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Old 10-04-20, 06:58 AM
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Join Date: Oct 2011
Location: Tokyo, Japan
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Bikes: Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer, Bike Friday Pocket Rocket

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It had been almost 16 months since my last randonnée, but yesterday I rode a 200 km one, the shortest category (on Strava). Covid-19 wreaked havoc on randonneuring events this year. Starting from April most events either got cancelled or postponed until further notice. AJ Nishi-Tokyo's first event this year in March collided with my travel schedule so I didn't sign up, but then the travel schedule collided with Covid, as I chose not to leave the country for fear of not being able to return...

The only event I was already signed up for was a 24 hour Flèche ride from Aichi prefecture to Yokohama (360+ km), but that also got postponed. It is now set to take place in two weeks. To prepare for it, most of our Flèche team signed up for the 200 km ride and ride it Flèche-style, i.e. not as individual cyclists choosing their own pace and breaks, but as a team that stays together under a ride captain (like the original Audax style of Randonneuring). This would allow us to check out our fitness (or lack thereof) and give us experience with riding and stopping as a team (pace, how many toilet stops, etc).

Fitness was one thing I was worried about. I mean, just about anybody is less fit than they were last year, before the "stay safe, stay home", don't leave your prefecture "not a lockdown" here in Japan. Usually I am one of the latest finishers in each event. The minimum pace of a randonnée up to 600 km is 15 km/h at each control including all breaks for food, sleep, etc that you chose to take. The limit for a 200 km is 13 1/2 hours while my typical weekend ride is more like 170 km in 14-15 hours -- a significantly slower pace (and a lot more time for pictures, sightseeing, etc).

The weather forecast was near perfect, with temperatures mostly in the low 20's C and overcast. From leaving the hotel near the start at 06:15 to getting back home at 23:15 I never had to get changed, though I had brought a windbreaker just in case.

The maximum number of participants had been reduced to 40, everybody had to wear a mask at the start and goal and we were asked to bring our own ball point pen to sign the brevet card, so that no writing instruments were shared.

One of our team couldn't make it, so we set off with only four of us amongst the other starters. Our first break was after about 50 km, at the Michi no Eki Doshi road station. Like in last year's Flèche I found the initial pace challenging, but after the short break at Doshi the ride leader took it easier and I was more comfortable. When riding to the Yamanakako lake, it's always a relief to make it to the tunnel at Yamabushi toge, the pass between Doshi and Yamanakako at over 1100 m which was to be the highest elevation of the ride.

From there we descended to the lake and then swung around it counterclockwise. Two more cyclists had joined us by the toge and they asked if they could join our lunch plan. After a brief stop at a convenience store near the north side of the lake to collect a receipt as a proof of passage (it was an untimed control), we headed to the restaurant. All six of us ordered the same dish to minimize waiting.

I had never eaten at a restaurant on earlier versions of this event because I can't afford the time loss. I recall at one time I arrived at PC1 (the first timed control) with only 5 minutes spare. Well this time, after a long and fast descent on the Gotemba side of Kagosaka pass we got to the family-run grocery shop that served as PC with only two minutes spare!

From there it was a steep climb up the back of the Ashigara mountains, home to the Kintaro folklore story. Lots of steep climbing, but I didn't feel I was the weakest of the team. The descent at the opposite side was very steep. I was glad the have hydraulic disc brakes on my Elephant Bikes NFE. There was another untimed control where AJ Nishi-Tokyo staff served us barbecued meat and sausages. Then a descent down to Matsuda, more climbing near Tomei expressway and a descent down to the coastal road. We were now rushing to make the cut-off for PC2. We made it with 9 minutes spare, almost 10 hours into the ride. The sun set as we headed up towards Miyagase-ko, another lake. The six of us were climbing in total darkness. Finally the pass, then the lake. We dashed for the third PC.

After a short break we headed on to Sagamihara and Machida, where the goal was. When I collected my final receipt at the 7-11, it was six minutes under 13 hours and 30 minutes, the overall time limit. We enjoyed the food we had bought to get the receipt, then headed to the official goal reception next to the Cherubim bike shop.

It felt great that we had finished within the time limit. We had worked well as a team, including the two randonneurs who had joined us in mid-ride. It was a hard effort, but also a good preparation for the Flèche. The challenge there will be a bit different, less hilly but more hours so we'll all get very sleepy.

On this ride I again tested my two GPS units against my phone. Again, both units lost satellite lock for unknown reasons. I had to shut down and restart the recording. The RWGPS app on the phones had issues that it would not record in the background, drawing only straight lines between places where it was manually awakened, counting only 171 km of the 201 km course length. That's even though I shut down all other apps. I think I will get myself a Wahoo Elemnt Bolt before the Flèche.

This was Century ride (160.9 km / 100 miles) #20 this year, which makes October my 98th consecutive month with at least one Century distance. Veloviewer says I have done 201 such rides so far. Two more months to go until the month count goes into the triple digits!

Last edited by joewein; 11-08-20 at 08:11 PM.
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