Canadian Cyclist


September 19/98 9:47 am - Tour de Hokkaido

Posted by Editor on 09/19/98

Tour de Hokkaido
(courtesy Kris Westwood)


The day after Canadian Charles Dionne won the first stage, the team suffered a dramatic reversal of fortunes in the Tour de Hokkaido. The key point of the day‚s racing proved too much for yesterday‚s protagonists.

It was a relief to wake up to a cool but sunny day: the previous stage‚s incessant rain had been tough on everybody. We transferred by car and bus from our hotel in Kitahiyama to the starting point in Oshamanbe, another town known for its hot springs, and unloaded the bikes in good spirits. The stage ahead was not particularly hard except in the last 30 kilometres where a 14 km climb over the Niimi pass (740 m) was followed immediately by a 16 km descent all the way to the finish in the coastal town of Inwanai.

The bunch rolled out of Oshamanbe in a subdued mood, but it was not long before a group of 13 riders split off the front, amassing a 30 second lead within the first five kilometres. Both Alexandre Lavalée and Alexandre Bernard of the Canadian team were in this group, and the other teams were all well represented: the Americans and the Koreans also had two riders each, while of the other strong teams New Zealand, Ireland, Miyata-Subaru, Bridgestone, Inoak-Deki and Shimano had a representative each. Nippon-Hodo also had a rider, but he was already three minutes behind on the overall standings due to a mechanical problem the previous day so he was not in a position to contest the overall lead.

The gap between the break and the pack quickly grew, despite Nippon-Hodo‚s efforts to bring it back: after 40 km they were 4‚40" ahead and at the 61 km point the lead peaked at 7‚14". The race leader on the road was now Michael McNena of the Irish team, with Alexandre Lavalée in fourth only six seconds behind. It was clear that the break was not going to get caught, so Lavalée was instructed to make an effort at the intermediate time bonus sprint in order to get as close to the leader as possible. He came second in that sprint, and the 2" bonus brought him up to 3rd overall.

As the lead was so big, the riders stopped working together quite so well. Lavallée tried to conserve his energy as much as possible, letting Bernard do most of the work in the break, but the Irish rider McNena started to give him a hard time, even to the point of bringing him off the back of the group to make him work harder. The Irishman stopped playing games when Lavallée pointed out that he was leader on the road.

As the break approached the base of the final climb things settled down, and they started up the mountain together. Behind, a group of 12 riders rode off the front of the peloton and started to gradually eat into the lead. The two Canadians in the break never looked very comfortable on the climb, which was over 10 % in some places, and the first to crack was Bernard, about 7 km from the summit. Not long after, Lavallée‚s distinctive national champion jersey started to drift off the back as well, and Bernard soon caught him. The two worked together, always within sight of the leaders, to stay as close as possible to try to rejoin the leaders on the descent. At the front, two riders got away from the other nine and Hideto Yukinari (JPN/Miyata Subaru) preceded Tae-Ho Kim (KOR) on the finish line. McNena took the sprint for third. The head wind did not make things any easier for the chasers and they lost time all the way down to the finish, finally coming in just over two minutes behind the winner. Another 50 seconds back was the chase group, which Charles Dionne had joined over the last part of the stage. Pascal Choquette was taken down by another rider on the big climb, and finished alone .

After the optimism of the first day today‚s stage was not exactly a boost to morale. Though the team‚s chances for the overall are not too good anymore, the riders will still make the most of any opportunity that presents itself. In bike racing, you never know . . .

1ST HIDETO YUKINARI (JPN/Miyata Subaru) 136.5 km in 3h36‚21" (avs 37.9 km/h); 2nd T-H. Kim (KOR) at 28"; 3rd M. McNena (IRL) at 43"; 4th B-M Kim (KOR) st; 5th T. Yamada (JPN/Inoac Deki) st . . . 85 riders started, 85 finished

1st HIDETO YUKINARI (JPN/Miyata Subaru) 7h58‚44"; 2nd T-H. Kim (KOR) at 22"; 3rd M. McNena at 39" . . .

1st TAE-HO KIM (KOR) 35 pts; 2nd B-M. Kim (KOR) 30 pts; 3rd C. Dionne (CAN) 29 pts. . . 9th A. Bernard (CAN) 12 pts . . .

1st OSAMU SUMIDA (JPN/Shimano); 2nd H. Imanishi (JPN/Shimano); 3rd; Michael McNena (IRL). . . 13th C. Dionne (CAN) . . . 14th A. Bernard (CAN)

Stage: 1st Korea; 2nd USA; 3rd Miyata Subaru . . . 8th Canada . . .
Overall: 1st Korea; 2nd Miyata Subaru; 3rd Nippon Hodo . . . 7th Canada. . .

