Tour de Tama lives up to billing
Stars and Stripes June 2, 2003
TAMA HILLS RECREATION CENTER, Japan — Eagle 810-AM radio billed the biannual Tour de Tama, the only mountain bike race staged on a U.S. Forces Japan installation, as “not for the faint of heart.”
After Saturday’s race, few of the tired, drenched competitors would have been willing to argue.
“That pretty much sums it up,” said Matthew Butts, a 25-year-old staff sergeant with Yokota Air Base’s 374th Logistical Readiness Squadron.
Butts and 56 other American and Japanese cyclists braved steep up-and-down slopes and slick conditions brought on by downpours — spawned by Tropical Storm Linfa — that began as racers started their warmup paces.
“We had great weather all week, and sure as fate, it rained. Never fails,” said Albert “Tico” Porras of Yokota’s 374th Services outdoor recreation division, which co-sponsored the race, which is held every May and November.
Grouped into four divisions — men’s elite, men’s open, men’s masters and women’s open — the competitors raced along a muddy course that circles the recreation center. Men’s elite cyclists completed three, 3.1-mile laps; the other divisions raced two.
The sloppy conditions forced most riders to hop off and push their bikes uphill. And some, such as Trey Norris, crashed going downhill. Norris skidded down a slope near the end and tumbled over his handlebars.
“I think I broke my finger,” he said while holding his hand up for inspection.
“I think we should strap on ice skates,” added Norris, 25, a unit mate of Butts and fellow staff sergeant. “The intensity and frequency of incline, decline and course conditions make this tough. To finish, you have to stay determined, don’t let it get to you and stay on your bike.”
Just finishing the race “is an accomplishment in itself,” Butts said.
Rick McCoy of R&R Cycles, a race co-sponsor, said the course’s difficulty wasn’t accidental. He spent the past week at Tama designing the course and making changes that made the route tougher than before.
“When the course is dry, it can really roll,” said McCoy, a former Air Force security policeman at both Yokota and Okinawa’s Kadena Air Base.
“On-and-off rain, the dirt gets really sticky and builds up on the bike. If it stays wet, it’ll fall off pretty easily. Best that it stays raining.”
As rain fell, disappointments mounted for Butts and others like him, who fell victim to equipment woes.
Chris Lumb had it particularly rough. During a warmup run, he tried and failed to scale one of the hills, cursing and kicking his bike as it seemed to quit under him. He later suffered a flat tire.
“I was going to try to fix the tire, but I had mud all over my hands, the rain kept coming down, it was a mess,” said the 29-year-old staff sergeant with Yokota’s 374th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. “It’s disappointing.”
Meanwhile, a flat tire forced Butts to the start area for repairs. But just as he was putting the wheel back on, a wheel hanger fell off and ended his Tour de Tama bid.
“Oh well,” he said. “Better look forward to November, I guess.”