The last brevet of the season

BRM926 AJ NishiTokyo 200 km Kintaro on September 26 was the last brevet of the year for me, even though the Japanese Randonneuring season runs until October: I won’t able to attend AJ NishiTokyo’s West Izu brevet on October 17 due to business travel.

I had not prepared particularly well for BRM926. After a heat wave in early August we had lots of rain, then one of my brothers visited from Germany, then I traveled to the US again. I did not really get to do as much cycling as usual. So far I had not experienced any DNF (Did Not Finish) on any of my 200 km brevets, but I was a bit worried that this could be the first time on this very hilly course.

I got up at 03:45. In the front car of the first train heading out to Machida I met two other participants. In front of the station I unpacked the bike in the rain and rode out to the start (5 km) with one of the other guys. On the way the rain stopped and I took off and packed away my rain gear before the ride briefing. A week before the event, the weather forecast had predicted rain, but as the week progressed it gradually improved.

The day started off cool and never got too hot, but mostly staid dry. Around higher elevations, especially after going over a pass or through a tunnel through a mountain range we encountered slight drizzle again (really, we were just riding through clouds). The strongest was crossing from the Yamanakako side of Kagosaka Toge to the Gotemba side. But the drizzle always stopped when elevation dropped and we got out of the clouds again.

The course had three convenience store check points (point de contrĂ´le, PC) roughly 60 km apart, as well as one quiz point and one manned but untimed check point. It headed from Machida via route 35/Akiyama to Tsuru and from there up to Kawaguchiko. After circling the lake it headed past Yamanako, over to the Ashigara mountains to a barbecue site called Yuhi no Taki (evening light waterfall) and back to Machida.

After the Akiyama road with the first big climb near the Maglev track I reached PC1 at Tsuru with only about 15 minutes spare before control closing time. That set the tone for the day.

I was continually chasing the next closing time, thinking I’d probably make it but could never be too sure until I reached it. At the top of a mountain I would always find myself behind the minimum average speed of 15 km/h from the start, but on the next descent I’d gain just enough distance in a short time that I was a little bit ahead of the minimum at the next PC again. Most of the time I cycled alone, but I came across the same three or four cyclists again and again.

At Lake Kawaguchiko I couldn’t see Mt Fuji because it was too cloudy. Given the forecast, I hadn’t expected to see it.

The highest point was Kagosaka Toge, about 1100 m. From there the road dropped over 700 m, which is a pretty long descent. PC2 at the bottom was a grocery store, where I arrived just 12 minutes before control closing time. I bought bananas and climbed up Ashigara Toge (6 km).

On the other side I descended 6 km, then climbed a valley to a barbecue place which was a manned checkpoint (untimed). Staff had prepared grilled seafood and meat. They had saved some Frankfurter sausage and chicken for me, which I ate only 13 minutes before they had to clear out of the place. Then I descended to Oi-Matsuda and across a mix of rolling hills and busy urban roads back to Machida.

PC3 felt like the biggest challenge as traffic and traffic lights got denser, with the hills still unrelenting. I arrived at PC3 with 14 minutes spare. Two other cyclists arrived 3 and 5 minutes later, as I was preparing to head off again. Due to the overall 200 km time limit being 10 minutes longer than the 15 km/h equivalent time limit of all intermediate controls, I gained more breathing space at the final PC and could take it relatively easy for the remaining 26 km, which had yet more hills and traffic. It was then that I could stop worrying about time. I arrived at the goal 20 minutes before control closing time, with the other two guys following soon.

From there it was an untimed 5 km back to the reception site, the Cherubim bike shop in Machida. Three cyclists behind me also completed. Quite a few others DNF’ed (dropped out) due to various problems, including mechanical problems (a broken front derailleur, a ripped off rear derailleur after a crash, etc). We relaxed, celebrated and talked.

After the AJ NishiTokyo staff tidied up we took a group picture. I then cycled home from Cherubim to Setagaya. I got back at 23:30 with 242 km recorded on Strava and close to 2900 m of climbing, including the return ride.

The next day I felt a bit sore, but not too bad. The adrenaline of an event lets you do amazing things. My brevet speeds are always significantly higher than my personal ride times because there is always a ticking clock and/or other riders to chase. Knowing I can achieve goals in brevets that I don’t normally achieve on my own encourages me to become more ambitious and aim higher.

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