We're standing at the threshold of the door, me and Tim Johnson. He's over here too. The talking has been non stop at the house, mainly because it has become the de-facto race headquarters for the weekend. But the talking has taken on a different tone this evening. It's more excited and we immediately knew why when Mari Yano turned to us and said "someone found a leg today, a human leg."
Daisuke Yano, Mari's husband is the Nobeyama CX creator, course designer and race organizer and his spacious home which was once a bed and breakfast, has become that once again. It serves as lodging for some of Daisuke's course building crew. Not to mention racers, guests and people just dropping by to say hello and announce their arrival at Nobeyama. This is the 7th iteration of Yano-San's race and the first time that I've been able to attend despite many many promises.
Chizu bringing that new Oakley Bling!
But what we were trying to figure out right then and there was what Mari was talking about with the leg. She threw that little nugget out there and then immediately went back to speedily talking amongst the others in rapid fire Japanese. We had so many questions.
"A leg? Was it at the race? On the course? Had one of the farmers churned up something when they were making the course?" In my mind I'm picturing a mostly chewed leg bone from a Thanksgiving feast.
"Didn't you see the police at the venue today? They asked for the start list for everyone there."
There were quite literally thousands of people that were in town for the weekend. It was interesting and a little funny to watch this sleepy little town almost four hours Northwest of Tokyo in the Nagano Prefecture grow overnight. By the time the previous nights snowfall had settled and the morning broke behind the mountains, there were cars covering the fields that had been plowed in front of the house and dotting the road up to the venue. People were readying their race rigs and warming up on trainers alongside the celery fields of Nobeyama.
The venue itself is on a sort of makeshift looking dude ranch / park / petting zoo that sits about 800 meters from Daisuke and Mari's front door. It's main export is hand made ice cream from a little stand inside the park. Not sure how much ice cream they sold that day with the frigid temperatures, but Daisuke did assure us that it was still being made and distributed to all the local gas stations and grocery stores. Rest easy friends.
The race has had great success over the years in drawing international competitors into the mix and this year would be no exception. Garry Milburn was there from Australia, Cameron Beard from Bend and Seattle based Kevin Bradford Parish made the trip from the NW of the US. Past iterations have seen Zach McDonald, a trio of Italian National Champs and of course Barry Wicks and Adam "Newt" McGrath take the start line making this a truly international race. And that's not even to mention Molly Cameron and the whole of the Speedvagen crew which make up just one part of Yano's American Racing counterparts. He really can make your cross dreams come through people, it is true what they say.
These two days were some of the best racing and spectating that I've seen in a while. Know why? Because that little thing that happens here in the Pacific Northwest where the racers race and then leave before the "pro" race — didn't actually happen. Everyone stuck around until the last race of the day had finished, in fact they came out in force to cheer these guys and gals on. People had come from Tokyo, from Osaka and Hiroshima and Nagoya to see a RACE! And they did.
A Snow Filled Wonderland
Masaru Nakazato on the hunt! He was so frozen at the end of the race.
Note the heavy chunk of ice on the bottom of the shoe!
The course itself winds throughout the park in a way that allows for maximum viewing to its infield. It should be noted that that main building on the infield contains a great number of food options, and maybe its too easy to compare to the usual US race venue food, but this stuff was beyond good. Steaming soups and the traditional Katsu Curry. ("Katscurry!") Tim and I can be seen enjoying a hot bowl of it here with our best friend Saho! There were craft beers and baked goods galore. There were pour over coffees. And there was even the famous Bonsai Cycles Hot Ginger Lemonade!
The first day of the weekend was a frozen mess. A continually changing course with lines and ruts and snow inbetwixt. There was sliding and slipping and as the day wore on a distinct drop in temperature. No matter how many beers and hot lemonade drinks Tim and I downed we weren't able to stay warm. Though we were hydrated. Cameron had an awesome early race showing and slid back a few places as the race dragged into the latter part of an hour. But not before he showed us just a glimpse of things to come for this young US based racer. He's 18 and banging elbows with the best of the best. Plus, I can attest to the fact that he actually did homework while in Japan, so that's definitely something.
We also used the race as an opportunity to bring to market (lol) a new product that we have been working on furiously with our friends at Sim Works. An actual Made in Japan wool tabi sock. You know, the ones with the separated big toe? Check those out right there. Wooly and padded and deliciously for your feet (and big toes). Check out the Athletic x Sim Works Tabi Wool Socks.
This place is a like a crazy cyclocross dreamland. One where the racers race and then hang around and watch the elite level competitors go after it. No, seriously, it wasn't l
And that was before we went and raced our bikes through the snow at night...
Nobeyama Night CX:
Holy Crap this was a lot of fun.
Tim and I road out there in our work boots — Hiro's work boots — and clipless pedals, not really knowing what to expect from Nb's Nobeyama Night CX. Well, aside from the fact that he had the coolest race flyer pretty much ever! As with any of these races, it was awesome and fun and didn't start on time, lucky for us. We also happened to find a strange pink rubber coated bottle of Hennesy at Daisuke's house and that somehow made it out to the course with us. Also, that bottle might be out there in the woods somewhere still. Sorry about that. Did I mention that we neglected to bring lights? Who goes to something called "Night CX" and doesn't take lights? Thankfully there was a handy Cat Eye person there who had more than enough lights for us. What we weren't prepared for was them dying. Oops.
