamushi pedal`s team had a "we`re hiring" post on their facebook page earlier this year.
The requirements did not include power targets or race wins, it was mostly on terms of liking to ride a bike and being available to travel around Japan. There is no mention regards to where you came from, but everything is in Japanese, so i assume you could apply for it after developing a little bit of language skills (and depending on your visa)
Also, the team has people from a large range of ages, which seems inviting
 

andywood

Maximum Pace
Apr 8, 2008
3,019
3,230
If you want to race as a pro on the domestic circuit, that probably means riding the top tier of the JBCF racing series.

I rode the pro tour 12 years ago by working my way up through the ranks.

Join a team that has riders in all the categories, then you can work your way up.

Results are what will get you noticed.

You earn your status and can keep it even if you change teams.

Good luck!

Andy
 

kiwisimon

Maximum Pace
Dec 14, 2006
3,765
1,987
Where do you live?

At the moment you have zero experience racing so everything Andy said. Find a team, (location would help), learn how to ride in a peloton safely, start working your way up. Don't be in such a hurry that you skip the listening and learning part.

Congrats on the training and improvements in the numbers.
 

OreoCookie

Maximum Pace
Dec 2, 2017
1,826
1,626
These are very respectable power numbers. However, before I proceed, I’d just caution you that given your age, you are unlikely to progress to being an international pro. I’d think of it as a serious hobby if I were you, and adjust your expectations accordingly.

Anyway, I think you could be very competitive on domestic scene once you have learnt some race craft. The latter is a definite weakness of mine, I think I’d be quite competitive if I had some racing smarts. But trying out racing didn’t occur to me until I turned 37 so there is that. And as a family man I don’t have the time anymore to spend weekends racing and riding.

Like others have said, the first step is to find a local team. Usually bigger cities have 1–2 “fast teams”. In Sendai there is one. They are quite serious, they do motor pacing regularly and invest a lot of time into training.

If you have no clue where to find them, look for the “serious bike shop in town”. You’ll need one anyway. Typically, that’s a shop that doesn’t sell mamacharis or fat bikes with funny logos on the tires. Become a customer there. Sometimes you’ll spend more than if you were to order online, but in Japan connections are very important. Here in Sendai, we have two very serious shops: one of them runs the aforementioned fast team, the other is run by a former world tour pro team mechanic who knows everybody in the scene, including current and past pros. A good starting point is IMHO to ask them to give you a bike fit and see how they react and what kind of knowledge and equipment they have. (Equipment isn’t everything, but a shop with a dedicated fitting bike with variable geometry has different options than a regular shop that just measures your height and decides on a frame size based on that.)

Some of the serious teams have a tryout phase. Given your power numbers, I reckon you should probably pass that, but expect to work your way up. I know one American who did that and he is now a dedicated sprinter. Whenever he was racing, I was no longer the heaviest rider in the peloton :flip: Put another way, he was heavy, but he could put down serious power for short bursts. Also, depending on your power profile, with a serious team you might have to do your share for the team.

Regarding training, yeah, you need to move away from Zwift as your main method of training. An alternative for serious athletes is TrainerRoad, which got me from 3.7 W/kg to 4.7 W/kg (342 W peak FTP). Another is Training Peaks combined with a coaching service like Fascat Coaching. TR costs 180 $/year, I think. A personal coach in Japan could be a very expensive affair, though. Our team captain has (had?) a coach, and he paid 80,000 ¥ per month.

One more thing about equipment: an aluminum frame with racy geometry that fits you well, a 105-level groupset and a power meter is enough to get you started. Get a bike fit. I’m also a strong advocate of disc brakes. Yes, you can spend much more, but a good aluminum bike in the right size with a good bike fit is plenty. Make sure to spend money on the touch points (handlebars, saddle and pedals). Saddle preference is purely personal. Also, if your bike came is reasonably inexpensive, it might be worthwhile to upgrade the handlebars. You don’t need to get crazy. I replaced the stock handlebars on my previous bike with aluminum handlebars by 3T, which made a huge difference: not only were they stiffer (which I could feel when sprinting), their shape fit me much better. One other thing I would always upgrade is tires: good tires make a world of difference. After that, if you want to upgrade anything on this bike, start with the wheels, not with the groupset or the frame. Aerodynamics is much more important than weight in road racing, unless you do British hill climbs or something.
 

baribari

Maximum Pace
May 28, 2010
1,287
914
Your power numbers are good enough to be a domestic pro in Japan. I wish I even knew I had the potential for those numbers.
But you need to actually, you know, do races first.
Just keep in mind that you probably already make more money than 90% of "pros" in Japan teaching English or whatever you do.