19 teams

Stage / Overall
Alexandre Lavalée 13th at 2‚05" / 8th at 2‚03"
Pascal Choquette 70th at 10‚39" / 50th at 10‚36"
Matt Hansen - / -
Charles Dionne 15th at 2‚54" / 11th at 2‚42"
Alexandre Bernard 12th at 2‚05" / 9th at 2‚08"

Stage 3 - A HARD DAY

This supposedly easy stage turned out to produced the hardest days racing in the Tour de Hokkaido so far. The difficulty of the only big climb of the day took everybody by surprise, and the Canadian teams fortunes took a turn for the better.

The weather forecast for today proved to be accurate: 50 % chance of rain, and it rained for about half of the stage. The pack, down to 85 riders from the 95 who started three days ago, headed out of Kutchan between lush, beautiful fields of rice and wheat. The rain soon started to fall, and would continue to do so intermittently throughout the stage.

The big players for the overall were all very vigilant through the first 70 km, and no individual rider, let alone group, was able to get more than a handful of seconds. The major incident before the climb was a crash. Pascal Choquette of the Canadian team was taken down by an inattentive rider who was stretching. He got up quickly though, and was able to use the draft of the following vehicles to rejoin the pack.

Aside from a few stragglers, the whole group reached the base of the Abuta-Cho pass together. The grade gradually steepened, then the course turned a corner and suddenly it was like climbing a wall. Within the first 100 metres riders were peeling off the back, some of them zigzagging up the road to lessen the grade. The road levelled off slightly for the feed zone, then the next three kilometres were even worse. By the time the riders reached the summit the race was splintered into dozens of tiny groups. Charles Dionne found himself with the lead riders, while Lavalée, Bernard and Choquette followed in a group with two of the well placed Korean riders. In the downhill one of the Koreans went off the road in a sharp, wet curve, and the other was dropped.

The downhill ended next to a huge lake formed in an extinct volcano. The pace was being forced at the front by the Shimano team, who had placed all five riders in the lead group, and by the Miyata Subaru team, who had the leaders jersey. On the narrow, twisty and wet road that ran along the shore the group behind had to chase in earnest, and they finally rejoined the leaders in extremis, with 20 km to go. Nobody else managed to get back up to that lead group.

There were no more major climbs left and the final run in to the finish was downhill, so no one was able to get away from the 40-rider-strong group as it swept past a steaming, still active volcano. The lone remaining Korean in the group, Min-Soo Park, won the sprint ahead of Josh Thornton of the US team.

Charles Dionne got boxed in in a sharp corner 600 m from the finish which spoiled a good leadout from Choquette, but he still managed 8th. Lavallée managed to squirm his way through some tight gaps and finish 7th. By this stroke of fortune Dionne was propulsed back up to second on the points standings. This morale boost will stand the riders in good stead over the next three days. Tomorrow will be important, with more time bonuses and points up for grabs than any other stage. Charles should be able to take the points jersey, and one of the guys could push back into contention for the overall win.

1ST MIN-SOO PARK (KOR) 127.4 km in 3h0440" (avs 41.4 km/h); 2nd J. Thornton (USA); 3rd T. Mizutani (JPN/Nippon Hodo); 4th C. Power (IRL); 5th Vincent Marchais (FRA/Nippon Hodo) . . . all same time
85 riders started, 80 finished

1st HIDETO YUKINARI (JPN/Miyata Subaru) 11h0324"; 2nd M. McNena at 34"; 3rd O. Sumida (JPN/Shimano) at 44"; 4th S. Fukushima (JPN/Bridgestone) at 47"; 5th G. Scott (NZL) at 49"; 6th A. Lavallée (CAN) at 2:03"; 7th A. Bernard (CAN) at 2:08". . .

1st TAKEHIRO MIZUTANI (JPN/Nippon Hodo) 41 pts; 2nd C. Dionne (CAN) 37 pts 3rd M-S. Park (KOR) 33 pts. . .11th A. Lavallée (CAN) 14 pts . . . 13th A. Bernard (CAN) 12 pts . . .

1st OSAMU SUMIDA (JPN/Shimano); 2nd H. Imanishi (JPN/Shimano); 3rd; Michael McNena (IRL). . . equal 15th C. Dionne (CAN) . . . A. Bernard (CAN)

Stage: 1st Ireland; 2nd Canada; 3rd Nippon Hodo . . .
Overall: 1st Nippon Hodo; 2nd Inoac-Deki; 3rd Shimano . . . 5th Canada. . .

19 teams

Stage / Overall
Alexandre Lavalée 7th (same time as winner) / 6th at 2:03"
Pascal Choquette 34th at 5" / 40th at 10:41"
Matt Hansen - / -
Charles Dionne 8th (same time as winner) / 10th at 2:42"
Alexandre Bernard 18th (same time as winner) / 7h at 2:08"


What was it about this stage that made it so hard? An innocuous little circuit race turned into a key stage of the Tour de Hokkaido this year. The attrition rate was high even though it was one of the shortest stages of the race.

The sunlight streamed in through the windows as the riders awoke this morning in the industrial centre of Muroran. It was only a 20-minute drive to the start on the outskirts of the city, where the organizers had found a very particular little circuit. Only 6.1 km a lap, there were no flat sections. While the climb was not all that steep, a strong tailwind made it almost impossible to save energy by drafting, and the downhill on the other side was blasted by a headwind. This made it very difficult to close any gaps that opened on the climb. As the stage was 15 laps long it was far from being an easy day.

