The inaugural Grinduro Japan was a wet and wild affair. With Super Typhoon Hagabis bearing down on the island, promoters and racers scrambled to try and make some sort of event happen. A small break in the storm’s arrival allowed for a truncated race to take place early on Saturday morning.
As we gathered at the start line, a Shinto priest blew through a conch shell horn and muttered mantras over the riders to keep everyone safe. A light rain fell, but the heavy stuff wouldn’t pick up for a while. Information about the race segments, as well as the overall route, were vague, especially with the language barrier.
I seem to be able to excel in adverse conditions, and once the gun went off I was into race mode. The first stage was a 2.6 km gravel road climb with a few steeper pitches near the end. I was able to keep a surging Tydeman Newman in check and finish just short of a second behind him. After a quick stop at aid zone one, we kept the fires stoked and pedaled onto stage two.
A grassy, slippery affair greeted us, and after the previous day’s scouting rides I thought I had a good shot at this one. I eased into the stage saving some energy and nerves for the fast bottom section, but a last minute change had us finishing only a quarter of the way down the hill and I rolled through the finish knowing I had ridden much too conservatively. Carl Decker went full gusto and gained a few valuable seconds on me, and I knew I had my work cut out for me on the third and final stage.
Stage three started with a sprint around a hilltop paved go-cart track, then transitioned to a gravel off-road track before plummeting down a series of awkward off camber turns through the grass. I knew the mtb rubber on my Libre would be an advantage here, so I opened the tap and let it all hang out.
In the end I had gained enough time to just eek out the overall victory ahead of Carl and Tydeman.
We spent the afternoon soaking in the Onsen, eating strange and wonderful food, and closed the night out listening to a killer Japanese jazz band and an Eagles cover band as Typhoon Hagabis finally hit with all its energy and saturated the world around us.
The next day brought heartbreaking images of destruction all across the island, and we began the somber trip back to the Narita airport and away from the chaos.
Grinduro Japan was a beautiful bicycle race, and also a beautiful display of human courage as all the riders battled through the weather, conditions and course. I’ll be back for sure.