The experience of riding my first Rapha Prestige in Tasmania was enough to make me fall in love with a new kind of cycling adventure. The camaraderie, friendship and landscapes had me hooked. And Niseko was calling.
One day before the solstice, the sun rose over the mountains at 3:57am on Saturday morning. The air was crisp but not cold, with a clear view of Mt Yotei in the near distance. The vast resort stretching from Niseko Annupuri’s summit is famous for its powder snow in the winter, but the summer months reveal a hidden, lesser-known element of the resort: endless, perfectly smooth roads.
By 6am, teams from all over of the world gathered by the Mobile Cycle Club. With a 6:16am start, I anticipated that we’d be back by lunch. Little did I know, the next 143km would prove to be one of the toughest and most challenging rides we would ever endure.
The first 40km passed without incident, and the uninterrupted views of Mt Yotei were jaw dropping. But before long, we hit the gravel. Having ridden Jacob’s Ladder in Launceston earlier in the year, I thought I’d never find a more technical gravel road. How wrong I was.
The Japanese version of gravel is better described as crushed rock sitting atop a layer of loose sand. Almost impossible to negotiate in sections, even for the experienced mountain biker, to say that riders struggled would be an understatement. Immediately riders were jumping or falling off, pushing their bikes uphill. Then came the mechanicals. The frustratingly familiar sound of a burst tube occurred time and time again.
We kicked on. It took over one hour to get through the first 10km of gravel. I quickly began to realize that we wouldn’t be back for lunch. In fact, we’d be lucky to make it back before nightfall.
As we made it out of the mountainous forest and unmade tracks onto smooth bitumen, there were cheers of joy. We were only 70km in, and it had taken the best part of 6.5 hours.
The feed station positioned at a rural road stop provided a welcome taste of Japanese cuisine and culture, particularly for the international teams. Riders huddled around traditional Japanese low-lying tables, shoes off, cross-legged on tatami mats, enjoying a hot bowl of soba noodles and tempura. Smiles were at last returning to the group.
While some teams quickly filled up their drink bottles from the fresh spring water fountain before leaving, others took their time – sitting in the sun with home brewed pour over coffee. A Bunsen burner, freshly roasted beans, a grinder and percolator were carried by the riders for the entire ride. Total commitment to good coffee.
By late afternoon, teams began to roll into the finish atop the final hill, exhausted and elated. At 143km, with almost 3,000 metres of climbing, the ride was truly a test of endurance and strength, but also, of teamwork and perseverance.
As the sun set behind the mountains, we gathered around a Yakinuki (traditional Japanese grill barbeque) for grilled meats and vegetables. The reminiscing had begun, and would continue long into the night. I came to Niseko for an adventurous and challenging ride. I left with new friends and an incredible cultural experience.
Arigato, Rapha Japan.