LookBack2023 w/ BRIDGESTONE Part 2


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 second part is a look back at the road race. We talked about the Tour de Kyushu and Road Race Tokyo, as well as the relationship between track and road and recent team trends.

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

domestic road race

──Now, let me look back on road races. It started with the Kanoya Kimotsuki Road and Shibushi Criterium in February, and since this area overlaps with the track nations cup, there were no members who went there, so we worked with new players Okamoto and Yamashita. I think it was a battle where they joined forces, but were you able to coordinate in this area without any problems?

Yamamoto: When I was at Kanoya, I was definitely nervous at first, but since both of us are strong students, we were able to run well, and we were able to form a train and work together from the beginning.

──Even in the cold weather of February, Yamamoto finished second on the road, and Okamoto quickly finished second on the criterium.

Yamamoto: Due to my lack of strength on the road race, I wasn't able to overtake Jun Okamoto of Aisan (Industrial Racing), and on the crit race, I broke my collarbone just before the final lap (lol). At that time, I'm sorry, but I was able to concentrate so much that I wonder if I would have had a dog if I hadn't fallen. I was feeling really good in February. (Okamoto) We had been working closely with Katsuya since the road race the day before, so that was a good thing.

──Although you are a rookie, Okamoto has won two races on the J-Pro Tour this year. What is your impression?

Yamamoto: You're good at it, aren't you? We have a sprint and we have guts. I don't think he has the determination to do it himself if he's given the sprint task, considering it's only his first year joining the team. It's hard to believe that he is a third year university student.

Kono: He can win even as a solo rider. He actually won at Harima (JPT West Japan Road Classic). Against Aisan's Hayabusa Okamoto and others.

Matsuda: That's surprising. It's reliable.

──I think you often participate in road races with a small number of members, but in that sense it seems like it will be a big force.

Kono: Yes. very.

Katsuya Okamoto, who also served as a model for INEIVE

──I think you participated in the Tour of Japan (TOJ) in May with a relatively full lineup. The team's move was for Kojima to go win the mountaineering award, but I heard that he was a candidate for this role.

Kojima: I think it was discussed that someone on the team was going to be the target, and it was either Mr. Kono or me, but I decided I wanted to take on the challenge, so I said, ``I'd like to try it.''

──How do you feel about climbing yourself?

Kojima: I can't climb it... However, the climbs on TOJ are really steep on Mt. Fuji and Shinshu, but the course layout didn't have much climbing on anything else.

──It seems like it's just aimed at mountainous points.

Kojima: It wasn't like I had to stay until the goal, but it was a point along the way, so I thought maybe I could make it.

──I was there to watch the final stage, and I had the impression that Kuboki was in good shape, as he came in 2nd place on the Mino stage. In order to help Kuboki win, the race progressed under Bridgestone's control in the final stage, but his experience in track competitions and team pursuit was put to good use in terms of forming a train and leading out as an ace sprinter. Is it possible?

Yamamoto: That's right. We believe that we are better than other teams when it comes to speed, and I think that's actually the case, and if it were just a competition of strength, we wouldn't lose. I think my track experience is useful.

──Do you feel like even if there are other teams around you, it doesn't bother you because you're ahead in terms of speed?

Yamamoto: For example, players from other teams like Keitaro Sawada (Sparkle Oita) and Hayato Okamoto (Aisan Kogyo Racing) are certainly insanely powerful, but you wouldn't know if they were competing alone, but they have the speed of the team as a whole. I am confident that we are the best in the field.

──So that means you were able to really hit Kuboki in that area.

Bridgestone Train at TOJ Tokyo Stage
Kazushige Kuboki wins the TOJ Tokyo stage

──Ishikawa Criterium and road race in July. This is Okamoto's second win. I would like to ask Mr. Kojima about this race, but I had the impression that he participated well right before the World Championship, but I wasn't really concerned about the risk of injury right before the race. Was it?

Kojima: It was a risk, but like I said earlier, participating in a road race increases your physical strength. I wanted to put in a high-strength part (just before), and there's a high risk of it breaking, but if you're careful, you can avoid it.

──That means you were intentionally included.

──In September and October, there are Gunma CSC, Oita Urban Classic, and Criterium, and Kono often finishes on the podium in 3rd place at these events. Was your condition improving at those times?

