Each season for the past three years, several high profile riders fly all the way to Japan to take part in the season-ending Saitama Criterium – organised by ASO.
Often, though, the actual cycling takes a bit of a back seat to the pre-race festivities, in which the riders take part in traditional Japanese customs, visiting places of interest and generally getting in the spirit of being in Japan.
In the inaugural edition in 2013, riders visited a bonsai museum, full of tiny trees, and a high school, full of massive sumo wrestlers.
In 2014, riders were taken to a massive shop, where Vincenzo Nibali looked at some hardware, while teammate Valerio Agnoli picked up some Lego…
This year’s ‘place of interest’ was a railroad museum, where riders took a trip on one of Japan’s famous high-speed trains. It wasn’t as exciting as it sounds, looking at the faces of Joaquim Rodriguez, John Degenkolb and Romain Bardet in the picture below.
In 2013 we were treated to the sight of Froome in sumo wrestling attire, but still, for some reason, wearing his Team Sky bib shorts. This year the riders had a go at Japanese archery.
Rodriguez, Bardet, Degenkolb and Froome dressed up as archers and fired a few shots – Froome got a special yellow costume, presumably to mark his Tour de France win.
After all the fun and games, the riders got back to an environment they were more accustomed to – a press conference, and even Bernard Hinault showed up.
Now, when’s the actual race?