TG Universes & Series:
George had decided to travel with Genji ahead of the bus, Satoro and Miyaki following in their own vehicle. That did at least mean we avoided George’s ire for delaying the buses departure by fifteen minutes – not that anyone seemed concerned, they could after all get in an extra cup of coffee! Still it was just turned nine fifteen when we set off on the hour or so drive to Matsuyama on Kochi island, the start and finish point of the Japan Cup.
Of course the others were keen to hear about our Kyoto adventures, we were crossing the string of islands that link Kochi to the mainland before we drew breath, yeah it was quite some day, one I don’t think any of us will forget in a hurry. By comparison the others ride along the north coast was pretty tame, spectacular scenery but essentially just a training ride. They had spent a chunk of the afternoon shopping in Hiroshima so it’s not like it was all work, not like today.
“You guys having a ride today?” Mum suggested as we made landfall onto Kochi.
“What, on our own?”
“I think the rest of us are a bit tied up,” she pointed out.
I hadn’t really thought about what we’d do today, I sort of imagined we’d watch the race, how or where I’d no idea.
“Could I guess, Mand, you up for a ride?”
“Good, I kept your riding gear out just in case.”
Stitched up again.
Matsuyama is a fair sized place; at a guess about the same as Bonn back home, my impression was of a more rustic city than Hiroshima or even Kyoto. There are certainly fewer tower blocks and we crossed several sets of tram tracks on our way into the centre where the race starts although it finishes at the castle perched high above the urban sprawl. The day was turning quite warm, according to Dad they were expecting rain later but for now the blue sky has but a few wisps of cloud scudding across it.
It was a bit odd getting all ready to ride with the girls but not actually taking part in the race. Compared to the criteriums we’ve been riding all week today is a real marathon, something like 180 kilometres taking the girls on a loop around the western end of the island.
“Okay you two, we’ll watch the start then we’ll get in front of the race down the motorway, we’ll drop you off about fifty k out and we’ll go on to the feed at Uwajima. You’d best take my map, you’ve got money and phones?”
“Don’t think my phone’s got a lot of charge,” I noted, “it didn’t get charged last night.”
“Mine’s alright, Mr Bond,” Mand supplied.
“Good, so you’re okay making your way back up? you know where the finish is?”
“The castle, right?” I allowed.
“I’m sure it’s signposted,” Mand offered.
“If you get lost ring, let’s get your bikes in the van.”
Things are certainly different here, at home, even the bigger junior events allow team cars, big events usually have neutral service too, the familiar yellow Mavic® cars and bikes. Despite the Japan Cup being an international event, whilst there will be Shimano neutral service they don’t allow team cars to follow the riders. Bit of a weird set up but hey ho, that’s how it goes, as a result the Bianchi van is being pressed into service for the feeds where the girls can also avail themselves of team service, as they are neutral zones today.
In turn Ken would be taking the bus up to the finish, Vincenzo had already put the Ezy-Up in the side locker. George and the Italian would be out on the course with the photographic team, in fact they’d already departed ahead of the start.
Once our steeds were stowed with Genji, Dad, Mand and myself headed to the start area where the field was assembling prior to the off. The international element of the field was bigger today, apart from Team Bianchi and the Canadians there were riders and teams from several of Japans neighbours, South Korea, China, Taiwan, Russia and Vietnam, oh and of course a slew of Japanese. It doesn’t mean they are all top class riders of course, whilst there were plenty of shiny bikes on display the looks our girls were getting echoed the awe the Rainbow Jersey has had all week.
Whilst the start is in the heart of the city, outside City Hall the number of onlookers was small, we get this many at a local chipper back home in Germany! The MC rattled some stuff off – you don’t need to know the language to recognise the spiel, it’s pretty universal. Dad snapped off a few shots with a suspiciously new looking camera – well I guess a lot of the big brands are Japanese – Olympus, Nikon and of course Fuji.
No start these days would be complete without introducing Mum and her Rainbows to the assembled masses, ‘only’ having a time trial gold means I won’t stand out as much next season. The noon start was now approaching, riders getting a bit itchy to be off. A Japanese flag was unfurled and passed to a be-suited chap that I guess is gonna wave them off – it’s usually some local flunky, head of the council or some such.
The MC finished trying to enthuse the crowd before a recorded countdown was played culminating in a sweep of the flag, they’re off!
“Go Bianchi!” Mand yelled.
“Good luck, Mum!”
“Allez Bond!” Jules shouted.
