My earlier CR post regarding the minimal road cycling race activity in Japan may have given the wrong impression. What I meant to say is that the number of races that offer the highest level of competition are very limited, or non existant by degrees. The big races, that is the Tour of Hokkaido and the Tour of Okinawa, are billed as world class, but when you look at the non participation by teams and riders that would be present at a important top level race in Europe, there is no comparison. I don't think that the islamic nation of Iran, which fielded a five member team in last year's Hokkaido race, is yet considered a cycling powerhouse. As a spectator attending, if you went on the wrong day, you might catch kids racing a obstacle course on their unicycles as well. Following the Hokkaido race, many of the participants go on to the next event in the Asian tour, the Tour de Borneo! I understand there are Japanese riders currently racing at different levels in Europe. My local bike shop owner, a former Japanese national champion and all Asia number two, has told me of his difficulties in arising to the level of competition when he attempted to further his career by racing in Europe. The conspicuous success of the legendary Koichi Nakano in international sprint racing, grew out of his remarkable achievement as the most reverred KEIRIN rider in Japanese history, winning 636 professional races in approximately 1200 starts. It should be remembered however, that during the years 1977-1986, when Nakano was international PROFESSIONAL sprint champion, many of the world's top riders were unable to race against him in this event, due to their amateur status that they maintained for the olympics. This was also a period when the great soviet sprinters could not compete as well, a result of that country's prohibition of it's athletes turning professional. Of fairly recent note, the rider, Imanaka, of team Polti, who was disqualified after failing to make the time cut off during the 15th stage of the 1996 TdF, his only major achievement in a race of some stature, appears to have been a stage win in the Tour of Hokkaido. Steven Maasland's statement that the cycling culture in Japan is alive and well, is probably true, especially when you consider the number of people active in all phases of cycling, but I am doubtful that the level of road racing competition available here is sufficient to include the preparation of world class riders within the health of the sport. There is currently a bike "boom" transpiring, but unfortunately this doesn't encompass a proliferation of small frame shops popping up doing traditional work. Instead, folding bikes tooting around Tokyo and businessmen spending their bonuses on full carbon jobs are the popular proclivities. The Japanese bikes that currently would fall into the "keeper of the flame" category are those made by the well known, Nagasawa, Makino, and a number of others who mainly produce for the professional keirin activity, but also for road use in limited quantity. Also, there are the touring bikes by Toei and the eclectic Zunows. To someone who appreciates the unchanged aesthetics and quality to which the steel track bikes are made, it is great to see them still being raced. Perhaps Japan is the only country where bikes on topic at the CR list are still in everyday competition use by top riders?
Dennis Young Hotaka, Japan (wishing all of you could hop on a bus and come over to attend a Keirin session, we'd have a ball!)