Once a year, thousands of people line the streets to watch and compete in the Tour de Utsukushigahara Heights bicycle race! These bicyclists trek the 21.6 km at a 5.9% average incline. That’s a 1,270 meter altitude difference from start to finish! I was lucky enough to watch this premiere Japanese bicycle race this year.
I woke up at 6:30AM on Sunday, June 25, 2017. I was at the starting line by 7:00AM, just north of the Matsumoto Baseball Stadium. With 30 minutes left before the race kicked off, the area was already full of bicyclists, workers, and spectators.
Participants were practicing their warm-up traditions. Some stretched, some were doing warm-up laps, and some spend the whole time reviewing their bicycle and gear. It was almost time! Workers ran around, keeping people off the course and away from technical equipment, as photographers, cyclists, and spectators crowded the starting line to see the start of the race.
The time-card girls flashed the 1 minute card… then the 30 second card. BANG! With the sound of the gun, the first round of cyclists rushed down the street and around the corner!
The course makes its way through the bathhouse district and into hillside neighborhoods. From there, the trees take over as the course winds its way up the mountain side. After enjoying the start of the race, I made my way up the hill along the side of the course. Every time a new round of cyclists started the race, the crowds on the side of the road cheered and made loud noises with make-shift shakers and drums. I stopped to take photos of each wave of cyclists. When the last cyclist of a wave finally turned around the corner, disappearing behind buildings, the spectators would quiet down while waiting for the next batch of cyclists to come by.
If you want to participate in the race, the application period is usually from March to May. To just watch, definitely get there early! The road up the mountain is blocked off starting at 6:00AM. It’s possible to walk up the course a fair distance, but I recommend staying in the city/neighborhood areas to do your cheering. Get there by 7:00AM to claim the spot you want.
I was impressed by the size and intensity of the race. I was even more impressed by the men and women – young to old – who pushed themselves to accomplish this amazing feat! Regardless of if you participate, I highly recommend attending the Tour de Utsukushigahara if you ever have the chance! It’s a very inspiring experience!
You can see my videos on Matsumoto (and more!) on my Discovery Makes Knowledge Youtube channel!