“Good ride, girls!” Dad added.
In a flash of multi coloured jerseys and shiny bikes, clicking pedal systems and the usual cursing of back markers with no road they eased away from the start.
“Come on you lot, we need to make tracks.”
It wasn’t far to where Genji was waiting in the van; we were there in about two minutes.
“Two of you’ll have to sit in the back,” Dad mentioned.
“I’ll do it,“ I volunteered.
Dad slid the side door open for me as Mand climbed in up front.
“Sit on the toolbox kidda, Jules you can use the cool box, we aren’t going too far.”
“Great.” My sister allowed.
Says he. The door slid shut and Dad was barely sat before Genji had us moving.
I couldn’t see much sat in the back but it seemed an eternity before the stop start of city driving was replaced by the acceleration and smoother style of motorway travel. The van sounded like the engine was being ripped from its mountings as Genji did his best white van man impersonation towards Uwajima. I’ve no idea about Japanese speed limits but I bet we were breaking them – it certainly felt like it from my perch in the echoing box.
After about thirty minutes Mand mentioned that Uwajima was forty kilometres away, we’d be getting out in about twenty minutes then. Or not. We must’ve been really tanking it, Genji could give Mum a run for her money, anyhoo we reached the end of the Matsuyama Expressway and followed the road through Uwa, joining what I guess is the ‘old’ road south.
The first major junction was signed for Akehama and as we approached, me peering over the front seats, the local plod were already preparing to close the road for the race to pass. The race won’t get here for like another hour at the quickest so they’re a bit previous! Genji pulled off the road into a farm entrance and in a matter of three minutes we were unloaded.
“Take care now, if you have a problem,”
“We’ll ring,” I interrupted.
“Got everything?” Dad asked for the third time.
“Map, phone, money, head,” I intoned.
“Wareware wa deibu o ido suru hitsuyo ga arimasu!” Genji called over.
“Hai,” Dad replied, “okay, see you later.”
“Laters,” I agreed as he climbed back into the van, Jules having already moved to the front.
We waved as the van set off in a cloud of gravel to join the other traffic heading south.
“We waiting here?” Mand enquired as she strapped her helmet on.
I checked my watch; “I reckon we can get about twenty k before we meet them if we ride along the route.”
“Kay, lead on,” she invited.
Easier said than done, the road was pretty busy and it took several minutes before there was a gap for us to cross the traffic. Back at the junction one of the policemen, well it was a woman actually, waved us around onto the Akehama road.
“Konichi wa,” she smiled.
“Arigato,” I called in reply giving her a wave – always be nice to policemen you never know when you’ll need them!
The 378 follows the coast all the way back to Matsuyama, the race follows it south so we won’t be able to miss it or get lost. Of course it’s narrow and twisty which attracts motorbikes the world over and this ribbon of tarmac is no different. Riding two abreast wasn’t really an option so I set the pace with Mand tucked in behind, a steady twenty-five, thirty kph – fast enough in the early afternoon sunshine.
All the way to Akehama the scenery was rugged coast personified, each twist and turn opening new vistas across what the map calls the Uwa Kai. We hadn’t gone much more than a kilometre beyond the town when I spotted blue lights coming towards us, maybe a couple of K further on.
“That must be the race,” I observed.
“They’re running a bit early,” Mand suggested.
“Let’s stop at the next corner, we can climb up those rocks.”
We stopped and quickly parked our bikes out of the way. The rocks were not much of a challenge even in cleats, we found a perch about five metres above the roadway and settled down to wait. The blue lights took several minutes to reach us, a couple of motorbike cops directing traffic to pull over, as close to a closed road you get of course there’s always the chance of traffic getting onto the cleared road so it’s not ideal.
Another bike followed a minute or so later then a yellow light appeared in the distance, the race itself was just a couple of minutes away. We couldn’t see any riders yet but then the multicoloured peloton popped around the corner clearly going at a reasonable lick. The lead car was soon with us and about fifty metres back a lone rider, a Bianchi rider, Erika putting in a big effort.
“Go on Erika!”
“Up, up, up!”
She looked up with a grin as we whooped our support and then she was past. I did manage to get a picture with my phone, it might be in focus. The bunch, whilst riding quickly weren’t organised, the rest of Team Bianchi at the head of affairs maybe fifty seconds in arrears of Erika.
“Forty!” Mand shouted.
“Go on, Mum!”
