Red Bull Pump Track World Championship in Akaigawa

Last weekend saw a pretty big bike race happening in Hokkaido, which I participated in. It’s a new discipline called the pump track, where you pump and propel yourself through the bumpy track. And it’s actually the Japan round of a world series event run by Red Bull, under which about 20 races are being held worldwide before the world finals happening in October.

The event took place in Akaigawa Village, Hokkaido. Located about halfway between Otaru and Niseko and peculiarly situated inside an ex-volcanic crater, Akaigawa is home to a little over 1,000 people. The Pump Track series is run by close cooperation between Red Bull and Velosolutions, a Switzerland-based trail builder, and this time the first Velosolutions-made track has been built as a new addition to Tomo Playpark, a recreational facility in Akaigawa.

The new addition of a world-class track within an hour and a half drive range from Sapporo where I live may sound like a huge inequality to Mainlanders, but rest assured, we don’t deserve much jealousy on this as there really isn’t any decent BMX track or public skate park here in Hokkaido. Also we didn’t get any chance to practice on this track before the race, so it was all fair and square. Nevertheless, we were lucky that this event happened within a day-trip distance.

Riding pump tracks is like riding swings, where you use bodily maneuvers to turn potential energy into forward momentum. I was a bit confident about my ability to pump, but at the same time knew the serious BMX racers from the Mainland would be the most likely candidates to dominate this event. Also the length of the course was obviously going to force you to “endure or die.”

Riders are singularly timed for qualification, and 32 men and 8 women move on to the final tournaments. The final format said “dual,” but since the track was basically a single loop, it was in reality a “pursuit” setup. Comparing the loop to a clock, the two riders start from 3 and 9, take one lap and come back to respective finish lines at 3 and 9.

End result. I qualified at 20th, then was defeated in the first round of finals, officially making it only to the best 32. Too bad. Very roughly put, the upper half of both men’s and women’s finals was mostly occupied by the serious ones from the Mainland. It was great that quite several Hokkaido locals made it to the lower half, unfortunately to be massacred in the first round of the tournament.

An article about this event has been posted on Cycle Sports Online, and they picked a photo of me for the first one. Woo hoo. If you look closely at the far corner you’ll also see the back of Yu Takenouchi, a great talent who has achieved so much in road racing, MTB and cyclocross. In this photo I’m trying the switch stance tactic I came up with the night before, where I’m riding left foot forward (opposite to usual) through this section to save some energy, but no such small gimmicks would switch the overall turn of events.

Despite the unremarkable placing, it was a fun event that diverse riders joined aboard a variety of bikes to compete in a pretty relaxed atmosphere. It also really helped me in reconditioning myself physically, as it kept me focused throughout the four months leading up to this weekend. My sincerest gratitude to everyone who I rode and had fun with, and everyone who cheered us up.

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