Rapha’s Supercross series took place over the weekend in Nobeyama, part of the Yatsugatake Mountains and Japan’s highest town, sitting at an altitude of 1,345m. Now in its 7th year, conditions began with fresh snow and freezing temperatures and ended in torrential rain for the UCI Elite races, where the mud became so deep even the strongest were challenged in two days of some of the most entertaining bike racing on the planet.
The deeply-frozen ground of Nobeyama meant the earth needed to be drilled in order to build the barriers. The icy surface made for a precarious course for the early morning categories, but within a few hours temperatures began moving closer to zero and the first signs of mud emerged.
Hardy riders from all walks of life raced in some of the harshest conditions over the weekend. The unique environment of Nobeyama provides an amazing stage for Supercross, where an office worker from Tokyo can race alongside some of the world’s finest in the sport.
The Yatsugatake Mountains offer a continuous backdrop from all angles of the course. As temperatures dropped later in the day, puddles began to freeze, making the course unreadable, even by the most experienced racers.
Racers from overseas are always well represented, and this year riders from the US, Australia and Canada. The Athletic’s Jeremy Dunn raced single speed on the first day, then as he was “already here” decided to race against geared bikes on day two. Cheering from the locals of “Ganbare JD” kept him churning through the mud, passing other riders and finishing alongside Digoro, friend and fellow Rapha Continental rider.
Food is taken seriously in Japan, and catering teams travelled from all parts of the country to provide a wide selection of hand-prepared choices for riders and spectators. Due to the local climate, Nobeyama is said to produce Japan’s sweetest cabbages, lettuces and corn. Fresh local vegetables were also being sold alongside various other dishes.
Although Nobeyama is a UCI categorised race, the children’s races are equally important — from the more competitive junior race to the kindergarten event where parents play an equal part in getting the racers to the finish line.
As the rain came and temperatures rose on the second day, so too did the mud — even by late morning conditions were beginning to get treacherous for the riders. Wipeouts occurred on most corners and the deeper, thicker sections of mud were also bringing down a high percentage of the racers.
By the time the UCI Elite races were getting started, the drizzle had become a downpour. Riders forced through the mud where possible, then ran when pedals became too heavy.
Rapha’s Head of Japan, Daisuke Yano has been organising this race for the past seven years, the countless hours he puts in together with an amazing team and family atmosphere are evident in the UCI status and continuous growth year upon year. Not only managing things over the whole weekend but racing amongst some of the worlds best in the UCI Men’s Elite race.
Although the temperature on the second day was milder, the constant biting rain robbed riders of their core body temperature. Heart rates increased with the intense effort but with every lap the heavy mud that covered them only added to the severity of the cold. After the race, shivers quickly set in — the only refuge a nearby catering truck with warm water, possibly the best shower you could ever experience.
Waka Takeda placed just outside the podium on day one of the race. On the second day as fatigue set in and the downpour came, she slogged through the heaviest mud and truly epic conditions to finish 2nd
Deciding to travel light with only one bike for an Elite Men’s final in the toughest conditions in Japan is not usually a winning formula. After puncturing 30 minutes into the race Garry Millburn commandeered his wife Fiona’s bike until he could get his own back from the pit, finally catching the leaders on the final lap before making his move for victory.