Kono: Originally, I was getting in shape for the Tour de Hokkaido. Actually, I thought it would be a good idea to follow the flow from Hokkaido and move up to (Tour de) Kyushu, but the race in Hokkaido was cancelled. I wasn't able to get the conditions perfect there, so I didn't get as good as I had hoped, but I think I did pretty well.

──Did you do well in Kyushu?

Kono: No, Kyushu was no good. In my case, my body was already in shape by February. Since then, I've been doing it for a year straight, so my body wasn't strong enough. It broke in Oita and I was knocked down (lol).

──Now, about the Tour de Kyushu. Of course, I would like to ask Kojima, who played an active role. Imamura and Kojima, both of whom are from Kyushu, have been attracting attention for some time, but Imamura was injured at the Asian Games just before the tournament. As a result, I think the attention was focused on Kojima, but do you feel like you were able to turn that into power?

Kojima: That's right. Criterium and the Fukuoka stage gave me strength. Because it was local.

──Was Kojima the ace player from the beginning for the criterium on the first day?

Kojima: Mr. Kuboki was the ace, but I was planning to lead out in front of him, and if it seemed like I could go at the end, he would let me go. I was the first to enter the last corner, so I guess I just went there.

──You also won the first stage the next day. I got the impression that you were often in that group at the front, but were you in good shape?

Kojima: The Asian Games were also held at the same time, but if anything, I was improving my condition for Kyushu. I've trimmed down my weight a bit, and I feel like I'm finishing up for Kyushu.

──As a result, we won the overall point award, but we were tangled up until the goal on the final day.

Kojima: Depending on the rankings of the three runners on the final day, we could have been reversed, so we had to stay until the sprint to the finish line.

──The Sprint Point Award is sponsored by Bridgestone, the team's parent organization, so did you ever notice that?

Kono: There were quite a few. The biggest thing for us as a team was that we had to protect the points award jersey with the Bridgestone logo on it.

--Did you feel any pressure?

Kojima: I really felt that. That was amazing (lol).

All: (lol)

──And at the end of October there was the Kasumigaura TT and road race. When you think of Lake Kasumigaura, you have a strong image of Matsuda, but are there surprisingly few races where you ride a TT bike?

Matsuda: Maybe once or twice a year. Other than Lake Kasumigaura, it is an All Japan Road time trial. Lately, the schedule often overlaps with the Asian Championships, so I sometimes have to cancel All Japan.

──When setting up a TT bike and a time-type track bike, do you feel like you use the same DH position and ride with the same image?

Matsuda: That's right. I'm trying to make it look similar. On a track bike, your legs lift up on their own, so you can get into a tough position, but on a road bike, that's not the case.

──There is no doubt that time trials are your specialty, both on the road and on the track.

Matsuda: Lake Kasumigaura is also a good distance away. It's about the same distance as one team pursuit run. There is also a corner where you can rest.

──Yamamoto won the road race the next day. In the end, 3 Bridgestone players, Yamamoto, Matsuda, and Kojima, and 4 players, Shimano Racing player Terada, made it out of the running race, but does this mean that in the end, only the players who can make it will go? ?

Yamamoto: Yes. I never expected it to be 3 to 1.

Matsuda: It's rare that I find myself in such a situation. In cases like this, the key is to attack without putting a burden on your teammates, or how to leave your opponent behind without provoking them. You have to be a little clever. Such a situation may be reversed. It was entirely possible that we thought we were on the offensive, but the other side was actually defending and we were the last to go.

──In the interview after your victory, Yamamoto talked a little about your own injuries and the impact that the fatal accident at the Tour de Hokkaido had on you. Last year, there was a big accident at a school race, so I know it's a difficult topic to talk about, but is it possible for you to talk about what you're thinking about?

Yamamoto: I didn't know any of the athletes in last year's Gakuren race, so while I was thinking about various things such as the issue of protectors, which was a hot topic, it didn't really seem that realistic. Regarding Hokkaido this time, (the player who passed away) was a complete junior to me and I had spent two or three years with him, so it felt real... Hokkaido is a race where cars enter the opposite lane, and I've always done it that way. There were times in the past when I felt like I was in danger too. But I don't think I can do it (racing on public roads) just because I want to do it. I haven't fully formed my thoughts yet, but I think to myself that this is something that definitely needs to change. After this incident, I don't know what will happen to races on public roads in the future, but I've started to think that I want to race while keeping safety in mind.

