I love Japan. I lived there 9 years and it is on my shortlist of places to retire, if that ever happens. It is a land of great beauty, conveniently-located and delicious beer, and, unfortunately, rigid hierarchy and rules. Lots of rules. It’s also a ‘safety country’, as nearly all my former English students insisted on calling it.
But still this came as a surprise.
You know that I’ve been interested in someday, somehow, qualifying for the UCI Gran Fond World Series World Championships. I’ve tried twice in France and was ‘that close’ at least once. I’ll give it a shot again, but in the meantime I found out that Japan now has a qualifier, and in one of my favorite places in the country to ride – Hokkaido.
Excited, I delved into the details of the race, only to find that the ‘long course’ (140 km and 2362 m of climbing) is only open to riders 19-49 years old. If you are 50 or over you’ll need to go all the way to Japan to ride 70 km, with 1125 m of up.
Now, I’m only 48, so I’m safe for this year and next, but I can’t help being angry and frustrated at this silliness. At 50 years old you are too far over the hill to ride what is pretty much a long Sunday ride over here? How many 60 year olds crushed me in Haute Route in both 2013 and 2015, with 7 straight days of riding many more kilometers than this ‘long course’ in Niseko? ‘More than a few’ is the answer.
There is a word in Japanese for ‘old man’, or at least ‘older man’: oji-san. It is usually reserved for men in their 40s and above, and categorizes them nice and neatly into ‘not cool’ and ‘over the hill’, I think. The same goes for ‘oba-san‘ for women. The organizers of the Niseko Classic, I guess, have decided that oji-san cyclists can only ride hard for 2.5 hours.
The logic behind this gets even better when you compare this event with others in the series. The Albi race in France, for example, has their limit at 59, and the World Championships themselves is 55+ for the shorter course (which at 112 km is nearly as long as Japan’s long course). But, being a ‘safety country’, this is not entirely surprising, like I said already. I understand but I’ll never understand, if you follow.
I still might go and do this, even if I’ll be the oldest oji-san on the long course next summer, because I know there’ll be a vending machine at the finish line with cold beer waiting.