High temperatures and blue skies met the officials and riders at the start of the first Tour de Mount Fuji cycling event-a 114-km ride around the perimeter of Japan's highest mountain. With an early start time of 7am, the riders had begun gathering from daybreak to check their bikes and confirm the finer details of the route, which set out from Kawaguchiko-a lakeside town to the north of Fuji-- following the perimeter of the mountain in a clockwise direction.
As the inaugural ride in what hopes to become a yearly event, a number of dignitaries had gathered at the start line to greet the riders, including Richard DeBernardis, President of the Perimeter Bicycling Association of America (PBAA) and organizer of El Tour de Tucson (7,000 plus riders); Tatsuo Okada, Executive Director of NPO Global Sports Alliance (GSA); and Fumitomo Yamaguchi of the Japan Cycling Federation.
The line up of riders was a mixture of cycling enthusiasts from the International 14 Cycling Club, Miyata Subaru Racing Team, Shonan Koyurugi Racing, and Kusatsu Onsen Bicycle Club, as well as GSA supporters and staff that were keen to promote the environmental aspects of cycling and lend their support to the ride. For them, the ride was just the second half of a two-day event that involved climbing the mountain the day before, collecting trash and carrying the Ecoflag-the environmental symbol for environmental awareness and action in sport-as they went.
At 3776-meters, the iconic Mt. Fuji is not only Japan's highest mountain, but the spiritual heart of the country, providing the ideal location to draw a nation's attention and increase environmental awareness. For the climbers and riders involved in both events, the spectacular views and luscious nature that surrounded them was a sharp reminder of the importance of protecting our natural resources that allow us to enjoy sport and provides the foundation on which our health and performance lies.
Due to the hilly nature of the terrain, the course proved a challenge to even the more experienced of the riders and future event seem likely to limit the full perimeter ride to those with legs strong enough for the challenge. Shorter courses however, could make use of some of the beautiful flat and downhill stretches that are easily within the reach of less experienced riders, and that pass through areas of outstanding natural beauty-under the watchful eye of the mountain.
18-year old Eliot Piney of Tucson, Arizona, a veteran of numerous rides including the El Tour de Tucson and Cochise County Cycling Classic, was among the riders taking part and he confessed that 'although shorter than some of the Arizona rides he'd taken part in, the hilly terrain had presented more of a challenge than expected.' Eliot has spent the summer as an intern at GSA's office in Tokyo, learning about the organization's work in promoting environmental awareness and action in sport.
As a test run, the event was a tremendous success and a valuable reference if the event is to be introduced as an official event from next year. The course provides both beautiful scenery and a cycling challenge to satisfy most biking enthusiasts, and a location and focal point that will draw the nation's attention to the importance of protecting the earth's natural resources and ensuring a clean and safe environment, so that future generations can enjoy sport as we do now.
Report by Jason Chare
NPO Global Sports Alliance (GSA)