Two days to go 'til Saitama!

news24.10.2013The race- /

Photo : Chambre de Commerce et d'industrie française du Japon

The riders in the first Saitama Criterium by Le Tour de France have arrived in Japan, many of them direct from Paris, ready to do battle on the city circuit on Saturday.

One foot on the Tour, the other in Japan! In less than 24 hours, the world's elite riders have covered the huge distance separating the Palais des Congrès in Paris, where the route of the 2014 Tour de France was unveiled, to Saitama city centre, where they are preparing to ride the first Saitama Criterium by Le Tour de France. On the one hand, the champions will already have one eye on their prospects for next summer, and spent all day yesterday giving their first impressions of the main difficulties that lie in store; on the other, they are excited and focused on their last test of the season. Prime among them is Chris Froome, who in a few months will attempt to defend his title when the first stages get under way in Yorkshire, but on Saturday will be wearing the number one on his yellow jersey to race in Saitama: "at least I know I won't find any cobbled sections here," joked the British rider on arriving in Japan.

Another key figure in the hundredth edition of the Tour de France, Marcel Kittel, drew his own comparison between the two races making the late-season cycling headlines. "When I arrived in Paris yesterday (Tuesday), I asked the taxi driver to go via the Champs-Elysées. It was a very special feeling and brought back very happy memories. I hope it will inspire me for the sprints I'll be contesting in Saitama," said the German rider, who will start as race favourite on Saturday.

As we wait for the high-octane action to unfold on the 2.7 km city course, now's the time for the Criterium riders to get settled. Some have come from Australia, including Richie Porte and Simon Gerrans, or South Korea, in the case of Peter Sagan and Ivan Basso, who were in the country for the Japan Cup last week. On arriving, Romain Bardet, the best-placed Frenchman in the 2013 Tour, went straight to the French embassy in Tokyo with Bernard Hinault and Jean-François Pescheux for a conference on the Tour organised by the chamber of commerce and industry. After finishing fifteenth in July, the AG2R rider has already ridden a number of criteriums, in Marcolès, Dur Le Palestel and Quillam. Since then he's been on a sort of Asian tour, including the Tour of Beijing. And the man from Clermont-Ferrand is particularly savouring this Japanese end to his year: "I've never seen a field like this for a criterium. The fact it's the first of its kind, and the enthusiasm of the Japanese crowd, will encourage us to put on a great show!"

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