While winter in Niseko, Hokkaido’s top ski resort, is still far from over, a lot of people in and outside of Japan are looking forward to the summer in this small town famous for its Champagne powder snow (See picture below).
Of course, these folks are none other than cyclists. They are counting the days till the second weekend of July when the UCI Niseko Classic 2017 is scheduled to take place.
Sanctioned by the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale), the world governing body for cycling sports, as part of the UCI Gran Fondo World Series, one of the most important international competitions for amateur bicycle racers, the Niseko Classic is open to all non-professional roadies above the age of 16. The top 25% of finishers in each age group, except those below the age of 18, will be qualified to apply for the series’ final competition, the Gran Fondo World Championships, to be held in Albi, southern France, on August 24-27.
For amateur racers in Thailand and other regional countries who missed the recent Tour of Bintan in Indonesia, the Niseko Classic is the only remaining Gran Fondo qualifier in Asia. There are still more than three months to train and get travel plans ready.
But what about riders who have no ambition to join the world championships? Should the Niseko Classic be of any interest?
As someone who has been to Niseko both in and off its ski season, my answer to those questions is a big yes.
Niseko, and Hokkaido as a whole, is one of my favourite destinations. It stands out from the rest of Japan, the country loved by Thais, mainly due to the fact that in this northernmost main island nature still rules. Unlike Bintan or Bangkok, Niseko is far from the tropics. So in July when the Niseko Classic takes place, day temperatures will average around 21 degrees Celsius, which makes cycling pleasant. Unless it rains on race days, participants will enjoy Niseko’s fresh air and vitalising green scenery dominated by the town’s iconic cone-shaped volcano Mt Yotei. If you have never fallen in love with a mountain, in Niseko you will.
This year, the Niseko Classic offers two routes, one is 140km long with 2,362m of vertical difference and the other 70km long with 1,125m vertical difference. Those who wish to qualify for the world championships, of course, must take the longer route.
On steep or level ground the ride will be smooth.The nicely paved Japanese roads that make up the racecourses will be closed to normal traffic on July 9, which is race day. (July 8 is set for registration and meetings.)
After the event, or even before it if you wish to make the most of your visit to Niseko, make sure you explore the area’s pristine wilderness. Hiking and mountain biking trails, both cross-country and downhill, are available on Mt Annupuri, which is also home to ski slopes. Soaking yourself in one of the several onsens is a great way to end a day of epic riding and Japanese dining.
This is not to mention other must-go places in Hokkaido such as Otaru and Sapporo. Make sure you have a few days for them, too.
Well, see you here again next Thursday. If you have questions, news or biking insights to share, email email@example.com or go to Freewheel Bangkok community page on Facebook.