What's Cool In Road Cycling

Contemplation Before Competition!

The riders in the 2014 Tour de France Saitama Criterium are getting ready to lock horns tomorrow on the three-kilometre city circuit. In the meantime, they spent a cultural afternoon that taught them a lot…

Mountain-top finishes and final-straight battles seem a long way off, viewed from Saitama. In the big dining room, Nibali and Froome are catching up, Kittel, Kristoff and Sagan are sharing a friendly joke or two… The big players from the Tour are relaxing into life in Japan. And having unwound they were in the perfect frame of mind to visit the Hikawa Shinto shrine, a 2,400-year-old sanctuary where it is traditional to perform a series of ablutions to purify your soul and make your vows to the gods. Conscientious and attentive as ever, few of them missed the chance to store up a little extra luck for themselves, with thoughts on next July. “With this prayer, I think I’ve got every chance of the green jersey, along with at least five stage wins”, said Alexander Kristoff as he left the temple, after bowing carefully for the traditional mark of respect.

The meditation over, the visitors got down to action in the well-renowned Yono high school in Saitama, which specialises in teaching traditional calligraphy. Once the three expert young women had given their demonstration, the winners of the Tour’s distinctive jerseys were invited to make their debuts with brushes in hand. And clearly these boys are capable of impressive dexterity on and off the bike. On this occasion, Peter Sagan displayed a particularly slow brush stroke! In his defence, the word ‘sprint’ proved much harder to commit to paper than ‘champion’ and ‘mountain’, words naturally assigned to yellow jersey winner Vincenzo Nibali and Rafal Majka, the holder of the polka dot jersey. “Fortunately I had a student to help me and lines to follow on the paper, otherwise I never would have managed it. But now I can say that I know how to write Japanese”, said a smiling green jersey winner, who is one of the hot favourites for tomorrow’s Criterium.

For this race, one of the first of its kind in Japan, the fans are expected to come out in force. The peloton’s leading lights got a hint of the Japanese public’s enthusiasm when they saw how much attention they were getting from the media. Interviewed at a press conference attended by almost all the country’s television channels and radio stations, Nibali and his fellow podium finishers then took part in La Nuit du Tour. This year the J-Sports TV show was filmed in the very heart of the Super Arena, one of the biggest venues in Japan, which the race will ride through on every lap watched by thousands of spectators. Asked about their prospects for next year, the sports channel’s five guests also played a game where they were again invited to wield a brush. Peter Sagan’s artistic gifts for Japanese calligraphy were acclaimed unanimously by the jury, who praised the delicacy of his lines. “But what I want to win more than anything is tomorrow’s race”, said the Slovak.

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