Three riders from Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes were selected to ride for their National teams at the ‘Ready Steady Tokyo’ 2020 Olympics Test Event for the cycling road race which took place on Sunday, 21st July in cloudy, but warm and humid conditions.
Robert Jon McCarthy and Rory Townsend represented Ireland and Max Stedman joined Matt Holmes (Madison Genesis), James Shaw (SwiftCarbon Pro Cycling) and Fred Wright (BC Academy) to represent Great Britain.
The 179km course started in Tokyo’s Musashino-no-mori Park attracting enormous crowds as it wound through the streets of the Japanese capital and suburbs before traversing westwards and upwards through the forested landscape towards Mount Fuji, Japan’s iconic mountain.
The route encircled the shores of Lake Yamanaka and made two loops through the Fuji International Speedway before finishing back on the renowned motor-racing circuit.
The course contained some serious climbing including the interminable Doshi Road up to the Yamabushi Tunnel (1,121m altitude) that led onto the Kagosaka Pass (1,111m), back down to the Fuji International Speedway (500m) then up the tortuous and decisive Mikuni Pass (1,171m) which was a 6.8km climb at an average of 10.2% with stretches up to 18%, then back via the Kagosaka Pass.
The field of 96 riders included National teams from Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg and Russia, along with 11 Japanese and Asian UCI Continental teams.
Following the 10km neutralised section from Musashino-no-mori Park, Townsend was instrumental in forcing an initial four-man break. This lead group gradually grew towards 30 as pockets of riders bridged across on the journey up Doshi Road with non-climbing specialists, including McCarthy, being dropped from the pursuing peloton.
After 96km at the first feed station just before the Kagosaka Pass, the lead group had stabilised at 20 riders included the whole Italian team who were all Grand Tour stage winners: Diego Ulissi, Davide Formolo, Fausto Masnada and Dario Cataldo, Holmes and Wright from Great Britain, Townsend for Ireland, and Nans Peters from France, another Grand Tour stage winner.
After 115km as the riders passed through the Speedway pits for the first time, the lead 20-rider group had a 3min 30sec lead over the chasing peloton of about 40 riders which was being led by Shaw and Stedman.
As the riders passed through the Speedway pits a second time following a short 20km loop, the leading group of 20 had started to fragment with Holmes and Wright still in the revised lead group of nine riders, but Townsend in what was now a third group 1min 55sec behind. Shaw and Stedman had broken away from the main peloton in a small group of four but were still 3min 20sec behind the leaders.
The race totally exploded on the steep climb up the Mikuni Pass with six-times Giro d’Italia stage winner, Ulissi forcing a ferocious pace followed by the current Italian national champion Formolo and then Peters.
Holmes was having a tremendous race battling away in a following four-man group. Shaw worked his way up the field catching Wright, whilst Stedman came adrift on the challenging Mikuni ramps. Following his aggressive start, Townsend paid the price on the Mikuni climb and slipped back down the field.
Back at the Speedway, Ulissi took a commanding victory in 4 hours 50min 53sec, 17sec ahead of his team-mate Formolo, and 1min 52sec ahead of Peters in third. Holmes sprinted to a superb 4th place 2min 29sec down with Shaw in 10th, Wright in 11th, Stedman in 14th and a gritty Townsend in 40th.
At the top of Mikuni Pass on the Ireland team reconnaissance ride, McCarthy vlogged…
“Got no words to describe that. It was absolutely savage with an average of 11% and plenty of pitches up to 20%.
It was just relentless. It was the hardest climb I have actually ridden up in my life, no joke. It is going to be a seriously challenging race on Sunday.”
Townsend commented on Instagram…
“Hoped I could get up the road early and get over the climbs before the race joined us but it kicked off early in the race and we were joined by a select group of 19.
Holding onto 4 Grand Tour mountain stage winners on a course like that wasn’t possible for me! Couldn’t have done much more to put myself in contention, so happy with my day out in the national jersey.”
“The weather was hot and humid and one of the climbs was horrible, but it was still a very enjoyable experience with great organisation and a scenic course.
It was ridden like a Nat B race with riders jumping off all over the place with no teams able to control it.
With Matt (Holmes) and Fred (Wright) in the break we were happy with the situation, until we found out we were four minutes down and we weren’t going to sit up having travelled half-way round the world for the race.”
When asked what the 2020 Olympics course was like, Shaw quipped…
The Test Event was clearly a great success with top notch organisation by the Japanese hosts and probably more marshalls and traffic cones than ever seen at any other race!
The actual 2020 Olympics road race is going to be an awesome challenge for the riders with an additional 55km loop thrown in which climbs up to 1451km on the lower slopes of Mount Fuji Sanroku.
The 234km route with 4865m of vertical climbing will take in excess of six hours and the forthcoming Olypmpic champion will undoubtedly truly deserve his gold medal!
Results can be found here.
Written by Paul and Marina Stedman.
1-6 – Ready Steady Tokyo
7 – Kensaku Sakai