DEER HUNTER in Tateshina

Ski slope descent

In Summer of 2019 Bikelore ran their first gravel race in the mountains of Tateshina, one of the Yatsugatake peaks. The location and format were similar to Grinduro a few weeks later, but on a much smaller scale. It took a lot more than 30 seconds to sell out!

Registration closed before I signed up, and when I asked the organizers if there was another way to secure a position they opened it up again.

There was no way to get from Osaka to the race entry desk by 9AM so I spent the night in a hotel by Lake Suwa. The first problem was finding a spot to park my bike - the entire parking area was covered in spider webs and other bugs. Fortunately, they put my bike in the back room where there were probably fewer spiders.

Loaded OPEN U.P.

The first hour and a bit of the next day were spent riding up to the camp site serving as the base for the entire event. With a loaded bike it was a pain but I had plenty of time. After completing my race entry I had time to set up my tent before gathering for the start. Unfortunately the food stalls weren’t yet set up; snacks would have to wait.

The format was 3 race segments with untimed transit sections in between. First and second segments had synchronized starts and time bonuses depending on placing; the final time used for placing would be the time for the third segment minus the bonuses. Another bonus was available for anyone who got a photo of a deer during the day.

Callup and initial briefing were fairly chill. Somebody did yell “Start” but the racing wasn’t going to begin for a while and the first transit was a group ride. The ramp out of the camp site was a nasty slope and there was no reason to push but when somebody yells “Start” at you, what do you do? The pace from there was mellow, just right for waking up properly and getting warmed up.

A few kilometres later the leader stopped us at a gate to explain the first segment. There would be a bit of a climb followed by another gate. We were to stop at the gate and the first segment would start there. He also made a comment to the effect that starting order would be the order we arrived in, so the approach was also effectively a race segment. Whoever was at the front didn’t seem to get the full message and went straight through the gate. By the time the leader and myself arrived there was nobody around so I rolled into the first race for the day.

The first segment was a forest road. Mostly uphill with a few flat and downhill segments. Most notable was a guy with a front basket - it looked like it wouldn’t stay attached while bashing around offroad. He passed it to one of the organizers after making it out.

At the exit another of the race staff was handing out placing chips to the riders. Right behind her was a van, apparently high-centered on the corner of a field. It sounds like some other riders helped get it out but I didn’t hear exactly what happened.

Next was the long transit up to the base of the Pilatus gondola. There was plenty of time but we were warned not to dawdle too much as missing it would result in skipping the downhill section. All uphill but in scenic Tateshina it’s worth it.

Gondola Station carpark

I arrived at the gondola station with time to spare so put my bike down and went exploring. A stall outside had kokemomo icecream on sale - a fruit I’d not heard of anywhere (turns out it’s lingonberry). With more time to kill I went for lunch inside, then had a lingonberry juice (that stuff is tasty), then more time to kill. There are worse places to hang out.

Final gravel slope

All the riders assembled below the gondola for a briefing. The final downhill chute was visible to the side and through the briefing the sound of air being let out of tyres never stopped.

Getting to the top was easier than riding but still a challenge. A gondola built for 100 people, filled with 43 people, 42 bikes and a huge butterfly. By standing up all the bikes and squishing in we made it without having to sit any bikes on top. It was a relief decompressing at the top.

Deer corpse

The top gondola station was a handy spot to get the requisite deer photo. A deer seemed to have run into a fence and died - there was no condition the photo was of a living deer so quite a few racers got their photo there. 15 second bonus!

At the top of the slope we had a final briefing before the start call. Not much to say, other than to prioritize getting down alive. Unlike the first segment there was only a few seconds of time bonus available so there was no good reason to go too hard.

Downhill section start

The opening chute was pretty sedate and most of the riders figured out pretty quickly that the grass at the sides of the run was easier to ride than the gravel in the middle. Most steep gravel sections were filled with gravel bike riders walking their bikes down, including me.

Near the bottom of the downhill was a wooden bench with a photographer milling around. Presumably a tribute to Salsa’s chaise . A bike stand had been prepared but it was beyond useless - it kept dropping bikes.

After the downhill was a short transit to the final time trial zone. Apparently it was a closed road used for a Toyota Gazoo racing event.

The chain blocking off the final race segment was meant to be lowered but something went wrong and it was left up. After going around the rope I stopped a little way before the timing sensor and set up for the main race segment of the day. Only 5km so no need for water - hydration pack hose got folded back into my frame bag. Didn’t want the magnetic clip coming loose and flopping into the front wheel. Enough tree cover that my cycling cap wouldn’t be needed - into a pocket somewhere. Camera into the bag too - even if I’m not going to podium, a race is a race.

