Last week, myself and Jeremy Powers travelled to Tokyo in Japan to give a presentation based on the Svenness videos that I publish on the blog In The Crosshairs. We didn’t just come for that, though: J-Pow then won the Cyclocross Tokyo 2016 race in front of a crowd of 15,000 to end his season in style.
We had done a similar event together at the Cycle Club New York last year and were honoured to be invited to come to Japan. To think that by covering the still-niche sport of cyclocross, first locally, and years later globally, brought me to a moment where I’m traveling to Japan to talk about the sport I love, is beyond amazing. That the country has a growing, enthusiastic and knowledgeable cyclocross community made the opportunity that much more exciting.
Any worries about the presentation being lost in translation soon dissipated once I saw the passion and sophistication of the fans at the Rapha Cycle Club Tokyo for our event, which focused on the skills needed to be a great ‘cross racer, and how Jeremy does it all so well.
After an enjoyable evening, my travel companion’s attention then turned to the Cyclocross Tokyo weekend, which took place on the beach of Odaiba, the large, man-made island in Tokyo Bay across the Rainbow Bridge from the city centre. The course was a mix of sand, pavement and near-single-track dirt, but mainly it was on the beach.
Along with the sand, if there is a signature feature for Cyclocross Tokyo, it is the weather. Two years ago, the race took place following a rare snowstorm. Last year, rain and wind challenged riders and officials while this year it was hot. By the time the men’s elite racers had begun to assemble on the starting grid, it was nothing but sunny skies and 75 degrees.
It was so unseasonably hot that Powers and Zach McDonald had to put their tailoring skills to use, making some last minute short-sleeve modifications to their kit. This made nice souvenirs for four fans, who received autographed sleeves from Jeremy and Zach.
Powers, who won here three years ago, came in to this race as the favourite, and he controlled the pace early, stringing out the field with local racer Yu Takenouchi. After a miscalculation in the sand put the American briefly off his bike, Takenouchi took the lead. Meanwhile, Hikaru Kosaka was working his way through the field and then managed to manoeuver past the two leaders.
Kosaka’s lead went up almost as quickly as the lap counter was going down. Powers found himself in what he called, and I paraphrase here, an “oh shoot” moment. With a thin course through the woods, a short pavement stretch that included a flyover, and a single fast rut through the sand, places to overtake were few and far between. Feeling the race could be slipping out of his reach as he sat behind Takenouchi, Powers knew it was go time. He picked his spot, made the move to get past and put in a big effort to track down Kosaka.
“I’d rather turn myself inside-out and push beyond capacity then deal with the disappointment of losing,” is how Powers described the final laps and battle with Kosaka. Suffering in the heat, J-Pow was hurting badly but his discomfort gave the thousands of fans lining the course a thrilling last lap. Powers made his move early, sprinting before the finishing stretch since there wasn’t enough real estate on the pavement at the line, and came around the final bend first to take the win.
After recovering from his efforts, Powers returned to the Rapha tent where he spent the next hour signing autographs and chatting with fans. “It was a great battle with the Japanese riders Hikaru and Yu for the win,” he said. “The challenging course left me drained in the middle of the race and only a big effort in the final 10 minutes kept a smile on my face!”
“Taking the win in front of such a passionate crowd will be a highlight of my season. This marks my final race of the 2015-16 cyclocross season and I’m happy to end it with this win in hand. Thank you to the CX Tokyo organisation, its sponsors, staff and volunteers, to the fans who came out and to the Rapha Japan crew for receiving us with open arms. I hope to see everyone in Japan again soon.”
Watch the latest chapter from Jeremy Power’s video series The Book of Cross here.