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The Land of Keirins!

by / Tuesday, 28 January 2014 / Published in Uncategorized

Between landing in LA from Mexico, and taking off again for Japan, I had only 16 hours on the ground. Throw in laundry, a 3hr meeting for school, and I was definitely tight on time. You’d think that the bike would be a piece of cake to deal with since it was already all packed up from my previous journey. Well, unfortunately for me, my not-so-practical car is very small, and the only way I can fit my bike and bike case in there is if it is completely unpacked and separated apart. Never the less, I made it back to LAX on time, and began my journey to the Izu Velodrome in Japan.

The 12-hour flight went by like a breeze. It was just the right length so that you can get a decent amount of sleep, even if it is only in 45min chunks. Upon landing, the organizers were already outside the terminal, waiting to bring me to my accommodations. I was arriving on my own, so the organizers had arranged for a hotel for me to spend the night near the airport, before we began the 4-hour trek to Izu.

DSC00663My first experience in Japan began the moment I opened the door to the hotel bathroom. The toilet. So many buttons! Without a clue what all these functions were, the only button I was brave enough to try was the music button. Yes, the toilets play music in Japan! Oh, and standard in any Japanese toilet (should be standard everywhere I’d say), is a heated seat!

The next morning, again super punctual, the organizers were back to bring me, along with the Malaysian and Korean teams, to Izu. The 4-hour bus ride took us through the mountains, with breathtaking views of Mount Fuji. After quickly dropping off our bikes at the track, we were told to board the bus again, to head to the hotel. Well, about 30minutes of driving later, once we reached the hotel, the organizer came to the realization that as the sole Canadian, I was on the wrong bus! My hotel was actually right beside the track where we had just come from. Apart from this minor blip, I have never experienced such extraordinary organization, and punctuality. The entire race went according to plan, without a minute delay.

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We are used to travelling to races with enough time to acclimatize to the time zone, and environment, as well as enough time to recover from the travel. Well, this time, because of the World Cup shortly before hand, I was arriving one day before racing began, after having accumulated nearly 30 hours of travel in the past 3 days, and a 9 hour time difference between Mexico and Japan. Needless to say, this was going to be a challenge for me, especially since the first day included both a sprint and keirin tournament!

We were up bright and early on race day, heading over to the velodrome early enough to see the sun rise in the distance, with Mount Fuji as a backdrop. The racing was fast and furious from the start. Plenty of Japanese riders ready to do what they do best: keirin racing. Throughout the entire day, despite my extreme fatigue, I managed to finish 4th and 5th in the Keirin and Sprint tournaments respectively. With a total of 9 race efforts (let’s not even count the amount of warm up efforts, both on the track and rollers), and 12 hours at the velodrome, I walked back to the hotel in the dark utterly exhausted.

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And then the next two days we did it all again. Luckily these days only held a single event each, which made the racing more manageable. I earned myself another 5th place in the Sprint, and learned so many valuable lessons in terms of tactics and race preparations.

The trip to Japan would not be complete without seeing two things: the famous Japanese Keirin school, and Tokyo!

The keirin school is closed on Sunday’s, as it is the students day off, but the organizers were nice enough to open the gates, and give me a quick tour of the campus. Hidden amongst the rolling mountains were numerous tracks, of varying sizes and quality. I also got to see some interesting training techniques, like the 30+% hill that riders race up from a standing start, or the electric rollers that assist in working on leg speed, or the set of stairs that keirin riders dash up in under 30s. Then there are the NJS Keirin bikes that all the riders must use. Nearly identical equipment ensures fair racing for all.

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So many times when we race, we don’t get a chance to see the country and culture, since before racing, we need to rest and get ready for racing, and then our flights typically leave almost immediately after racing finished. Since my flight this time was not until the evening the following day, we headed into Tokyo via taxi, train, and bullet train to check out the sights. We ate some sushi at the fish market, checked out Shibuya (a cool shopping district), saw the Tokyo Tower (looks just like the Eifel tower, but it is painted red) and went for a walk around Yoyogi park to see the Meiji Shrine.

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Japan was definitely one of the coolest places I have had the opportunity to visit. The people are some of the nicest, always trying to help in any way they can; the cities are so clean; and the food (other than some of the unrecognizable items) was great. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to head back soon for some more racing!

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