To add to the difficulty of the course, the stage had intermediate sprints for points every three laps. The strategy for Canadian rider Charles Dionne was clear, as every point gained would bring him closer to the overall points lead. Going into the stage he was only four points down and he was feeling good.

The race was aggressive from the start, and a few of the weaker riders were dropped on the first lap. Zuezhong Tan, a Chinese racing for the Acom Ravanello team, broke away briefly to take the first points sprint, and Dionne took the pack sprint for second just ahead of Takehiro Mizutani (JPN/Nippon Hodo), the overall points leader. That brought Dionne one point closer to the lead.

Josh Thornton of the US team then took off alone from the pack, building up to a 50 second lead by the sixth lap and the next points sprint. Dionne had to make a big effort in the pack sprint for second but still got beaten by another American, Derek Wilkerson, and only gained one point. Mystified, I asked the US team director if his riders could take it easy on my rider in the sprints, because their riders were not well placed on the overall standings. He replied that they were trying to take points away from Dionne so Thornton could move up on the overall. That seemed like a bit of a long shot because the US rider was almost 20 points behind in 8th spot. Anyway, I didn‚t bother to argue because Thornton was about to get caught by the pack.

Dionne had to make another big effort in the next sprint but was beaten to fourth by Mizutani, bringing his lead back up to three points. The pace suddenly jumped up after that, and a group of three riders drove off the front. The reaction in the pack took all four Canadians by surprise, and a gap suddenly opened in front of them on the climb. Dionne reacted swiftly sprinted across the gap, but Choquette, Bernard and Lavallée let too much space open up in front of them and weren‚t able to close it up.

The leading trio, made up of the Chinese rider Tan, Hidenori Nodera (JPN/Shimano) and Stéphane Boury (FRA/Bridgestone) were riding all out to stay ahead. Their lead was only half a minute at the next and last intermediate sprint, which Tan won. Dionne took it easy and saved his energy for the finish since there were no points left for the pack. Behind, Choquette was chasing strongly but Bernard was slowing and Lavalée was completely blown and struggling just to finish without being lapped and therefore eliminated.

Three laps later the amazing Tan took the sprint for the stage win, ahead of Hidenori and Boury. Only 20 seconds behind the pack sprinted for fourth place, which was taken by Steve Cate (USA), but Dionne put in a gutsy sprint to take fifth, and claim the points jersey.

Choquette came in over four minutes behind with one other rider, while Bernard and Lavalée were fortunate to be caught by a group of a dozen riders and avoid being lapped. They came in together more than nine minutes back.

Tomorrow‚s stage is a particularly difficult one, including the highest pass of the tour. Though the Canadian riders‚ took a beating today, their morale is good and they‚re keen to keep the jersey to the finish. There is still a glimmer of hope for the overall general classification too, as Dionne is still only 2‚39" behind in tenth place.

1ST XUEZHONG TAN (CHI/Acom Ravanello) 91.5 km in 2h25‚42" (avs 37.7 km/h); 2nd N. Hidenori (JPN/Shimano); 3rd S. Boury (FRA/Nippon Hodo) both same time; 4th S. Cate (USA) at 20"; 5th C. Dionne (CAN) same time . . .
80 riders started, 63 finished

1st HIDETO YUKINARI (JPN/Miyata Subaru) 13h29‚26"; 2nd M. McNena at 34"; 3rd O. Sumida (JPN/Shimano) at 44"; 4th S. Fukushima (JPN/Bridgestone) at 45"; 5th G. Scott (NZL) at 49" . . .

1st CHARLES DIONNE (CAN) 53 pts; 2nd T. Mizutani (JPN/Nippon Hodo) 47 pts 3rd T. Xuezhong (CHI/Acom Ravanello) 46 pts. . .16th A. Lavallée (CAN) 15 pts . . . 19th A. Bernard (CAN) 12 pts . . .

1st OSAMU SUMIDA (JPN/Shimano); 2nd H. Imanishi (JPN/Shimano); 3rd; Michael McNena (IRL). . . equal 15th C. Dionne (CAN) . . . A. Bernard (CAN)

Stage: 1st Acom Ravanello; 2nd Shimano; 3rd Bridgestone Anchor . . . 12th Canada . . .
Overall: 1st Shimano; 2nd Nippon Hodo; 3rd Inoac Deki . . . 9th Canada. . .

19 teams

Stage / Overall
Alexandre Lavalée 58th at 9‚21" / 33rd at 11‚02"
Pascal Choquette 42nd at 4‚33" / 39th at 14‚54"
Matt Hansen - / -
Charles Dionne 5th at 20" 10th at 2‚39"
Alexandre Bernard 59th at 9‚21" / 34th at 11‚09"

Manager: Kris Westwood
Mechanic: Bruno Roy
Masseuse:Karine Jaouen


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