Saturday October 26th, 2013

Saitama / Saitama

One day to go: they've had it tough!

news25.10.2013The race- /

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The day before the Saitama Criterium by Le Tour de France proved something of an emotional rollercoaster for the riders. For one thing, Chris Froome and the rest came up against some trainee sumo wrestlers...

In the land of the rising sun, the day began with a piece of good news. It came directly from the mouth of Mr Shimizu, mayor of Saitama, who in the early hours of the morning officially ruled out any threat from Francisco and his younger brother Lekima. The two tropical storms have displayed impeccable taste in changing course to the south to allow the Saitama Criterium by Le Tour de France to go ahead in potentially rainy but "cycling-compatible" conditions! Reassured by this forecast, the riders from the international teams could relax and enjoy a carefully planned sightseeing trip. In fact, the stars of the 2013 Tour experienced a thrilling day of cultural discovery. Because while Japan is taking cycling to its heart, sumo wrestlers enjoy the greatest share of the limelight. Chris Froome and select members of his chase group from July had the chance to judge the courage and strength of these demi-gods for themselves in a beginners' session with a few young hopefuls… all aged under 18. The Yellow Jersey may have tamed Mont Ventoux, but he threw his 70 kg of muscle at a trainee sumo and only managed to shift him a handful of centimetres! "And I was up against one of the smallest guys," admitted the Briton, who didn't rule out inviting his opponent on the day to his training camp in Tenerife to get his revenge on the hilly roads of the Canary Islands. "I might have a chance of shaking him off on the descents…"

Marcel Kittel is often the strongest in the final straights, but couldn't make much more of an impact on the young colossuses than Froome. Green Jersey Peter Sagan, World Champion Rui Costa and the victor of Alpe d'Huez, Christophe Riblon, barely fared any better. Having left Saitama Sakae High School, the riders then inspected some bonsai tree specimens, some of which have been cultivated for over 1,000 years by generations of gardeners. Froome and the gang then kept an appointment with a group of journalists. The clapometer is registering more interest in the two lone Japanese to have finished the Tour de France, Yukiya Arashiro and Fumiyuki Beppu, than in their European and Australian colleagues. But scores will be settled tomorrow on the 2.7 km circuit in the streets of Saitama.

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