Squids in Japan!
Pro cyclocross racer and owner of Squid Bikes, Emily Kachorek, wrote the following SRAM Stories report detailing her team's racing exploits and exploratory efforts in Tokyo.
Typically when you think of cyclocross, the first things that come to mind are images of sloppy mud, dreary cold rainy days and Belgian fans in dark colored raincoats nursing a beer. While we love the sport with the intense all out effort, importance of equipment choice, and technically demanding courses, coming from California we have always been drawn to course photos that included long stretches of beach sand, sunny skies and huge colorful crowds. Having raced all over the US, China, Canada and Europe, CX Tokyo in February seemed like the perfect way to wrap up the 2016/17 Squid World Tour.
With the language barrier and having never traveled to, much less raced in Japan, I knew a bit of guidance and support would go a long way toward making the trip smooth and allow us to race at our best. The hospitality of the Japanese is well known and immediately the race promoter connected us with the local cycling community to help make our trip and racing experience flow as smoothly as possible. With our names on the start list, a VRBO rental home secured, and a few back and forth emails with the owner of a local bike shop, Above Bike Shop, I rallied the Squid Squad comprised of myself, Anthony Clark, Sammi Runnels and our team mechanic Chris Namba. All packed with a colorful array of spray painted Squids plus an extra frame to paint should the opportunity arise, we hopped on a plane excited for a cyclocross adventure in Tokyo!
The next week flew by. Even with somewhat limited communication we immediately became friends with our host, Shinya, who Instagramed our arrival before we even left the airport. He showed us his local cyclocross playground, guided us though a snowstorm back to his shop where we meet his family and warmed up over a cup of homemade soup. We all geeked out at the array of handmade brands, vintage cycling products and fashionable cycling attire his shop carried. A highlight for me was getting to meet one of the most well-know frame painters in all of Japan, who I had been following on social media. We traded cycling caps as well as painting tips.
We were able to ride out to the race venue, which was right on the water and, as typical of Tokyo, crossed many beautiful bridges. We pre-rode/ran the very sandy course on Saturday and stayed to cheer on the amateur races. I was very impressed with not only the full fields, but also the playfulness of the racers, a number of whom were in costumes.
Photo of Anthony Clark courtesy of Toshiki Sato
International racing could be described as the same, but different. The number pinning, call-ups, nerves and general structure seem to be the same no matter where you are but the overall experience is so much richer. I got a first row call up next to the Australian National Champ and many of the top Japanese racers just back from World Championships. The gun went off and, with a good start, I found myself racing for the podium. A few laps in I could hear my teammate Sammi as she ran past me in one of the deep sand sections. I ended up finishing just off the podium in 4th and Sammi had a great race taking 2nd step! The best part was hearing my name yelled all over the course even though I had only meet a few fans.
The day after the race Above Bike Store hosted a party for us where we got to hang out with the local cycling community including many of our mysteriously cheering fans from the day before. We were able to grab a few cans of Spray.Bike spray paint from the local Japanese distributor and we painted a bike from start to finish between eating pizza, drinking local beer and dancing to American hip hop.
An added benefit of racing in a new country is having two wheels to help you explore when the racing is over. We spent the rest of our trip exploring Tokyo by bike with new friends. We visited some of the more famous tourist attractions, ate as many bowls of ramen as we could and got turned around on the giant network of trains. On our last day Shinya took us to his favorite sushi restaurant in a back ally near the famed Tokyo Fish Market and ate the best sashimi we have ever had. Had we not been with Shinya, we would have never known that small unmarked doorway was even a restaurant!
When you think of cyclocross, Japan is not normally what comes to mind, but based on my experience, maybe it should. The Squid Squad will definitely be back again next year!
Main image courtesy of Toshiki Sato. All other photos courtesy of Squid Bikes unless otherwise noted.