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Riders negotiate sharp hills and down-slopes in Saturday’s Tour de Tama race. A field of 84 riders competed in five different categories.
Riders negotiate sharp hills and down-slopes in Saturday’s Tour de Tama race. A field of 84 riders competed in five different categories. (Stacy Chandler / S&S)
Riders negotiate sharp hills and down-slopes in Saturday’s Tour de Tama race. A field of 84 riders competed in five different categories.
Riders negotiate sharp hills and down-slopes in Saturday’s Tour de Tama race. A field of 84 riders competed in five different categories. (Stacy Chandler / S&S)
Riders in the rookie and women’s categories await the signal to start the Tour de Tama mountain bike race Saturday morning at the Tama Hills Recreation Area west of Tokyo.
Riders in the rookie and women’s categories await the signal to start the Tour de Tama mountain bike race Saturday morning at the Tama Hills Recreation Area west of Tokyo. (Stacy Chandler / S&S)

TAMA HILLS RECREATION CENTER, Japan — It was a beautiful day for a bicycle ride. At least until the terrain took over.

Steep inclines, muddy slopes and delicate downhill turns marked Saturday’s Tour de Tama XVII Mountain Bike Race, in which 84 people battled in five divisions: Rookie, Women’s Open, Men’s Over 35, Men’s Open and Expert. Chills, thrills, even a few spills: The 5K course offered them all, something for every two-wheeling weekend warrior.

“That’s the nature of how Tama Hills lays out,” said Joe Heinrichs, head of Yokota Air Base’s Outdoor Recreation Department and the race director. “A variety of trails with cross country, jumps and single trails — there’s a lot of flavor, and I think riders get a little bit of everything.”

Each year the course is modified to give riders something new. The two new features this time: a double drop at the beginning and an uphill portion later. The area’s soft ground traditionally makes the trek rather difficult, though Heinrichs designed it so riders mostly climbed on asphalt and gravel while negotiating dirt on downhill runs.

Expert riders had to lap the course four times; all others circled it twice.

“Six miles doesn’t sound like a lot but when you put hills into it, it can be tough,” Heinrichs said. “But we tried to make it more user-friendly. … It’s a ride as much as it is a race. … We try to create a family atmosphere to get everyone out here.”

The Tour de Tama began in 1997 and is staged in both the spring and fall. A $25 entry fee includes a T-shirt, door prizes and steak lunch after the race.

The field always has included several first-time competitors.

First Lt. Jamie Turner, 25, a C-21 pilot with Yokota’s 459th Airlift Squadron, was among them. She captured first in the Women’s Division with a time of 40:45.

“I just came out to have fun,” she said. “Winning wasn’t something I set out to do. It took a lot longer than I expected a 5K to be. That was about the same time I run it in."

After a morning practice run, Turner said, she realized she was in for a challenge: “Some of the hills going down were scary. There were a lot of places going up where you had to walk. … Not even the experts could ride. It was more like running your bike up the hill. They had stairs built into the mud. No way.”

Airman 1st Class Adam Kates, 374th Civil Engineer Squadron, took up mountain biking just six months ago but managed to place third in the Rookie Division.

“I figured I’d give it a shot and see what it’s all about,” he said. “It was incredible. I love the course design. It was a little muddy here and there but there’s not much you can do about that.”

Some inclines were more treacherous than others. Just ask Capt. Tad Woolfe, another C-21 pilot with the 459th Airlift Squadron, who took three minor tumbles during the Men’s Open race and crossed the finish line with muddy elbows and knees.

“The bike slid out from underneath me on sharp turns in the mud and my back tire slid out,” Woolfe said. “I’ve got a small cut on my knee. Nothing major. … [But] it was very tiring, kinda like climbing Mount Fuji in 40 minutes — instead of six hours.”

Tour de Tama XVII Mountain Bike Race

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

Rookie Division (10K)

Masaki Nagayoshi, 40:35.Staff Sgt. John Thomas, 374th Medical Support Squadron, 43:24.Airman 1st Class Adam Kates, 374th Civil Engineer Squadron, 43:49.Women’s Open Division (10K)

1st Lt. Jamie Turner, 459th Airlift Squadron, 40:45.Shoko Asami, 40:52.Reiko Kinoshita, 43:15.Men’s Over-35 Division (10K)

Naori Isooka, 40:46.Hiroyuki Kaijo, 41:55.Yasutaro Doi, 42:06.Top American finisher: Spence Palmer, Pacific Stars and Stripes, 42:30.

Men’s Open Division (10K)

Toshi Kazu, 38:47.Junji Icheida, 40:10.Atsushi Kojima, 40:15.Top American finisher: Staff Sgt. Christopher Looney, 374th Maintenance Squadron, 54:45.

Expert Division (20K)

Keiichiro Muraoka, 1:09:47.Tomotaka Igarashi, 1:10:21.Yutaka Inagaki, 1:12:42.Top American finisher: Michael Rice, Yokohama National University teacher, 1:22:51.

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