LookBack2023 w/ BRIDGESTONE Part 1


Looking back at the 2023 season with TEAM BRIDGESTONE Cycling

One day in December, as the end of 2023 approached, TEAM BRIDGESTONE Cycling (on the track) broke the Japanese record in the team pursuit for the first time in three years, won a medal in the individual event at the world championships, and continued to make strides toward the Paris Olympics. Conducted long interviews with long-distance and road race teams. We asked them to reflect on the 2023 season, making use of their experience in track competitions and making them stand out in the domestic road racing scene. We will deliver the situation in two parts, the first part and the second part.

The first part is a look back at truck racing. We talked about breaking the Japanese record for team pursuit and the World Championships, which are important events in the run-up to the Olympics.

【 participant 】
Shunsuke Imamura / Shoichi Matsuda / Naoki Kojima / Shōki Kono / Tetsuo Yamamoto / Manager Keiryo Miyazaki

All Japan Championship Track

──Thank you for your hard work in the 2023 season. First, I would like to follow the track events in chronological order. I have covered the Nations Cup held at the beginning of the season in other Journal articles , so this time I would like to look back on the All Japan Championship in May. ──Usually, the event that attracts a lot of attention for Bridgestone's middle and long-distance team is the omnium , but this year, in the final point race, in the final phase, Matsuda and Kojima were tied for the same points, and in the final Ultimately, the winner was determined by the order of finishing, and Matsuda was crowned number one in Japan. From the spectator's perspective, it was quite a complex development, but how much were you conscious of the degree of confusion at this point while you were actually running?

Matsuda: I did some calculations and thought with about 8 laps left that if I struggled at the end, I would be able to win (against Kojima). However, the other side also wanted to go, so I responded by saying no, no, no.

──So it seems like you were aiming for the goal at the end, even though you knew pretty well how things would unfold.

Matsuda: That's right.

──Up until now, you have been good at time-based events, but after winning this omnium, has your impression of what you are good at or bad at changed?

Matsuda: No, not that much... Having said that, racing is just a matter of course, so if I had stepped off the line, things might have turned out differently, but I'm just saying it went well. However, compared to when I first started, I think I've gotten pretty good at assembling laces.

---I guess that's something that happens gradually through experience.

Matsuda: That's right. While watching various players, I wondered, for example, what Hideya Hashimoto would do in this situation.

──It seems like you don't pay much attention to things like setting up a race in practice, but is that something that you developed through racing?

Matsuda: During practice, we have something like a mock race, so we sometimes try out different ways of running than before.

--In recent years, Bridgestone has dominated the All-Japan Track race, and I think fans are aware of this as well. Most of the players are based in the same base, are in the same training environment, and are aware of each other's abilities. He also understands that there are few rivals outside of the team in Japan. In other words, in the medium and long-distance track events, there is virtually a high possibility that an All-Japan champion will be born among Bridgestone members, but is the All-Japan still a special race?

Matsuda: Well, I'd be happy if we won. Being the best in Japan is at stake, so I would be happy if we could win. But it also has the aspect of being a passing point. I'm concentrating, but I'm not there... Each person has different goals, such as road racing or world championship (track) game racing.

──Then, just because it's All-Japan, you have to be extra conscious and not cause any awkwardness within the team.

Matsuda: It's a bit awkward though (lol). ...Well, everyone in Japan does something like a test of their senses. I wonder how I feel now. Well, it turned out a little different than I had imagined...but since there's still a month or two between now and the world championships...then I'm thinking about what I have to do. For that reason, we will have to remove something like a limiter at All Japan.

──Is it true that removing the limiter can only be done in races?

Matsuda: That's right. Adrenaline is also released on a different level.

--At the time of training, you generally know each other's abilities, right? I also know his personality well. If you want to win in such a situation, I think you have to outsmart and outsmart others, and doesn't that require a lot of courage?

Yamamoto: There may be surprisingly few people who outsmart you. You can bring out your own strengths, and when you have a one-on-one situation, you can target the other person's weaknesses.

──I see. It's because we understand each other that things develop.

──Now, I would like to ask you about Team Pursuit. In All Japan, Team A in particular is the real Japanese national team, and I think it can be said that they have no rivals, but this time they set a Japanese record for the first time in three years. What was your motivation around this?

Imamura: It was held before the Asian Championships, so I was running to check my condition for the race. My performance has improved tremendously, but it's not at its peak, so I was experimenting with various things to see how fast I could get. Under such circumstances, we all said, ``That's great'' that we were able to set a good time. That's what it felt like.

──It was more of a race that I took on as a passing point, but I feel like I ran well because I still have a record at the All-Japan race.

