I was lucky enough to get the call up to race the Japan Cup with Cannondale-Drapac for my last UCI race in the 2018 season. Having last year’s winner (Villella) on our team meant I managed to cop my first business class flight on the way over. No airport queues, real food on the flight and a lot of horizontal sleeping going on. Landed in Tokyo in some light rain, which on Friday became heavier rain, then full gas rain on Saturday before proper full gas rain on Sunday. I thought this was just part of life in Japan; turns out the race just happened to be on the same day the biggest storm of 2017 was hitting the country.
Even bigger than the torrents of water flowing through the drains were the streams of Japanese fans following the race. I was amazed to find people coming up with photos of me from races like Tour of Bright and World Uni Champs asking for signatures. Some were so desperate for autographs I was even asked to take a sharpie to the raincoats they were wearing or the back of their iPhones, a big change from racing in Europe and Canada where I was ‘the other Cannondale rider’.
Despite the conditions we had a dry few days in terms of results. Howes and I had made good position leading into the sprint in the final lap of the criterium but our hopes were dampened, getting caught behind two crashes in the finishing straight. The road race was shortened to 100km due to the incoming typhoon which, given the tough climb and treacherous descent, made the race about as easy to control as a paper plane in a hurricane. Our attempts to bring back a strong early break were washed away and some negative tactics from the other teams prevented Villella making contact with the leaders in the closing laps.
Despite the results and the weather being somewhat of a wet blanket, I can’t wait to go back and see more of the Japanese culture and people. I was showered in gifts throughout the four days, picking up everything from sashimi fridge magnets to a traditional Japanese cooking knife. Even when walking back from a Karaoke bar on Sunday night in torrential rain and ankle-deep water I had a local woman try to give me her own umbrella. The people are amazingly polite and phenomenally passionate about cycling and I look forward to racing there again in years to come.
Author Cyrus Monk