cross pros and boston bros

Some people recount memorable nights – the surreal ones, especially – with something along the lines of waking up on the floor of a littered hotel room with certain events conveniently blacked out. There is usually some sort of alcoholic debauchery involved, possibly ending in a raided mini-bar plus a pizza, and could include a half-dressed stranger passed out on the bed. I’ve had milder forms of those nights – which, despite making it to my bed, usually without strangers or, okay, sometimes pants – I’ve retold with more enthusiasm than I should and a completely unjustified sense of “holy shit can you believe this happened?!” Because while my life is very exciting, yes, yes you can believe I passed out on my bed, alone, without pants on.
Even so, friends getting engaged, holding down jobs that involve career prospects, or otherwise acting their age had me mostly convinced that I should maybe tone down the spinning and consider doing the same. But then Saturday happened. Saturday, which included a race, a hotel hallway cluttered with bikes, a room filled with bike gear, clothes, shoes, the signs of seasoned travellers, and a Swiss national champ offering me chocolate. In his underwear.

It started with a tweet and mutual friends; six-time U.S. National Cyclocross champion Tim Johnson was heading to Tokyo, and as a former-Massachusetts-transplant-current-Tokyo-resident, Michele S. directed him my way. A few tweets later, there were vague plans to meet on Tuesday or Wednesday.
But I woke up Saturday to a message about a race that day. “What race?” I thought to myself as I tried to regain consciousness [my next thought – “wait……’cross?” – a testament to the lack of caffeine in my system]. I googled, found Cyclocross Tokyo and jumped on a train headed to Odaiba: a man-made island complete with a beach, outlet malls, and [for the day] a ‘cross course.

The beach, a short walk from the Tokyo Teleport station, was packed. People shuffled across the course guided by race marshals, and bicycles [road, mountain, cross, and even track] were propped up everywhere. A line of tents stretched out from the park entrance to the start/finish line, just beyond a wooden boardwalk crowded with small clusters of racers and spectators. And nearest the park entrance, bordered by fans with pointing cameras, was the neon green Cannondale tent with three familiar faces [thanks to CycloWHAT?’s blog] inside.

Introductions were made [to Tim Johnson, Christian Heule, and Jamey Driscoll], hands shaken, a face placed on the man [Chandler] behind CycloWHAT? [my latest favorite bike blog], and some general small talk exchanged before I was booted out of the tent so photographers could shoot the visiting pros unobstructed. I walked around with the crowd, and caught the tail end of the women’s elite race. The field was tiny by American standards and uniquely Japanese, with the Japanese national cyclocross champ donning a helmet half-bedazzled with Swarovski crystals [and later promising to buy a Chanel bag with her prize money].

An excited buzz reminded me to find a spot to watch the start of the elite men’s race as half the crowd seemed to pull away from choice spots around the course to catch a glimpse of the pros. The area surrounding the start line was already four to five people deep by the time I hurried over, but I was able to wedge myself between two bikes about 100 yards down. We all seemed to hold our breaths, waiting, cameras pointed and ready.

Tim, Christian, Jamey, and [Belgian national cyclocross champ] Ben Berden sprinted to a good start, staying close together for the first half of the race. Their speed made the course look easy as they wound their way through trees, obstacles, sand, and stairs. Sure there was none of the shoe-sucking, peanut butter mud of New England, but the guys made the course look as smooth and as fast as a road race. One moment they were on pavement, the next navigating through the woods, then riding through sand. The ten laps seemed to fly by, with Japanese national champion Yu Takenouchi leading the way until the 5th or 6th lap, before popping and losing the lead to Ben Berden. Tim, Christian, and Jamey followed soon after as cowbells clanged loudly, mixing in with the shouting. I screamed encouragement before looking around to realize that most of the crowd had flocked to the next part of the course. Like a cloud of locusts with high-tech cameras, fans descended on the race leaders, strategically moving with the race favorites, shutters snapping.

The last lap was announced, and within minutes Ben flew to a first place finish, with Tim second, and Christian third. The guys were immediately swamped by photographers, media people, sponsors, and fans; Tim couldn’t walk to the podium and back without being roped into at least ten photos with fans. Embracing my Japanese roots, I paparazzi-ed with the rest of the excited crowd before meeting the guys back at the Cannondale tent. An offer to walk back a pit bike to their hotel turned into awkwardly pedaling Tim’s bike [!!!] in my boots [on mtb pedals] as the saddle kept poking me in the right buttcheek [Tim: “Kaiko, you look really comfortable.”]. I walked into the hotel hallway to see Christian in his underwear, ate too much of Tim’s Martha’s Vineyard Mix [missed that stuff so hard], topped it off with some Swiss chocolate and made plans to meet later that night.

For the more impatient, there are already some details of our night here. I crashed early, sober and stranger-less [with pants!], but happily reminded of why bikes – and the people that ride them – are so much fun, and how I should tell this concept of “growing up,” to go fuck itself.
And, oh yeah, to start saving up for that ‘cross bike, too.
[More pictures here.]