Imamura: All Japan is viewed as a team after all. There's more pressure there. The motivation of our players (to aim for the world) and the need to show our presence as a team at All Japan are slightly different. But it's the All-Japan Championship, so it's not just about winning; if you're not fast, people will think, ``What are you doing, Bridgestone?''

Director Miyazaki: The only place that Japanese audiences can see it is at All Japan. The only team pursuit events that are held throughout the season are the Nations Cup, the Championships (such as the World Championships and the Asian Championships), and the only others that are held are the All Japan Championships. During the Japan nationals, I went straight to it. I also put the gear on.

Imamura: Yes. It was a race where I could try out different things, and I also set a record, so I realized that I have a lot of strength.

──For example, regarding communication within the team pursuit team, if you move on to another event within the same tournament, you immediately become rivals. Have you already gotten used to the change in attitude?

Imamura: That's right. We all know that we have to set a good time. But it was really nice to have it first in terms of the tournament schedule.

──The team pursuit is held first in almost every tournament. That's working in a positive direction.

Imamura: I think so. It's especially easy to get jerky.

──(laughs) I guess that's the case.

Imamura: As expected, we have all the representatives from Japan. I don't think everyone wants to lose.

Director Miyazaki: I was really surprised. In road races, we don't fight at all, and of course there are no fights, but at the All Japan Track, everyone is very quarrelsome (lol).

──This shows that track events are a battle for each individual. Even though they are on the same team.

Coach Miyazaki: People watching say things like, ``Bridgestone has this many players, so it's only natural that they're strong,'' and ``If we have that many players, the other teams won't be able to compete.'' But in reality, no one is saying that at all. I don't think about it, and I see my teammates as my biggest rivals. That kind of competition is called All Japan Track.

All Japan Championship Track 2023

asian championship

──The Asian Championships were held in June, the month after the All Japan Championships. In the team pursuit, he further shortened the Japanese record by 1.5 seconds. What do you think is the reason for this rapid progress? Was it training, or were there more psychological factors? How about?

Imamura: It's a spiritual thing, isn't it? After all, this is a tournament related to the Olympics, so we have to win. (In order to get points) it was more about winning than it was about time, but when you have a great motivation for winning, your time will inevitably improve. The bank conditions were very good, and everyone was professional in their conditioning for the tournament they were aiming for, so I think it was a combination of all of that.

Director Miyazaki: But up until then, there had been no results for quite some time. I'd say I've struggled to grow... There was also a change in members. I've been in a situation where it seemed like I wouldn't be able to improve my time for a long time, but I finally managed to beat it by a tenth at this year's All Japan, and since then I've been feeling good.

──As for Imamura's individual events, scratch came in second place, while Madison took first place. Later, at the World Championships, you achieved a brilliant result of 3rd place in the omnium, but was this a result of your preparations for that? I think the level of players from other countries is also different between the Asian and World Championships.

Imamura: It feels like there is an Asian race in Asia, and a world race in the world. I ended up in 2nd place due to a mistake in the scratch, but... At that time, I had not heard who would be participating in the World Championships. Of course, I was highly motivated to participate in Team Pursuit, but there were many times when I couldn't do anything without my team. So I was able to shift my focus and focus on racing events, which made me feel even more emotional.

World championship

──The World Championships are finally here in August. This year's ``Super World Championship'' attracted a lot of attention as 13 cycling events were held simultaneously. The national track team holds a training camp in France just before every year, but did you feel relaxed when you went there (Glasgow, England)?

Matsuda: That was good. It was quite relaxing.

Imamura: The members are the same, the itinerary is almost the same as last year, and I know what I'm doing.

──First there was a team pursuit, but the qualifying round was not aired, so I was following the results in Japan on Tissot Timing (an official web service that reflects live recordings). The record of the British team that ran last was not reflected in the race, and it ended up being a DNF, but what happened on the ground?

Matsuda: Maybe the 3rd runner ran out of energy...and probably didn't even have a lotus time. Maybe I'll fall into the blue band... It looked like he was pushing too hard and lost consciousness and fell from the car.

──You mean in the final phase, right?

Director Miyazaki: Last 10 meters. It's really the last corner exit.

Matsuda: Because we were about to go home.* I said, ``Let's switch our minds to other events.'' That led to me being able to run in the finals as well. (*: It was very likely that the Japanese team would lose in the preliminary rounds, as the British team was halfway through.)

──Well, if you say you're lucky, you're lucky...

Coach Miyazaki: It's a big deal in terms of gaining points toward qualifying for the Olympics. The World Championship is especially important.

