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It’s a veritable certainty that Chimera-kun and Kyoto Fushimi are going to crash this party, but for now the dance floor belongs to HakoGaku and Sohouku.  And they’ve been dance partners pretty much at every turn since Yowamushi Pedal began.  Some of the faces have changed but the core dynamic has not.  Hakone dictates the ebb and flow of the race, with Souhoku perpetually reacting and struggling to survive.  Souhoku performs best when on the brink  – it seems they can’t reach their potential except in the face of adversity.  Last time around that resulted in a win – it remains to be seen if the cycle will repeat itself.

Hakone has made something of an unorthodox choice in making a sprinter captain.  But then, they’re one up on Souhoku – they made a mediocrity their captain.  That’s not a dig, it’s just the unvarnished truth – Teshima is mediocre.  He’s a mediocre rider and a mediocre strategist.  Izumida seems to have passed off strategic control on the climbs (where the race is won and lost) to Kuroda, in deference to his being a climber – or perhaps because he’s simply a better tactician.  Teshima has made no such allowances, though it’s clear any of the second-year trio have a better strategic sense than he does.  And that once more costs Souhoku here (as it already has many times in this inter-high).

Kuroda has certainly outsmarted Teshima in the run-up to this final ascent.  With a 2.5 km flat section (in Kusatsu Onsen) between the main climbs, Teshima relaxes, assuming that will be the opportunity for everyone to rest up for the final brutal climb.  But this is why HakoGaku has been pulling Izumida –  a sprinter – along for this last ride.  The plan is to use Abu to pull at maximum pace on the flat section, banking on Souhoku (who have no sprinters left) being unable to keep up.  And Abu, preposterous as he is, can seriously sprint.  With no reason to hold anything back, he can unleash Andy and Frank in all their glory.

Not just them, either.  His back muscles are Fabian (Cancellara, the Swiss time trialing legend).  And his quads?  Those are Mark (all-time winningest sprinter Cavendish) and Peter (current green jersey beast Sagan, originally a sprinter but developing into an impressive all-rounder).  Once the quads are unleashed, though, that’s that – they’re Izumida’s “final muscles”, the last stage rocket if you will.  It’s Imaizumi-kun at the head of the Souhoku pack when Peter and Mark’s assault begins, and he can’s match Abu’s acceleration on the flats.  By the time the final climb begins, Hakone seems to have carved out about a 5-700 meter cushion.

That would normally be pretty hard to make up under these circumstances, but given Souhoku’s love of danger they’ve basically got HakoGaku exactly where they want them.  It’s striking how irrelevant their captain is.  Sakamichi, Naruko, and Imaizumi are too grounded to let it show, but they’re clearly ignoring Teshima at this point.  It’s Onoda who takes the initial challenge of pulling, using his legendary cadence climbing to drag the others in his wake.  Given that Hakone would never risk tiring Manami out by having him pull aggressively at the very start of the climb, this gives Souhoku a chance to narrow the gap (which they do, of the race official’s car is anything to go by), though perhaps at a cost to Onoda-kun.

Interestingly, we still don’t technically know who actually is going to ride for the goal for these times.  It’s easy to assume it’d be Onoda and Manami but Hakone’s final four are all climbers (though Yuuto isn’t really an ace candidate), and Imaizumi is theoretically Souhoku’s all-rounder.  I don’t know what Teshima’s supposed plan to have Sakamichi surrender the ace role after the inter-high is all about.  But I do know that I don’t want Teshima making any decisions about the second-year main trio – he’s has neither the nous or the earned right to do that.


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