Dawn. Oct. 10. Cloudy. A little chilly. The location is Lake Kasumigaura in the southeast of Ibaraki Prefecture. Some may have been wishing for warmer weather, but for the cyclists who began arriving lakeside before 5 a.m., it was just right--not too hot, not too cold, no rain, and only a gentle breeze. Perfect conditions for the 4th annual Lakeside Cycle Festa Kasumigaura Enduro.
With Health and Sports Day falling Oct. 12, many sporting events were held throughout Japan over the three-day weekend. The Lakeside Cycle Festa is a cycling event held by Lake Kasumigaura, the second largest lake in Japan.
The main event is the five-hour Enduro, in which teams of up to six members compete in different categories to do the most laps of the course within the time limit. There is also a two-hour "Mama Chari Cup" (literally "mummy bike," the sort of bicycle you often see ridden around town with a basket on the front and usually only one to three gears) held on the same course at the same time.
The course is 4.8 kilometers long and very picturesque. It begins with a small hill climb past the Kasumigaura Shiryokan (a castle) after which you rocket down the other side, around a corner, and through some rice fields. The last section of the race, a lengthy straight alongside Lake Kasumigaura, is where the event gets its name. When you round the corner to the final straight, all you can hear is the whizzing of other bikes and the wind in your ears, but as you get closer to the start/finish line you can hear live music from the stage and the shouts of people on the sidelines cheering on teammates and friends.
The ride alongside the lake is beautiful--on the day of the race a mist sat over the water so the horizon vanished into a white haze, creating an ethereal atmosphere. I would definitely like to return on another day for a longer ride.
The race included riders of all levels with various types of bikes, from mama chari and mini velos to mountain bikes, road bikes, and everything in between. Although the lap format meant that those in the lead had to frequently pass slower riders, the roads were generously wide and everyone was considerate of each other, with slower riders keeping to the left and faster riders overtaking on the right.
One of the things I enjoyed most was the team format--since the Kasumigaura Enduro is a team race, you develop a real sense of camaraderie with your teammates through competing together. Teams claimed spots on the grass, putting up tarps and tents, and the members who were not racing could use that space to stay warm using bicycle rollers, get ready for their next ride, or simply chat with their teammates.
Cycling wasn’t the only event happening in the area. There’s nothing like a hard ride to build up an appetite, and the Kasumigaura Enduro delivered with a gourmet festival. Rows of food and drink stalls offered a number of delicacies, including Genghis Soup Curry from the Tsuchiura-based Hitsuji no Koya, soy-milk donuts from the Ishioka-based Tofu Chaya Hebaraya, and beer, "yakisoba" fried noodles, and meat-wrapped "onigiri" rice balls from Kasumigaura Company.
The delicious smells wafting from the gourmet festival area were difficult to resist. As well as food, some stalls dealt in various cycling goods, and a free hydration point offered both water and sports drinks for competitors. A stage was set up by the start/finish line where various local music groups performed throughout the day, including Onitsuka Sally, a singer born and raised in Kasumigaura.
"The Kasumigaura Enduro was well organized and a lot of fun," said competitor Randy Guevara. "Biking along the lake was great too. I highly recommend any cyclist to join."
I left the race wishing that I had trained harder beforehand so that we could have done more laps. I’m looking forward to joining the race again next year, and I hope that my memories from this year will spur me to put in more training hours on my bike in the months leading up to the race. If you’re a cycling enthusiast, no matter what your level, experience, and choice of bicycle, whether you prefer to compete or just watch, there is something for you at the Lakeside Cycle Festa Kasumigaura Enduro. Look out for it next year!