My debut into Downhill Series

Last weekend saw a downhill race event happening in Niseko, a little unusual one in that it was part of the Downhill Series organized and mostly done in the mainland. First time in Hokkaido, interesting format, so I jumped right in.

When I was on the national DH circuit about 15-20 years ago, the J-Series was the main focus, which has continued on to become today’s Coupe du Japon, the same national thing under a more chic name. On the other hand there is the newer Downhill Series, a private-run scheme kind of like the Eagle Cup back in the day IYKWIM.

So I went to race on my semi-vintage bike just like last year, photo courtesy of Kakusuke.

After all, what we said about these Norco bikes when we were the Japanese distributor was right; built tough, built to last. This photo is from the timed session on Saturday, and the race format is awesome in that you can have fun and be competitive throughout the weekend up to the final race time on Sunday.

I was horribly over-pumped for the timed session, which sent me off the bike 3 or 4 times, resulting in a bad chain suck that didn’t even allow me to keep both pedals level in the latter half. Nothing to be noted about my record of 4:59.863, more than a minute slower than the top pros.

For Sunday I was forced to take a different approach. Lots of taping on my legs and just staying away from crashes. Otherwise, my weekend would just leave me crushed and clueless. It worked, and I finished 11th overall, 27+ seconds slower than the winning pro Naoki Idegawa from Hiroshima, who made his August 6th count. Takusei, the fastest among the locals, was 15 seconds above me, not a minor difference at all.

People seem to think my rather poor run could be attributed to the equipment. I’d kind of like to think so, but actually I built a new wheel set for this, with my first tubeless setup and my first 27.5″ tire up front. I kept my good old 26″ tire from 16 years ago in the back, so that might have been a little stupid for sure. Either way, I’m happy I got to ride and have fun as well as try something new equipment-wise.

Quite randomly it got me thinking the future tire setup for downhills might be 29″ up front and 27.5″/26″ semi-fat convertible for the rear. Oh, mixed diameters banned by UCI? That may change anytime, anyhow. Everyone should have realized the UCI is not all it’s cracked up to be, no ultimate justice, when Peter Sagan was disqualified from the Tour de France this year.

Speaking of equipment, one may wonder why I was running protective glasses for DIY rather than proper goggles. It brings tears to my eyes when I try to explain, so I’ll try again on a later date.

At the end of the day, this great weekend at the national-level DH event coming to Hokkaido for the first time in decades would not have happened without Orie, an avid racer and landscaper in my neighborhood, who started participating in these events in the mainland a couple years ago and appealing for deployment to the north. So thanks and also congratulations on winning it as well. We’re all so proud of you.

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