──I think there were many times when we irresponsibly said ``I want to see the line racing'' from a fan's perspective. But if safety is being sacrificed in this way, I think we need to change our mindset. Even for people who ride sports bikes for recreation, they are riding alongside cars on public roads, and they are riding side by side with danger, so this is a major accident that makes us think about the fundamentals of why we still ride bikes. was. It was good that Yamamoto won at Lake Kasumigaura and was able to get some exposure there.

Director Miyazaki: At the recent Tokyo Road Race, the organizers decided that the race could not be held in a section with one lane in each direction, so a neutral section was set. This time it was in the position of a special event race, but that doesn't apply to races under the jurisdiction of the UCI, so if that happens, there may be more opportunities for public road races to become difficult in the future. .

Road race Tokyo and future prospects

──The ``Road Race Tokyo'' was held the other day to conclude this year. I have to ask Kojima about this as well. A stunning solo victory. I never expected something like that to happen.

Kojima: I didn't think so either (lol).

──It showed up perfectly on camera, and I thought it was a really impactful way to win. I don't think there was much time difference between them and the ones following them, but they were able to see each other. I thought that being able to keep running away while being seen and being watched is similar to the bank mentality of track events, what do you think about that?

Kojima: I didn't look back... I just looked at the time difference from the bike, and since it never got to single digits, I was able to keep it the whole time, so I thought I'd just go for it.

──But that's at the level of something like 20 seconds or less.

Kojima: It's always been that way. It didn't decrease, so I decided to keep going.

Director Miyazaki: That's one full circle (lol). Because these people can only calculate with 250 banks.

──I thought that the second difference was such that a player who only plays on the road would have given up.

Yamamoto: Even I have given up (lol).

Matsuda: There was no team to lead us.

Director Miyazaki: The timing was also good. Everyone was in the off-season, and I wasn't the only one who wasn't.

Yamamoto: That said, it was strong.

──What was the group control in the back like?

Matsuda: When we dropped from the front, people started going sporadically. It was like an amateur race overseas. If things like that were to happen and I was on the back foot, I would (go to the front) look behind me and say (to the attacking rider), ``If that's what you want, I'll follow you'' (Bridgestone was in control).

──Are you prepared for the sprint?

Matsuda: My intention was to get 2nd and 3rd place (lol).

Yamamoto: Starting around 10km or so, when someone attacks, I gradually build up my strength over and over again. On the other hand, if no one attacks, they gradually slow down (the group's pace).

--The result of repeating that process was that difference in seconds.

Yamamoto: Yes. There were no other teams trying to work as a group.

──Why is that? Do you feel like it was simply left up to Bridgestone?

Yamamoto: It seems like the other teams didn't really understand that Kojima kept running away. Most people think that if Daiki (Yamamoto Daiki/JCL TEAM UKYO) was in that speed range, Kojima would also be falling.

Matsuda: So (Kojima) was also arrested.

──Did you feel like Kojima had no choice but to go at the time when Daiki Yamamoto fell off his car? Didn't you feel like going back?

Kojima: I put a lot of thought into it.

Matsuda: That's a lie! ? (lol).

Kojima: I looked behind me and thought, wow, what should I do... I was worried for a moment.

Matsuda: But you were thinking about it when you stepped on it.

Kojima: No, no, there is a momentary pause in the video (lol). Weren't you in the group by a second?

Yamamoto: It was there. It was coming out, but it was coming out against the front. Everyone is behind me (lol). But we're in the lead (lol). Because we're the ones in control (the players behind us can't really see it).

──I was surprised to see that Kojima posted on his Instagram story that day that he would be doing more road training after returning home. Does the intensity of the race that day have any bearing on the training menu?

Kojima: Well, since it was offered to me, I was motivated from the beginning. Actually, I was thinking of driving home from the finish line on my own. But the award came too late...

──The day ended with a good training session.

