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The Expert Division race gets under way Saturday during the 20th Tour de Tama Mountain Bike Race at Tama Hills Recreation Center, Japan.
The Expert Division race gets under way Saturday during the 20th Tour de Tama Mountain Bike Race at Tama Hills Recreation Center, Japan. (Vince Little / S&S)
The Expert Division race gets under way Saturday during the 20th Tour de Tama Mountain Bike Race at Tama Hills Recreation Center, Japan.
The Expert Division race gets under way Saturday during the 20th Tour de Tama Mountain Bike Race at Tama Hills Recreation Center, Japan. (Vince Little / S&S)
Lt. Cmdr. Sean Easley of Naval Air Facility Atsugi, winner of the Masters Division (Men's Over 35) on Saturday, sprays champagne on the victory stand at the 20th Tour de Tama Mountain Bike Race. He's flanked by runner-up Takeaki Shimazaki, right, and third-place finisher Minoru Matsuzaki.
Lt. Cmdr. Sean Easley of Naval Air Facility Atsugi, winner of the Masters Division (Men's Over 35) on Saturday, sprays champagne on the victory stand at the 20th Tour de Tama Mountain Bike Race. He's flanked by runner-up Takeaki Shimazaki, right, and third-place finisher Minoru Matsuzaki. (Vince Little / S&S)

TAMA HILLS RECREATION CENTER, Japan — The rugged 5K course didn’t seem quite as daunting as in the past. Minus the rain that typically accompanies this race, it certainly wasn’t as slippery.

Still, there were plenty of thrills — and a few spills — to be found Saturday during the 20th running of the Tour de Tama Mountain Bike Race.

The biannual event drew a record 123 riders, mostly Japanese locals, who battled in five divisions: Expert, Men’s Open, Masters (Men’s Over 35), Women’s and Rookie. However, the field also featured entries from the four major Tokyo-area military installations — Yokota Air Base, Camp Zama, Yokosuka Naval Base and Naval Air Facility Atsugi.

They included Lt. Cmdr. Sean Easley of Atsugi, who captured the Masters title in only his second appearance at the Tour de Tama, finishing in 36:01 to win by a margin of almost two minutes. He was the runner-up a year ago.

Expert competitors had to lap the course four times, while all others went around twice.

Race director Joe Heinrichs, head of Yokota’s Outdoor Recreation department, said the layout remained the same from last November.

Among the track favorites still in place: A steep climb called “Water Tower Hill” at roughly the furthest point from the start line and the infamous “double-dip” toward the end where most crashes occur. Riders also rave about “bamboo forest,” a tunnel lined by trees, and pass over several bridges on the course.

“There’s lots of scenery and history along the way,” Heinrichs said. “It takes your mind off the pain a little bit.

“We had great weather today. It was a little cooler, but not freezing cold like it would be on a rainy day … There are some really good riders out here.”

And, as always, several first-time competitors, too.

Staff Sgt. Amber Koehler of Yokota’s 730th Air Mobility Squadron made her debut in the Women’s Division and wound up sixth.

“I enjoyed it,” said Koehler, 25, of Twin Falls, Idaho. “At least I didn’t come in last, so I can’t complain … I’m gonna try to train some before next time so I don’t have to walk (uphill) so much.”

“There’s two uphills you have to walk,” added her husband, Clint, 27, of Orem, Utah. “It’s challenging but really fun … I gotta do better next time, but we’ll be back out for sure.”

Capt. David Boyer of Yokota’s 36th Airlift Squadron was appearing in his second Tour de Tama. He took third in the Rookie Division.

“The course is fun and it’s good exercise,” said Boyer, 32, of San Diego. “I love mountain biking. I would do it every day if I could.

“Last year, it was more muddy. It was a lot easier to turn today, a lot easier to manage.”

Tech. Sgt. Hunter Compton, 35, of Troy, Ala., who also works for the 36th Airlift Squadron, was another second-time rider Saturday. He says Americans on base should take advantage of this difficult but unique event.

“You see Japan in a different way,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity to get out and enjoy the outdoors.”

The Tour de Tama began in 1997. A $25 entry fee includes a T-shirt, door prizes and steak lunch provided by Tama Hills Lodge.

Tour de Tama XX Mountain Bike Race

A look at the top finishers in Saturday’s Tour de Tama XX Mountain Bike Race, held at Tama Hills Recreation Center, Japan:

Rookie Division (10K)

Hiromichi Kanatsuka, 52:422.Felipe Vasquez, 53:15David Boyer, 56:08Women’s Division (10K)

Rie Fujita, 46:51Teruwa Sunaga, 53:39Tomoko Isojima, 57:51Top U.S. finisher: Amber Koehler, Yokota Air Base, 1:22:32

Masters Division – Men’s Over 35 (10K)

Sean P. Easley, 36:01Takeaki Shimazaki, 37:58Minoru Matsuzaki, 41:30Men’s Open (10K)

Mitsuo Okutsu, 39:28Kiyoshi Sakurazawa, 40:42Eitaro Tominaga, 41:00Top U.S. finisher: David Ruehling, 43:28

Expert Division (20K)*

Shintaro Nakama, 1:07:22Seiji Yamabe, 1:09:23Koji Muto, 1:13:55*Note: No U.S. entries in Expert Division

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