──I heard that it is difficult to set records on the banks in Glasgow, but when I looked at your time, you actually ran 3 minutes 51.650 seconds in the final race, which was better than the national record you set at the All Japan race in May for the first time in three years. ing. When you think about it in total, it's not that bad of a record.

Director Miyazaki: It wasn't that bad, but I feel like we didn't break any records. I was in a good mood to go further. Everyone was in good condition, and they were all in good shape.

──How did you, as a member of Team Pursuit, view this result?

Matsuda: I was able to run without any particular failures, so I felt like all I had to do was look at the results of other countries. My goal was to finish in 8th place and earn points, so I had already achieved that goal by qualifying.

Coach Miyazaki: Especially (Matsuda) Shoi leaves in the first half, so it's not like Shoi holds his ground in the second half or loses his temper a little, but it's him who pulls him out and leaves. Because it's work.

Matsuda: That's right. My role is to get the times right for the first half.

──After this, Matsuda will participate in the individual pursuit, but you said in a later interview that you were not feeling well at that time.

Matsuda: Yes. I think the endurance wasn't enough. After the Asian Championships, I wasn't feeling well...I had a month until the World Championships, but I wasn't able to ride for two weeks.

──Even so, you are still a member of Team Pursuit.

Matsuda: Well, it's only 2km (one run).

──Is there a big difference from the 4km individual pursuit?

Matsuda: It's completely different now. The distribution of power is also different in terms of training. The more you train your lower power, the better your endurance ability will be, but it becomes harder to produce your upper power. It would be fine if we could improve the overall performance based on the base, but it's difficult to create a base that looks like it can be improved in 10-year increments. Well, I always thought that there would be some bias.

──I think you played your role well as the team's first run.

Matsuda: That's right. It felt like I was leaving the 2km distance in about 2 minutes.

──Imamura was not selected as a member of Team Pursuit, but was that meant for Omnium and Madison?

Imamura: No, I couldn't run. He was the fifth member. Simply because I was the fifth most powerful...that's it.

──For that reason, it was the first bronze medal in Japan's history at the omnium, and it was a wonderful performance with an aggressive performance.

Imamura: In the end, though. After all, you run in the team event at every tournament, and regardless of whether you get a good or bad result, you get to run in front of the audience for once...I really liked that because it took the stress out of me. It was a little scary because it was the first time for me (before the individual event) to go to the actual event with nothing going on. I would have liked to have run the team pursuit if I could, but there were a lot of times when I slowed down.

──Still, the content of the Omnium race was very active, and it was accompanied by results.

Imamura: That's right. When it's over.

──Did you feel good when you started running?

Imamura: I wouldn't say it was good, but because I was the only Japanese racer, I didn't have to worry about the results of other Japanese athletes, so it was easy to run. Anyway, I feel like I have to do well as a representative.

──Did your mindset change after receiving 3rd place at the world championships? Maybe it's a reaffirmation of self-confidence or global standing.

Imamura: There has been a change in attitude, or rather a kind of determination. I was able to get a result in the biggest Olympic qualifier, so I was able to get points in advance, so I had some leeway, and although it wasn't decided by this, I was somewhat relieved. .

──Madison was excited after Kuboki's scratch silver medal and Imamura's omnium bronze medal, but in the end, she finished 12th, which I think was not a satisfying result for both of them. I think the competition will become even more intense in the lead-up to the Olympics, but is there anything you're thinking about?

Imamura: It's about practicing well and how you can prepare yourself for the actual performance during your regular practice. Anyone can just practice, but it's best to visualize yourself on the podium. The other thing is to be proactive, and I don't think you can be proactive unless you have as much confidence and effort as you can to be proactive, so I think it's a matter of how you can accumulate that. At the World Championships, Madison also felt intimidated before the start, so the most important thing is to build up from now on so that when she stands at the start, she can feel confident and say, ``I can do it.'' Masu.

──If you look at Kuboki objectively, he seems to be a very strong-willed player, but there were still times when he felt intimidated.

Imamura: (With Kuboki) We usually share the same room and talk about things like that all the time, but what we thought and what the coach saw were different... We were talking about ``Let's go (to get points) from the first time,'' but we couldn't actually do that, so we felt like we were behind the curve. Actually, the average speed at this World Championship was almost the same as when we won the silver medal (first race of the 2022 Nations Cup), and as a result we were dragged around, so we said, ``Our race pace was really fast.'' We started to get caught up in the situation, but on the other hand, if we were on the attacking side, we would end up with a team that would be dragged down in the same way (I didn't know how it would play out)... What is important is how strong you can be.

──There were some parts where our feelings and the national team's ideas didn't mesh a bit, but we have to make sure we're able to reconcile them.