Join your local JBCF squad and enter E3 races.

You aren't ready for huge races like Tour of Okinawa or Niseko Classic. You have to start out with one of the many shorter races held across the country to learn the skills that bike racing requires. Of course, with your numbers you could probably ride away from the field.

You can race in the "pro" races in Japan as an amateur, at least on the JBCF side (maybe not the JCL side*) but keep in mind that it requires a SUBSTANTIAL monetary investment due to team fees, race fees, and all the travel required.


(*Japanese pro cycling recently broke up into two separate leagues)
 
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TokyoLiving

Maximum Pace
Dec 9, 2015
806
470
If you are in Tokyo, try your skills with our morning group ride. We have a range of riders including former professionals along with serious riders. Riding with a group is very different and you need to gain those skills first and foremost.
 

Archimedeez-Nuts

Warming-Up
Nov 8, 2021
2
2
Thank you all for your responses. From the advice that I've got, I think my strategy for 2022 will be as follows:
  1. Travel to mainland several times over the year and compete as much as possible, nothing crazy or too serious, just stuff to help me develop some racecraft and to see if I really enjoy racing bikes.
  2. Approach a serious cycling club here in Okinawa. I don't know of any off the top of my head, but admittedly I have never looked.
  3. Keep training my ass off and see where it leads me.
  4. Maybe get a coach off of TP.
Aside from that, I also have the extra goal of sticking around this forum more often! You guys are way more supportive that I expected you to be, thank you for that.
 

baribari

Maximum Pace
May 28, 2010
1,287
914
Thank you all for your responses. From the advice that I've got, I think my strategy for 2022 will be as follows:
  1. Travel to mainland several times over the year and compete as much as possible, nothing crazy or too serious, just stuff to help me develop some racecraft and to see if I really enjoy racing bikes.
  2. Approach a serious cycling club here in Okinawa. I don't know of any off the top of my head, but admittedly I have never looked.
  3. Keep training my ass off and see where it leads me.
  4. Maybe get a coach off of TP.
Aside from that, I also have the extra goal of sticking around this forum more often! You guys are way more supportive that I expected you to be, thank you for that.
That changes everything. You should do those "low-level" races on the bases first. Then do every race held on the islands, including the ToO, but I suggest you start with the 100 km version. And do as many of the biggest, longest JBCF races you can afford (there are a number of extra-long races where E3 get to ride with the higher ranks).

There was a big(ish) race on Miyakojima, but I think it died after a guy died in the sprint a few years ago. This, combined with COVID, was the nail in the coffin.

There’s a velodrome on Okinawa, so you might want to try track cycling as well.
 

andywood

Maximum Pace
Apr 8, 2008
3,019
3,230
Thank you all for your responses. From the advice that I've got, I think my strategy for 2022 will be as follows:
  1. Travel to mainland several times over the year and compete as much as possible, nothing crazy or too serious, just stuff to help me develop some racecraft and to see if I really enjoy racing bikes.
  2. Approach a serious cycling club here in Okinawa. I don't know of any off the top of my head, but admittedly I have never looked.
  3. Keep training my ass off and see where it leads me.
  4. Maybe get a coach off of TP.
Aside from that, I also have the extra goal of sticking around this forum more often! You guys are way more supportive that I expected you to be, thank you for that.

If you're in Okinawa, get in touch with Team Shido's Nakao san. He races at the top level and has trained with foreigners.

Andy
 

OreoCookie

Maximum Pace
Dec 2, 2017
1,826
1,626
If you are in Tokyo, try your skills with our morning group ride. We have a range of riders including former professionals along with serious riders. Riding with a group is very different and you need to gain those skills first and foremost.
That's a great suggestion. Getting into one group ride opens the door to many others. And people will quickly be able to gauge your skill. Plus, you don't always have to (and shouldn't!) gun it. On a Z2 ride I am happy to ride with “slower” people or on occasion help people bridge back to the main group.
Then do every race held on the islands, including the ToO, but I suggest you start with the 100 km version.
Agreed. The Tour of Okinawa is probably the hardest race in Japan I know of. It is hard, especially at the pointy end. One of the riders on the fast team averaged above 37 km/h, which is nuts given you do over 2,600 m of climbing on the full distance (210 km, I believe). Despite that, he was far behind the top group.

I'd love to go, but this is too rich for my blood.
 
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