──It was such a road race in Tokyo, but to cap off the year, Kojima won, which was good for the team, and I think it was a breakthrough year for him as well. Looking at things like this, I get the feeling that Bridgestone's vision is to focus on roads beyond strengthening trucks. What do you think about that?

Coach Miyazaki: The main premise remains that we aim to win a medal at the Olympics in track. However, if we trace back to our origins, we shifted from a focus on road cars overseas to trucks in 2018. For example, going on an overseas road trip is exactly the same thing I've been doing for nearly 20 years since my time as an athlete in the early 2000s, and it hasn't changed...Even if I continue doing the same thing for the next 10 years, I probably won't be able to compete with the rest of the world. There was also the feeling that the gap would not narrow. In such a situation, it is common for each country to strengthen the road by strengthening the track, and the results in each country are actually coming out, so let's shift to a track that has potential in Japan as well, and make sure to get good results there. Let's take it out (changed direction). That's 2018. With that in mind, if you look at road races, if you want to win medals at the Olympics on the track, you have to win at least that many times, including domestic road races and UCI races, before you can compete against the rest of the world. . That's something that's been on my mind from the beginning.

The current system was established in 2021. The players also became much younger, and at that time they completely shifted to the track. We all have the same purpose as a team, which is a plus that other teams don't have. Normally, even within a team, I think there are various differences between players, such as, ``I want to run a road race in Europe,'' or ``I don't mind joining a domestic business team, but I want to be on a team that does well and get paid.'' but. In our case, we have a clear goal of ``winning a medal at the Olympics,'' and only athletes who agree with that goal have come together and are working toward that goal. So we're all on track and heading towards the Olympics in great shape, and we'll finally be able to get there next year. That's how it feels now.

──After speaking with you today, I got the feeling that road racing is just as important to Kojima as track racing. At the Road Race Tokyo, he won with a ``running away'' technique that was different from the sprint before the goal like Kuboki and Imamura, which is what we call ``The Road Race'', and achieved victory on a medium- and long-distance track. I thought that the results were obtained by combining my experiences well.

Coach Miyazaki: After all, our team definitely has the impression of being a sprint team, and every team has that impression of Bridgestone forming a train in front of the goal and going into a sprint. , I knew that the course layout would be the same this time, so it was expected that the course would be the same. However, in recent races, this has become so obvious that other teams have stopped moving at all. There were too many compositions like Bridgestone vs. all the teams. Under such circumstances, for a team like Aisan Kogyo Racing that really wants to sprint, this is a delicious development. After the other teams attack Bridgestone a lot and reduce the number of cards, they form a train at the end and sprint. I didn't want that to happen, so this time I wanted to run away from the beginning and have a small group of people in Kojima and Imamura. We didn't want to be left behind.

But in reality, Kojima, Imamura, and other athletes can run in any form. However, there are many races that end up being sprints, but I don't really want to do that, and I always want to try different things and run in different patterns. This time we went to Kojima and Imamura, but Bridgestone will not be doing it again next year by always having a match between Kojima and Imamura or Kuboki. I want different players to gain different experiences. Of course, we apply road competition to the track as well, and if there are certain areas that are lacking or weak in the track, we often try to bring those elements to the road. Kane.

──Thank you very much. I could clearly understand what the coach was thinking about the team's direction and long-term strategy.

──Now, for the last time. Looking ahead to next year, we would like to ask each of you to give us your feedback from the perspective of ``this is the area we would like you to pay attention to.''

Matsuda: It's power. I think we still lose to foreign players in basic physical aspects, so I want to make up for that. Also, the first run will be used in a limited manner as a team pursuit run, so I want to do my best to close the gap there and give it a powerful feel.

Yamamoto: I guess it's all about climbing. I'm trying to improve myself so I can climb more.

Kono: I decided a long time ago that 2024 would be a year of competition, so it doesn't matter whether I go to the Olympics or not. I am determined that next year, no matter what form it takes, I will definitely achieve results somewhere. I am determined to do this with determination.

Kojima: When I compete, I want to fight with the aim of winning, so if I am given the opportunity to participate in the Nations Cup, I would like to do my best to win the Omnium as well.

──Thank you very much for your time today. We hope you all took a good break during the year-end and New Year holidays, and we look forward to seeing you all in 2024!

interview and text: Daisuke Fukai / INEIVE