We cheered. Tina gave us a wave as they swept past, we got some funny looks from others in the bunch and then they were gone. The judges car and a few stragglers came through then a big silver and blue Toyota estate with ‘Shimano’ plastered down the side followed by the broom wagon and maybe a minute behind a police car, what I’m guessing is a paramedic and lastly another motorcycle cop.
“That was a surprise,” Mand mentioned as we clambered back down to the road.
“Not really, pretty standard tactic really, puts the onus of chasing on everyone else and there’s always the chance she could go the distance.”
“Happens all the time in the big races, early break then a last third chase, even if the escape is brought back the rest of the team get a ride to the finish.”
“Like that last day in Switzerland?”
“Something like that, it didn’t matter that the break got caught, the rest of us got a tow to the finish.”
We let a couple of kamikaze motorbikers pass before setting off again towards Mikame.
The road bobbled about through the next town, hugging the coast tightly most of the way to Yawatahama. We had to go through the town as the bypass has a tunnel, not somewhere for bikes, especially without lights. It was a similar story to get to Honaicho where we stopped at a petrol station to get some grub.
We got some strange looks, well two blonde gaijin girls riding bikes – not something that the good burghers of Honaicho will get to see very often. The vending machines supplied a couple of bento and bottles of iced tea – yeah okay, maybe not first choice but it’s food. We set off and it was clear that we were going to have to cross the spine of mountains ahead of us that prompted another halt to examine the map.
“Sugar, I didn’t see that on the map earlier.”
“Is there a way round?” Mand asked.
“It’s another tunnel, there must be another road though.”
“The race had to get here somehow,” Mand observed.
“Yeah, come on,” I enthused.
On our way again we soon reached the tunnel and a turn to the right beckoned, a route up the valley, it must be the route the race used. It soon became a real country lane, steadily climbing towards a dam a couple of kilometres distant. The gradient wasn’t too bad until the last stretch up to the top of the dam that took us up a couple of switchbacks.
“Guh!” Mand allowed, “Hope that’s it.”
“Yeah,” I agreed even as I tried to follow the road’s route alongside the reservoir.
We crossed the dam wall and the narrow roadway hugged the contours above the water for a distance. The water ran out and the road swung across the feeding beck before starting on a series of shallow but long hairpin loops that had us steadily gaining altitude, must’ve been fun coming down in the race. I lost Mand part way up, she’d get to the top but it’s easier if you ride at your own pace.
At the top I stopped and took a long pull on my bidon, I was certainly er, glowing from the climb, the sky still almost cloudless, the temperature probably close to twenty C. I could see De Vreen steadily gaining metres of ascent until the last pull, a steeper stretch that slowed her to a halt. It wasn’t long and Mand elected to push her steed up to where I waited.
“Nearly there,” I encouraged.
“Thanks,” she puffed.
“There must be some good downhill, the road follows the coast again back to Matsu,” I offered.
“Hope so, I wasn’t expecting to be riding the Alps today, I ran out of gears.”
“Yeah I was in the twenty eight up this bit,” I admitted.
I waited for Mand to re-hydrate before kicking off to begin the descent that Mum and the girls climbed a couple of hours ago. On this side the turns were separated by long straightish legs, the coast road finally coming into view still a significant distance below us. Mand is certainly getting better at descending; she stayed pretty close although I out braked her on the corners.
Down, down we dropped, the sound of traffic drifting up to us as we made the last few turns back to the actual 378. The climb had eaten into the afternoon dramatically; my best guess was that our destination was still over an hour away. There was a bit of an onshore breeze, luckily over our left shoulders so despite the recent climb we were making good time.
Unlike earlier, whilst the road hugs the coast it’s a lot straighter, but also busier, getting more so as we got closer to the city. Nagahama, Futami, Iyo and there in the slightly smoggy distance Matsuyama Castle high above the modern city. This is where things could go pear shaped, hmm, if we head to the centre we should be able to work out our way up to the castle.
We hit pay dirt quite quickly, signs for the castle appearing almost as soon as we entered the city’s grid of streets. I think we missed a turn somewhere but we arrived at a huge moat, the castle just visible in the trees above us. Taking a chance we turned right along the water to find our way barred where we needed to turn left.
The police had the road closed but we managed to slip by on the footpath, a hundred metres further on we came to a more solid barrier with a bit of a crowd lining it.
“Looks like the race is nearly here,” Mand observed.
“Don’t think we can get any further,” I agreed.
We found a spot on the barrier and joined the expectant crowd waiting for the race to finish.
Maddy Bell 12.11.15
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