For the past three years, I’ve been bookending the cyclocross season from opposite sides of the world. It starts in the mid-fall in Massachusetts and ends in Odaiba, a man-made island in Tokyo Bay. Oddly, I watch the same guys race in both locations; first through dirt and grass and a New England fall, then through sand and a relatively warm Japanese winter.
Except this year, I caught the tail end of Holy Week in a dry Providence, Rhode Island and finished off the season of mud and cowbells on a slushy, snowy Tokyo beach.
To be honest, I spent the snowstorm on Saturday in the comfort of my own home while Chandler apparently raced through it. I dug out proper rubber boots for the following day and made plans to meet up with Tim, [his wife and former pro] Lyne Bessette, Chandler, and his pregnant wife, Jenny. As usual, fun times and general ridiculousness were expected.
I did not, however, expect to end up on Japanese TV.
When I finally caught up with Tim, he had a three man video crew following his every move. I had initially assumed that it was part of Cyclocross Tokyo; that maybe they were getting footage for a promotional video. How wrong I was. Tim had apparently agreed to be a part of the show “YOUは何しに日本へ？” [roughly translating into “Why Did You Come to Japan?”], in which a TV crew will select and follow a foreign visitor for a few days. They’d been with Tim, Lyne, Chan, and Jenny since the four had landed at Narita airport.
“So this is like ‘Tim Johnson Does Tokyo’?” I asked.
“Kinda,” he said.
In hindsight, the whole situation is more awkward than I’m currently comfortable admitting to myself. Even after I was informed of the reality of possibly ending up on national TV, there was a race to watch and the likes of Katie Compton, Wendy Simms, and Lyne Bessette to cheer on in the elite women’s race.
We speed walked through packed snow and slush, from the podium to the start line, and cheered as Lyne tore up the almost un-raceable course. Spectators yelled encouragement in Japanese as the American and Canadian athletes sped by, racing through slushy sand and heavy mud. It was the most exciting women’s race I’ve watched, in Tokyo.
Katie predictably took the win, and after congratulations were dispensed, the five of us, plus the TV crew, wandered around the course until the elite men started [Tim’s shoulder injury from World Championships kept him from racing this year]. The five of us screamed and cheered at Barry Wicks while being video-ed by the TV crew. It was awesome, albeit slightly awkward.
The men’s race ended with Zach McDonald taking the win, with Yu Takenouchi and Barry Wicks rounding out the podium. We watched Tim present the awards to the winners before calling it a day. Like every year, I came home exhausted, legs worn out, but happy and giddy. Road season is calling, but there’s nothing like ‘cross on a Tokyo beach in February.