Imamura: That's partly because I wasn't able to appeal to the coach. The reason they didn't say, "You can go the first time," was because we hadn't been able to show them what we were capable of. There are 200 laps, so everyone is in good spirits for the first 100 laps. So, if we tried to compete there, we would only be defeated, so we decided to compete in the second half. We wanted to go from the beginning and were determined to win a medal, but we decided against it.

──Of course, as a fan, I wanted to see that kind of run, but the team chose a strategy with a high possibility of success in order to improve their results, so it's difficult.

(Kojima is present from here)

──I would like to ask Kojima as well. About the point race for the world championships. He was participating in the team pursuit in 2022, and this year was the first time he participated in the individual event. The result was 7th place. Since this is the result of the world championship, I think it is a highly commendable result, what do you think?

Kojima: Can you evaluate it? Even though it's my first time participating, there are parts of me that I'm not satisfied with. My goal was to win a medal, so in the end I didn't reach my goal, so I'm not really satisfied with it.

──Are point races your specialty?

Kojima: I'm good at it, or rather it's my favorite event.

──You also won the Asian Championships. What do you think is the reason for your strength?

Kojima: Looking at the world, we still have a long way to go, but I think our strength is that we can still show our strength even in the second half when everyone is tired.

──That means in the points race. Point races during tournaments are often held in the latter half of the schedule, does that matter?

Kojima: There was a group removal at the beginning of the schedule, but it was difficult to adjust since the period started from there. I only train for about an hour every day. Even though the points race had just started, I had a tough time.

──When you think about it, it must be difficult to know how to train during a tournament. On the other hand, would it be better to run other races?

Kojima: Or maybe I'll run for 20 minutes on rollers. I thought I'd like to do it, but (the menu didn't say so)... But I think I'll definitely consult with you next year.

──I'd like to ask everyone, this year's World Championship was symbolic of the success of Lotta Kopecky (Belgium) in terms of being able to balance both road and track racing. In addition to winning the track elimination and points race, he also won the road race with its many ups and downs. How did you see this for those of you who drive both track and road?

Matsuda: It's a monster, isn't it? (laughs) But maybe even if Mathieu (Mathieu van der Poel/Netherlands *winner of the same men's road race) comes to the track, he will still win. As I said earlier, it's not that they're only strong in the bottom and middle, but they have improved their overall base, so I think they can't lose no matter where they play.

Kojima: I was watching the women's points race, and Kopecky and the second-place finisher (Georgia Baker/Australia) were in completely different speed ranges, with no one catching up to them every time they slipped away. It was as strong as you could see, so I feel like the strength I've cultivated on the road will be put to good use.

──I see. Kopecky is a player who originally got his results on the track and then performed well on the road, but his strength on the road is now reflected on the track as well.

Kojima: I think so. After all, going at that speed in the second half is definitely something you can't do unless you have the stamina. It was moving well from the beginning. I think the physical strength I've cultivated on the road is being put to good use. Overall, I was able to run without losing speed.

Asian Games/Japan Track Cup

──Now, let me ask you a little bit about the Asian Games in September. The footage had not reached Japan, and the photo of Imamura standing in the middle of the podium with a broken bone in Madison was shocking. At this time, Imamura and Kojima were paired together, and I feel like it was the first time in a while that I saw a pairing other than Kuboki Imamura. How did this happen?

Kojima: National team coach Daniel's idea is that rather than having a specific pair play, he should have various pairs work together, have them gain a variety of experiences, and then aim for the Olympics with the best pair. I think there is a possibility that another pair will be formed for the 2024 Nations Cup.

──Does that mean there is a possibility that different pairs will be actively tried out even in important tournaments where points are needed for the Olympics?

Kojima: There might be.

--I'm looking forward to that. After that, Hashimoto played an active role in the Nations Cup, and when he returned, the Japan Truck Cup was held. If you look at the omnium, Kuboki won the Japan Truck Cup I, and Kojima won the II. Matsuda won the All-Japan title, Hashimoto is still strong, and the team is now in a situation where it really doesn't matter who wins. How was Kojima doing at this time?

Kojima: It was great that I was able to run a stage race in New Zealand before that. So I strengthened my core and strengthened my stamina to the point where I could run all four events in the omnium to the end, so I was able to run a good race.

──When you think about it, it seems important for Kojima to continue riding on the road.

Kojima: I ran TOJ before the Asian Championships, and by running the entire day there, I was in great shape at the Asian Championships, so running a stage race and going to a track race is the best condition for me. I think it's a way to improve.

The interview continues in the second part .

interview and text: Daisuke Fukai / INEIVE