Pro Cycling

Neutral Zone | Ryota Nishizono

Regular readers will have first seen Ryota Nishizono pop up on Cycling iQ during last year’s Tour of Japan. Then riding for Bridgestone Anchor, Ryota went on to win his country’s elite men’s time trial championships before being picked up by ProContinental team, Champion System Pro Cycling, before the start of the 2013 season.

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Images: Sonoko Tanaka

I’m racing with a ProContinental team on home soil this month. I could not have thought of this situation one year ago. I want to do my best in every race, so I don’t feel a special type of pressure just because I’m racing here in Japan.

Our team is registered in China, but I don’t feel like it’s a “Chinese” team. The team culture is not one country’s culture. It’s not French-style, Italian-style, Spanish-style… it’s global style. It’s very neutral, so I don’t feel like it’s “different”. Of course, recently some of our home countries – Japan, Korea, China – have problems politically, but sports are a different story. We never talk about the political problems; we are cyclists, good friends and we help each other in races.

I was very surprised that top riders like Matt (Brammeier, ex-OPQS/HTC) and Chad (Beyer, ex-BMC) are very friendly. I always thought top riders were a bit, well, difficult. They are surprisingly friendly. I always try to speak to them in English and I think they value my attitude. I have a very good relationship with them. There is a good harmony in the team. Some of us lack the experience, but riders like Bobby (Traksel) and Matt tell us how to behave in the European peloton. It’s great for us. We can show up in big races like the Flanders classics and Giro del Trentino [CiQ: Ryota finished 57th on GC] – a very high level – and we can see directly the top riders like Sagan or Gilbert. Sure, it’s very hard racing but, in some parts, we can compete.

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At the first 2013 Champion System Pro Cycling Team training camp, Agoura Hills, California. Image courtesy of VeloImages (www.veloimages.com)

I finished several big races in Europe and I can have a much better experience than at a continental-level UCI2.2 or 1.2 race. In higher-class races, it is very decent racing. By that I mean there are no crazy attacks or crazy, dangerous riding; the riders in Europe know what job they need to do and they take no unnecessary risks. It’s much better to ride the higher-category races in Europe. Whether the style of racing in the UCI AsiaTour becomes calmer depends on how many riders go to Europe to race and then return to race in Asia.

I heard the news about Miguel Ubeto Aponte [CiQ: the Lampre-Merida rider from Venezuela was originally on the Tour of Japan start list, but was provisionally suspended last week for an Adverse Analytical Finding of GW1516 ] from my Directeur Sportif. After that moment, I read Tyler Hamilton’s ‘The Secret Race’ and I had very complex feelings. There’s a gradation of sin. Some riders are just f—–s who commit crimes, but even “good” guys turn to doping. Before reading Hamilton’s book, I thought he was a f—–g bad guy before reading the book, but I can also see there is a gradation of criminality. I don’t know how bad the Lampre guy is, so I won’t try to distinguish him from others. I want to read more detail before I make any further comments about him personally.

I feel that at the highest level of cycling, the riders are cleaner. At Trentino, I felt the strength of the top riders, like Nibali, or Santambrogio. Sure they are strong, but I don’t feel like they are “space beings”. I think in the old days, the doped riders were extra-terrestrial. In Nibali’s case, I feel like he has worked very hard, but he is also a human being. You can see that the top guys also get tired and are just trying to do the best job, so surely the peloton is getting cleaner. But, I was also at the Tour du Maroc last year, where I saw some space beings. One of them was Ivailo Gabrovsky (Konya Torku Seker Sport). After Maroc, he went to the Tour of Turkey, which he won, but then he was caught for doping. So, I believe doping is still happening. One of the big questions is why some strong riders from the AsiaTour don’t go to the ProTour…

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Ryota before the start of the 2012 Tour of Japan’s last stage. Behind the broad and easy smile is a total disciplinarian with an intelligence and determination that will see him go far.

In last year’s Tour of Japan, the biggest problem was I got a fever on the morning of the Mt Fuji stage. Even surviving was so hard for me that day. Luckily, I recovered overnight and I could work for my team leader, my former team-mate from Bridgestone Anchor, who is also racing this year. Last year, spring races were very hard and it was difficult to focus on the Tour of Japan. I was tired when I arrived. Compared to last year, I have a very relaxed schedule, almost one month from Trentino.

Statistically, my power data shows my form is getting better. I graduated in Engineering Mathematics from the technical department at University of Tokyo [CiQ: Ryota wrote his thesis on computer architecture], so I know the basics of physics and statistics. I love researching sports science topics, and also using power meters because it is the best way to objectively evaluate performance and control my training. Sometimes it’s very hard, because numbers are very honest – you can’t just stop when you’re feeling tired.

I have very good coaches; Katsuyuki Kakinoki (柿木 克之), who is a pioneer in Japanese power training and his brother Takayuki (柿木 孝之), who is also a former professional cyclist and Japanese National ITT champion. Dr Katsuyuki’s major is in Chemical Engineering [CiQ: he also wrote a book on cycling]. Takayuki makes my training schedule but Katsuyuki also often gives me advice.

It’s a little bit of a secret (laughing), but I can produce around 378 watts for 20 minutes; so almost 6 W/kg. This is enough for this (AsiaTour) level and ProContinental level. I heard Nibali and other top riders can produce this power:weight ratio for 40 minutes in the last part of a race. When I’m relatively fresh, I can produce this for 20 minutes, so the level of top riders is very high! My maximum power is very poor (laughs), just 1,100 watts. My weight is between 63-64 kilograms. I’m definitely an all-rounder who likes time-trialling.

Sometimes, I’m called Arashiro or Doi in the European races! But, I try to help by saying, “No, I’m Nishizono”! (laughs). I don’t know why, but at least they notice I’m Japanese! Of course, cycling isn’t a major sport in Japan; people in the local cycling world know me, but only the bike shop guys in the small town I’m from recognize me when I’m at home.

It’s a very special feeling to wear the National Champion jersey. At the same time I feel I have to show the strength of Japanese riders, especially in the European races. If I make a poor result, other people may think Japanese riders are weak time-triallists, so I am also fighting for the reputation of Japanese riders.

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