• Japan In Focus

Residents aim to create ‘kingdom’ of cycle racing

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Riders push hard during the first stage of the Tour de Kumano in Shingu, Wakayama Prefecture, on May 27.

SHINGU, Wakayama — The sound of dozens of bicycle wheels echoes over the clear Akagi River that runs through the city of Shingu, Wakayama Prefecture. Riders in colorful jerseys whip dangerously toward me, before passing by with a roar and a gust of wind.

At 10 a.m. on May 27, for the first time in three years, the Tour de Kumano, one of the major bike races in Japan, at last began. Due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 and 2021 tours were cancelled.

Yoshitoshi Kadoguchi, 70, the chairman of the organizing committee, was watching the riders pass through.

“I’m glad we are able to hold the race. I’m so happy,” he said.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Tour de Kumano is one of five international cycling road races in Japan sanctioned by the International Cycling Union, the world governing body for cycling races. It is held in the Kumano region that straddles the prefectures of Wakayama and Mie. This year, about 100 riders from 18 teams competed in the three-stage race, covering a total distance of 322.8 kilometers over three days.

The first Tour de Kumano began in 1999 as a result of Kadoguchi’s initiative. Kadoguchi runs Kinan Co., a rental and sales company for construction machinery based in Shingu. He proposed and planned a bike race as a local revitalization measure to coincide with a regional expo held that year.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kinan Co. Chairman Yoshitoshi Kadoguchi discusses his passion for the Tour de Kumano.

“I thought the region, with its low traffic volume and many ups and downs, was ideal for a bicycle race,” Kadoguchi said.

He requested permission from the police to use the roads and called on his business partners for their cooperation in holding the event. After six months of preparation, he managed to hold the first event, but at the time, the roadblocks did not work well. He had to stop cars in a hurry and ask the drivers to wait until the bikes finished passing. He even gave a driver his own lunch to eat while waiting.

Disaster threatened the 2012 event. In the aftermath of the large-scale flooding that occurred the previous year, part of the course was closed to traffic. Nevertheless, the route was hastily changed and the event was somehow pulled off.

“We have worked together with the local community, and I think everyone has a sense that this is ‘our event,’” Kadoguchi said. He emphasized how proud he is of the local residents, who take on traffic control for the bike race events without pay. Since labor costs can be broadly kept down, the budget for each event has been between ¥20 million and ¥30 million.

“If it is not feasible, it will not continue. It’s just like a business,” he said. In addition to the 300 people involved in organizing the event, a total of 1,500 volunteers participate over the three days, contributing greatly to the revitalization of the local community.

The Kinan Racing Team, whose main sponsor is Kadoguchi’s company, also participated in the Tour de Kumano. Masaki Yamamoto, 26, a member of the team, moved to Shingu because it offers a good environment for training. He is now a member of the home team for the Tour de Kumano.

“Children in this area have been riding road bikes since they were little. This is probably because they get hands-on experience in bicycle racing,” Kadoguchi said. He hopes that many people in the area will enjoy cycling for their whole lives.

Kinan, a word used in the names of Kadoguchi’s company and its racing team, refers to the southern part of the Kii Peninsula, where Wakayama and Mie prefectures are located. In the Wakayama section of Kinan, other bicycle-related events are also planned for this year in the towns of Susami and Kozagawa.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Riders cross the finish line of the first stage.

“Once you ride a bike in Kinan, you will want to do it again. That’s the charm of the Kinan area,” Kadoguchi said. He waits for the day that the pandemic subsides, when riders will come from overseas again and the race will be all the more spectacular.