Nothing left but to climb.

The course was formed up by a loop, then a twisting climb, then another loop before the exit. Approaching the exit of the first loop it wasn’t completely clear which way to go - straight through or past the barrier blocking half the road. A photographer helpfully pointed at the barrier, so that was probably the way. The turn at the top was easier to understand. The descent back to the start was fairly straightforward, but the turn back into the climb was on loose gravel and fairly sharp. Still, it was a race - lean in harder than I would normally do on tarmac, then start stomping the pedals as soon as the bike was pointed in roughly the right direction. It felt like both wheels were still finding traction but as usual the U.P. got it figured out and pushed through.

The rest of the climb was uneventful. Follow the orange Strava flags, look for the clean lines, chase down the next rider, try not to explode. It’s always a relief when another rider moves aside - it means you’re probably on a good line, and not going too slowly. The loop at the top followed the same pattern as the bottom with the half-blocked road so there was no confusion there. The descent on the loop provided a brief respite before the final climb to the end of the segment. After a brief sprint (mostly for show) there was finally a chance to collapse in a bush and cool off for a bit. Returning the timing chip could wait.

Cruising downhill

After getting some water and dropping the ankle band in the collection box the final task was to get back to the camp site and report back in. Technically there wasn’t much time left until the deadline but there had been several delays for the gondola so the staff said not to worry. The weather was perfect for cruising the 9km downhill back towards the campsite. After missing a turn I stopped to check my GPS. The way back appeared to be behind me but another sign pointed to a waterfall about 300 meters down a different side road. It wasn’t hard to choose a direction.


A short ride and staircase later the sound of rushing water promised something a little better than the usual small waterfalls in the mountains here. There was a short staircase to hike down but it was no match for my SPD shoes. A sign by the waterfall reported “20,000 minus ions per cc”… according to the local tourism association.

Finally, only the cruise (uphill) back to the camp site remained. I turned in my placing chips, showed the deer photo for the 15 second bonus and put my bike up for the day. All that remained was sampling the breweries and restaurants who had set up stalls while dodging bloodflies and waiting for the race results.

In the end, I finished 11th on the Strava placings and 18th on the timing chip rankings.

The next morning I signed up for a cyclocross race right inside the camp ground. During the sighting lap things went a bit sideways. A short, sharp descent that started on tarmac turned to gravel well before it flattened out and transitioned to dirt. When I went to brake for the dirt the tarmac had already ended and the front wheel locked. My focus went straight to the short stakes marking the course in the dirt while my mind went to damage to my limited edition frame. Somehow the bike found both its wheels and came to a stop as if nothing happened… outside the course tape. It was only a sighting lap so no problems.

The actual race was uneventful. Most of it was spent being chased by a mountain bike, then trying to catch him after getting passed. Just a small, weird race in the central Japan alps.

After the awards for that race, the final event of the weekend began - getting back home before the incoming typhoon shut down the trains. Highest stakes of the whole weekend! (From Nagoya, the trains up to Tokyo were gone but down to Osaka was still fine. Made it home eventually.)

From some other racers:

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長野県蓼科で初開催されたHUB BIKELORE に参加してきました。 いつものバイクロアなら初日はビール飲んで会場内のレースをひやかすくらいのユルめスタートだけど、この日は企画段階から話題になってたバイクロアだけのスペシャルなグラベルレース “DeerHunter”に出走。 コースプロフィール説明でも ・これまでバイクを乗せたことがない北八ヶ岳ロープウエイに特別運行してもらいこの日だけ特別に山頂までのロープウエイ輪行。 ・山頂からは特別に走らせてもらえることになったゲレンデダウンヒル。 ・自動車ラリーコースを特別に使わせてもらいグラベルヒルクライムのタイムアタック。 と「特別、今何回目?」って問題出されるんじゃないかってくらいのスペシャル感満載。 走りきる自信は無かったけど、主催者からの「蓼科で出来るグラベルレースとしてはこれ以上のものは無い」の言葉に引き寄せられスタートラインに。 実際は特別じゃないビーナスラインの登りも泣きそうになるほどキツかったし、ダウンヒルはほとんど歩いたけど、仲間たちと一緒に制限時間を目一杯使って全力で楽しみ、時には腹抱えて笑いころげた。 とにかく最高にキツく最高に楽しいレース。ここにたどり着くまでには想像できない苦労があったと思われるが、来年もぜひ開催して欲しい! #hubbikelore #bikelore #gravelbike #DeerHunter #cycling #cyclingphotos #rapha #outsideisfree #蓼科はたてしなと読む #oymgram

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