Japan enjoyed its second straight weekend of UCI cyclocross racing, with cyclocross racers from throughout the country and more than a handful of Americans converging in the country’s highest village, Nobeyama in Nagano, to do battle on the playgrounds of Takizawa Ranch, after a sand-filled race down in the Kansai area on the shores of lake Biwa last weekend.
Clear skies and midday temperatures in Nobeyama were in the upper 40’s brought welcome conditions after a rainy, muddy 2010 event. Racers, many who drove six hours or more to attend this second-year Rapha-sponsored event, seized the opportunity to enjoy the fair weather and party. An expo, a singlespeed national championship, a kid’s race, a Rapha clothing sale and plenty of concession options provided many attractions for racers and their families to make a weekend of the Nobeyama event.Toyooka Dominates the Women, Brubaker Podiums
Masters, beginners and youth raced the early morning races, while the women’s Elite UCI race went off a minute behind the Cat 2 men, an unusual situation for an UCI-sanctioned event but understandable given the small field (11 racers). Current national champion Ayako Toyooka wasted no time in seizing control of the race, powering through the still-muddy course and hitting the barriers with a huge 15 second gap. Behind, American Tina Brubaker (Speedvagen) gave chase, with pint-sized youngster Chika Fukumoto, only a freshman in college, moving up in attempt to join Brubaker. Another Portland-based racer, Alexandra Burton (Upper Echelon Fitness), locked into a battle with Japanese racers Ikumi Tajika and Sakiko Miyauchi, last week’s winner in the sand in Kansai, behind the leading three. Heidi Swift, the third Portland-based woman in the race, made sure she stayed in contention for her second weekend of UCI points and prize money.
“I had a trouble in the last week’s race, so I rode careful today,” Toyooka explained to Cyclocross Magazine after getting upstaged by Miyauchi in last week’s race. “I started strong with the enthusiasm to lead the whole race, but I was just a bit nervous as it is an UCI race and a must-win to prepare for the national championship. I used the nervousness to bring out my best.”
Soon Toyooka was challenged most by having to weave her way through the Cat 2 men’s field, and with some impressive, powerful riding, she ended up catching most of the men despite her one minute handicap.”It was a little challenging to race with Cat 2 Men pack and I was feeling like I can do more, this is not my 100 percent,” Toyooka explained. “But I tried to think of Europe where they have crowded races and use it as opportunity to brush up my technique.”
Behind, Fukumoto caught and passed Brubaker for second, showing her World Cup experience and patience and an uncanny resemblance to another tiny fast collegiate student, Kaitlin Antonneau. “I raced a UCI World Cup once and this course reminded me a lot of that race,” Fukumoto told Cyclocross Magazine. “The technicality is very similar to the European races. I want to race in Europe so the UCI points help a lot.”
Brubaker would continue to ride strongly, and would race Miyauchi tightly for the last podium spot. “It was really, really hard,” Brubaker told Cyclocross Magazine. “I kept trying to stay with [Miyauchi] on the climb because I knew I could beat her on the downhills. She was running a lot of the things I could ride, so it was a few seconds to my advantage.” The Portland-based racer held on strong to keep her first-ever UCI podium dream within reach.Brubaker told Cyclocross Magazine at the start line that she’d be happy with a top five result, after finishing fourth in Kansai, but with Miyauchi dropped, Brubaker improved a place and earned her dream of a UCI podium. The third place was as good as a victory, and Brubaker crossed the line with her arms in the air.
Rivals Takenouchi and Tsujiura Fend off Challengers
In the men’s race, arguably the deepest-ever men’s cyclocross field assembled to contest the UCI C2 race in Nagano, Japan. While favorites like reigning national champion Keiichi Tsujiura (Bridgestone Anchor) and the younger Yu Takenouchi (Team Euraasia-Fondreist Bikes), who has raced in Belgium, were expected to contend for the win, dark horses like new Saxo Bank road hire Takashi Miyazawa, Olympic mountain bike hopeful Kohei Yamamoto (Bridgestone Anchor), and last year’s fourth place, Portland-based Molly Cameron (Portland Bicycle Studio), could all play spoilers to the Tsujiura-Takenouchi battle.At the first barrier, it looked like Yamamoto might just play the role of spoiler, as the tall mountain biker came into the barriers at the front with a head of steam, but soon the two favorites would make contact, and with just one lap down, the top three had separated themselves from the rest. Soon, Takenouchi would seize control, attacking on the pavement and drawing out Tsujiura to chase. After a lap of chasing, Tsujiura would connect, and the two were set for a Nys-Pauwels-like battle for the rest of the race, swapping leads and testing each other in the muddy corners and numerous natural obstacles.
“I wanted to lead the race myself,” Takenouchi explained to Cyclocross Magazine. “But I was holding in for the first part to observe the race situation. The middle was challenging, and I got caught and gapped at times but tried to stay calm and pull together. Then I pushed myself to the max toward the end, trying to offset my frustration and display my willingness for the victory. The race went along my plan prior except the middle part where I was caught.”
The 24-year-old racer put his Belgian racing experience to good use, and his plan worked. He would stretch the lead out on the last lap to 19 seconds, and avenge his defeat to Tsujiura the week prior in the sand at Kansai.
The reigning national champion Tsujiura (featured in Brian Vernor’s film The Cyclocross Meeting) would put in some serious attacks in the middle of the race, but they didn’t dislodge Takenouchi. “The course was hard but fun,” a visibly-disappointed Tsujiura said. “It was technical and fast, especially difficult in the woods with the rocks and corners after the stairs. Takenouchi attacked on the last lap on the pavement, and that was it.”
Behind, Yamamoto would settle in for third, with former cyclocross UCI World Championship racer Atsushi Maruyama rolling in fourth, and Cameron chasing the 49-year-old Masanori Kosaka in the fight for fifth place. Cameron would get close to Kosaka, but couldn’t quite surpass the ageless racer, bobbling in a slick, muddy corner when about to make the connection. Still, the Portland racer was pleased with the sixth place in a deeper field than 2010.
“Last week [in Kansai] I was just trying to survive, but this week I was able to race and fight for it,” Cameron told Cyclocross Magazine at the end of the day, after a second consecutive year racing the Japanese event. Cameron explained part of the draw to travel nearly 8,000 miles to do a cyclocross race. “The venue is amazing. This little horse farm…it’s set up really well, it’s so central, the course just winds in and out. It’s brilliant, they have a really special thing here.”
After Takenouchi’s big UCI win and next week’s national championships, would he continue his UCI success by returning to Europe to contest more World Cups? Takenouchi said that he’s taking this season off before returning to Europe. “I didn’t feel like I was racing in Belgium, but just participating,” Takenouchi told Cyclocross Magazine. “I have been spending a lot of time in the gym to get stronger, and it will take some time. Next year I hope to return to Europe to actually race.”
Full results below the gallery. Please check back soon for more racer interviews, photos and videos from the 2011 Nobeyama Cyclocross Race, presented by Rapha.
Nobeyama 2011 UCI Men's Results
Nobeyama 2011 UCI Women's Results