The light from the moon reflected off the snow and gave us something to work with. Thankfully, one guy had a shitload of lights mounted to his handlebars. And apparently used to race bikes professionally (sort of like Tim, except this guy did the whole race). Which made him a formidable opponent on the bike, his snow shred skills were top notch and it took all I had to push/run my single speed through the snow (there was a lot of running) to keep up with him. Not sure if he was just being a nice guy or is just exceptionally bad at drinking, but I would catch him every time at the "shortcut" aka "drink this beer, take this shot of tequila and keep moving." I would use the opportunity to down some booze, then jump ahead of him so as to utilize his array of lights in my favor. It was dark out there without them. Also, I heartily face-planted once.
In the end, I crossed the finish line first. It could have been my sneaking through the woods after a shot of tequila to get ahead of the guy with no shirt on (who I actually thought was winning) or it could have been Mr. Lights giving Gaijin the Win. Either way, there was a finish line and it was crossed, much to the chagrin of our pal TJ, who spent the remainder of the night telling anyone (and everyone) who would listen (and even some that weren't interested) that I was actually gifted the win and therefor it was illegitimate. Geeze, thanks for your support pal. The only other time I have felt so bad and awkward for a professional racer is when David Millar was spotted wearing one of those big floppy Amish fashion hats. Wait, weren't they both on Saunier Duval? There's a conspiracy in there somewhere.
So, thanks for letting me revel in my only bike racing win in the last ten years. That's what friends are for I guess, calling them out when they act like big dong heads. Don't get me wrong I love the guy, but shiiiit dog, this is play racing, not that world cup level racing you used to do. Also, you're a dong head.
Again, A Race!
It was nice on day one to hang around the race with Daisuke and Hiro. They have an unwritten rule that they won't do their race until the second day. "It's at the end of the second day and not much can go wrong after that." Makes sense to me. It also makes sense that they were understandably fired up to go by the time their race rolled around on Sunday afternoon.
The rain started in earnest about three laps in. Daisuke was wearing some sort of Rapha waterproof collection (Shadow Collection?), and the whole thing had him water tight like some kind of CX Seal cruising around in the mud. Let's just say he didn’t look happy and by the time the race was over we were all reminding him about how much work he had done to pull the thing off, which, as it turns out, is not conducive to training to race your bike. In the muddiest conditions of the year. But, let's not forget that even though he didn't look happy, he looked goooooood!
All of the snow was gone overnight. Except for those dirtiest of corners where you could still spot a wedge or two of the dirty brown stuff lingering. The mountain ranges surrounding the venue still had a nice coating so it went a long way in setting the scene.
And what a scene it was. Cam was off like a shot at the start of the race. In about two laps time he had worked himself into a fury straight to the front and was leading the other racers through the thick stuff near the start finish section. And Tim and I were beside ourselves and each other telling him to remain cool and don’t forget to breathe. Maybe that was me. Tim had a nice piece of advice in telling him to not use the same lines everyone else was. “They’ll dive him into some crazy rut that way.” Makes sense.
Hiro spent a good portion of the race the day before telling me about another team that was out there mixing it up. One that is actually a famous Manga? A high school cycling team that can overcome any odds? He said that the artist - Watanabe Wataru - who was there, is famous to the degree that when he was at the Tokyo CX race a couple years ago hundreds of young ladies lined up to get his autograph. Hundreds! Check out the Yowamushi Pedal Go! I love that their side stories are called “Spare Bike” and the name of the character. They also have toys made of the characters, because of course they do.
Speaking of our man Hiro, he had an amazing race and absolutely smashed it. We were standing on the long back straight at one point when he rolled through with three dudes on his wheel and he looked back at them through a mud smeared mask of pain and then stood up and hammered up that hill towards the turn at the top.
Masahiro Watanabe aka NabeTurboTech was hot on his wheel for a bit of the race. He slowly worked his way up to him and then made a pass where no one saw it and was off and running — that's the AWESOME BASIS for a good rivalry right there. We got to hang out with this crew when they were in Portland a couple years ago. Actually, Julie and I happened upon them at River City Bicycles and then saw them again when they did the road race out at the Montinore Estate Winery. Not only were these dudes cool as hell, but their jerseys say "Awesome Basis" which is so cool and cracked Patrick up to no end.
The fight for first was the best of the day though. The temperature was rapidly dropping. The course was changing and changing. New lines were popping up. What once was wet was now frozen. What was an easy turn earlier in the day had become a half frozen puddle that concealed a rutted tangle of sheer froze mess below. Cam was off like a shot but was reeled in a few laps later. The leader changed a few times with Hikaru Kosaka, the previous day's winner taking a few turns at the front before being joined by Kevin Bradford-Parish and Toki Sawada.
The surprise however, was coming in the form of Garry Millburn. Somehow he had slipped a ways back into the top ten and was nearly counted out. Then, out of about as no where and anyone in a bike race can come from there was Garry!! The final laps of the race, all the slipping and sliding at the front of the race had allowed him to pick a few good lines and work his way back within contact of the front of the race. And just like that he was cruising past the three at the front of the race with one muddy finger raised toward the sky. He had done it!
Was it out incessant cheering that did it? Probably not. But I hope it helped.
We would only find out later that Millburn had brought only one bike and had flatted early in the race. His wife's bike was in the pit, you know, "just in case" and he had hopped on her smaller bike and raced as best he could until his MAAP mechanics had fixed his flat. Then he just went for it...and we all saw the result of that.
But that doesn't answer the question of the leg. We finally got to the bottom of it later that evening. Or wast it the next day? Were they keeping something from us?
The leg wasn't at the course and didn't involve anyone at the venue. A few farms over a man had noticed that his tractor had been moved in the night. He went to check on it and then saw a pile of earth that had been tampered with. Upon doing some digging with his backhoe he excavated a human leg and after the police were called, the remainder of the body! Unsolved Japanese Mysteries, here we come. Here's the actual news report. I'm not going to say that they didn't try to pin the whole thing on us though...