Done the Etape, the Marmotte, the Tour of Flanders sportive? What next? If you’re looking for an original cycling challenge that’s going to test you further, something truly epic where you’re going to discover something about yourself and experience a real adventure, you should think about taking on The Japanese Odyssey.
Crazy Frenchmen, Emmanuel and Guillaume, came up with the idea for the first edition which took place in July last year: a 2,700km, one stage ride from the north to the south of Japan, including 10 challenging climbs to be completed in 14 days.
Hailing from Strasbourg, the Gallic duo grew up riding their bikes all day long going wherever the bike took them: “We could also vanish a whole afternoon, hiding in a garage and working on the bike. We remember those days back with great trepidation (sic). Being on our bikes was about exploring our small neighbourhood, and encountering people.”
As a bike messenger for more than 10 years, Emmanuel felt a need to expand his horizons further, to do something big and push himself to the limit. So he and Guillaume conceived the idea of an event that returned to the original and basic values of their childhood when every ride was an adventure. “And we were deeply convinced that we had to go towards something wild.”
The concept is that each rider will cover the distance in their own time, but aim to complete it within 14 days. Riders can take whatever route they wish as long as they pass through the designated checkpoints, meaning that, while some may wish to take the most direct, fastest route along quicker roads, others may wish to meander and explore that stunning Japanese landscape. This is one of the most challenging and fun parts of the adventure: planning your route at home, ahead of the race.
“Each entrant will go its own way, riding a different mileage than the other competitors. Front runners, will speed along highways to reach Osaka as fast as possible. The others will ride for the satisfaction of making it to the finish line. There will be no official timing and no rankings. We won’t hand out medals. Success in the event is measured by its completion in 14 days. Make it within the time limit and you are a winner. “
This year the adventure is shorter but, as Emmanuel says, “it would be a mistake to underestimate the difficulties…it stretches over 2,400km across Japan, starting from Tokyo’s neon-lit streets, crossing Prefectures with exotic names such as: Gunma, Gifu, Tottori...before hopping on the island of Shikoku, and then heading north to Osaka. The 2016 edition will provide entrants with few opportunities to enjoy the fairly fast sections of the Japanese coasts and will take them in a series of mountain ranges.” No less than 11 mountain passes to be conquered, in fact, including dormant and active volcanoes and the Norikura Pass, at 2,770m elevation, Japan’s highest road.
Sound like a challenge? Just one more thing: you’re supposed to do all this completely unsupported, so any mechanicals and it’s up to you to fix them or find a local shop that can help you. Accommodation: you organise this yourself in advance or pack a tent. Any private assistance or pre-arranged support is prohibited. You may eat, sleep and service your bike at places also available to the other riders or at commercial shops. However, while this remains an unsupported adventure, Emmanuel and Guillaume emphasise the camaraderie spirit as entrants are allowed to ride together and rely on each other for general support.
This is a fantastic opportunity to push yourself hard, explore independently and experience something beyond the usual organised sportive or endurance event. As Emmanuel says, “our event is not about competing against the others. It is about challenging yourself. The difference is subtle.” The cost of entering is only €175 although you will need to get yourself out there with a bike and equipment and pay for your accommodation on the way. You can register by logging onto their website. See you in Tokyo!