The streets of the Japanese capital were even more packed than usual as the Ready Steady Tokyo road race took place on Sunday. The action was cracking – but it was the course itself that was the real star.
The cycling road race is undoubtedly the Olympic event in which the host city and region get to show off their good looks to best effect.
Picture the London 2012 riders weaving along the Thames and through leafy parks, before finishing outside Buckingham Palace; or the Rio 2016 route twisting through Ipanema, past Christ the Redeemer, and concluding on a blazing Copacabana beach.
Tokyo’s route is just as alluring. It starts at the lovely Musashinonomori Park in the metropolitan area, and winds through the Japanese capital’s uniquely futuristic streets during the opening kilometres. But then the peloton traverses the landscapes towards Mount Fuji, Japan’s iconic mountain, providing a bucolic contrast to the city-centre bustle.
It then re-enters the city and concludes with laps of the iconic Fuji International Speedway. Situated in Shizuoka Prefecture, this track is holy ground for car and motorbike racing fans, but at Tokyo 2020 its smooth surface will be beautifully profiled as the finish line for those powering a bike without horsepower.
The test event, which is part of the Ready Steady Tokyo series and took place on Sunday 21 July, proved without doubt what a glorious sight all this will be. The 96 riders from 10 countries completed the exact same 234km that the stars of men’s cycling will race next summer (the women’s race is similar, but over 137km).
The field included official teams from nine countries – Hong Kong, China; Belgium; France; Germany; Great Britain; Ireland; Italy; Luxembourg; and Russia – alongside eight Japanese cycling teams, all cheered on by an enthusiastic crowd of locals enjoying a real taste of what is to come next summer.
The pedallers passed over some serious hills, including the 1,121m Doshi Road, the 1,111m Kagosaka Pass (twice), the 1,451m Fuji Sanroku and the 1,171m Mikuni Pass.
The peloton became split as a result, with non-climbing specialists being dropped and abandoning en route. This confirmed what the organisers had anticipated: that the route at the Games will favour fast-finishing climbers – puncheurs, in cycling terminology – who are able to withstand gradients and still have enough in the tank to finish fast.
This should suit the reigning Olympic road race champions – Greg van Avermaet of Belgium and Anna van der Breggen of the Netherlands – as well as some of the famous one-day riders: Julian Alaphilippe of France, Alejandro Valverde of Spain, Peter Sagan of Slovakia, Marianne Vos and Chantal Blaak of the Netherlands, and Lizzie Deignan of Great Britain.
In the test event, Diego Ulissi of Italy won the gold medal, his team-mate Davide Formolo took silver, and Nans Peters of France claimed the bronze.
The competition gave the organisers, the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee and the International Cycling Union (UCI), the chance to test numerous aspects, from timings to policing and spectator control.
“The challenging and spectacular road race courses at Tokyo 2020 will provide a true test for the best cyclists in the world,” David Lappartient, the UCI President, said.
“Taking in iconic tourist attractions such as the Fuji Five Lakes region, the routes will also guarantee an exciting spectacle for fans lining the roadside and spectators worldwide watching the breathtaking images on television.”