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The Rapha Kyoto Gentlemen's Race 2013
Words: Takashi Sawa (Team Galibeer) | Photos: Hiroyuki Nakagawa | Film: Ryota Kenmochi
“Those in the flatlands will shudder with my stories”
– Kunio Yanagita (1910)
My parents spent their adolescence in Kyoto; hardly remembering getting on the streetcars, just gazing at the surrounding mountains. Not old enough yet to wonder what world existed over those ranges. Kyoto is the old capital but it’s still full of pride and thanks to the preservation of its culture, certainly hasn’t conceded to Tokyo's status as Japan’s capital without a fight.
I come here only occasionally for meetings but I always remember to bring my bike. The size of the city makes it perfect for cycling and it’s easy to get away from the tourist-filled streets. The ideal location, then, for the second Rapha Gentlemen’s Race.
The 31 teams meant twice as many as last year, and two of these were all-women teams. The same rules applied, of course, five to a team, each following a pre-determined course via the various checkpoints. Each team had to finish with all five of their riders and, so long as they did so within the 12-hour time limit, they could decide for themselves whether to hunt for the KOM or simply an Instagram moment.
The 137km course took us to the northern section of Kyoto city and the Kitayama region, famous for Kitayama cedar, which is used for the main pillars in traditional Japanese houses and is both highly prized and highly polished. So polished, in fact, it often looks like plastic. Appearances can be deceptive. Compared with the 4,100m of climbing in the previous edition, this year’s 2,518m seemed low but knowing the roads were hard, we weren’t fooled by the numbers. Every team knew how to present themselves in a stylish way, however. Both Mozu Coffee and Chromania (who fielded two teams) had made team jerseys specifically for the occasion, with both the date and rider names printed on them.
We soon discovered Kyoto’s sense of culture goes way beyond its city limits. In the satoyama (countryside), seasonal carp on poles swam gently against blue sky as cherry blossoms rushed to open in what was perfect cycling weather. Here, roads are narrow, houses properly old, and crystal clear rivers are not walled with concrete.
Soon enough, we were in Kitayama cedar forest – and who says gods don’t do straight lines? Unlike Japan's famous bonsai trees, lumberjacks in Kitayama handcraft these trees to grow perfectly straight towards the sun. Riding through the forest on a narrow gravel road is a surreal experience, with steep gravel roads followed by descents that are rough and precarious. One slip, and a rider would have been over the ledge.
A Rapha Gentlemen's Race is the ideal opportunity to not only test yourself physically but to remember how much you can enjoy riding with your best friends. Our thirst came not from the physical exhaustion, but from talking and laughing too much. We had to let the lady teams through at every opportunity, of course. And we pride ourselves in taking the most Instagram photos during the ride. Have you checked out the hashtags #gentlemensrace and #galibeer yet? And yes, that is spelled correctly, at least we think so.
And our finishing time? Somewhere around 11 hours. Numbers weren’t important. We felt as if we won the race because we had the most joyous group (based on our own judgment, admittedly) and the fact we didn’t miss the cultural artifacts and cherry blossom along ancient roads. And we were definitely the most gentlemanly riders. Our memories of the day will go well beyond the photos we uploaded to Instagram.
1. Trek 6:28
2. Team Bonsai Astronautics 6:56
3. Team Avel 7:02
4. Karaido Cosset-Bags Shakariki Team 7:12
5. Kyoto University Cycling Club Alumni 7:22
6. Suiyokai 7:41
7. Ichijiku KKH 8:09
8. Hunter Simworks CS Team 8:11
9. Team Velo Velo 8:20
10. TKC Productions 8:33
11. Yatsugatake Cycling Club (Rapha) 8:36
12. Cyclism 8:36
13. Panasonic Bicycles & Zenko 8:42
14. O.S.A.K.A. Gentlemen 8:56
15. Specialized 8:57
16. Circles Racing Club 9:04
17. Cycle Club 9:09
18. North Wheelie 9:18
19. Esquina Racing 9:19
20. Yokohama Frieten 9:20
21. Team Crank 9:37
22. Blue Lug 9:43
23. Chromania Cycling Club A 9:44
24. Doropro Masters 10:09
25. Dam-bu 10:17
26. Galibeer 10:36
27. Team Dachs-Hund 10:50
28. Mozu Coffee 11:04
29. Shiroyama Bike School 11:59
30. Chromania Cycling Club B (outside the time limit) 12:03
DNF. Bicycle Club Magazine
Strava King of the Mountain
1. Shusaku Yabe
2. Shinichi Fukuma
3. Yuki Ochiai