Alpe d’Huez, Mont Ventoux, the Muur van Geraardsbergen… the Kogashi Forest. You probably know the first three so here’s a closer look at a mountain road that’s packed with passionate, knowledgeable fans when the Japan Cup comes along.
The Route: Kogashiyama, “Kogashi mountain” is outside Tanomachi village, west of the city of Utsunomiya in Tochigi Prefecture, Japan. The climb begins on Shinrinkoen Dori, passes the Akagawa dam and where it enters the park on the flanks of Kogashi mountain. It is 4.9km long at an average of 4.9% with a mix of 8-9% slopes and flat sections.
The Feel: as climbs go this isn’t a monster but starts soft before turning Alpine. It begins with a definite inflection point where the tarmac ramps up, prompting an immediate gear change. The road passes farmland with the woodland slowly getting denser as road climbs up. It’s ordinary for now and only after two kilometres does the park begin, there’s a car park by the road and then the large river dam appears. It flattens here, take the left fork past the lake to pedal past a picnic area. It’s all so calm and gentle.
There’s little traffic and what vehicles there are can be alarmingly quiet. High ownership of electric cars may be something to cheer about but it means a vehicle approaching from behind can be hard to notice until it glides past. It’s not necessarily dangerous, more a cultural adjustment to tune the ears to the sound of the tires.
Suddenly the road rears up and becomes decidedly Alpine and there’s a kilometre of 9%. The billiard table smooth surface helps but only so much, it’s slow going. It’s still a moment to enjoy, the road is engineered but feels part of the forest, the tall cedars stand close to the road and it’s shaded, dark even on a bright day. After a steep S-bend the road keeps rising and then if you lift your gaze up you’ll see a winding ribbon of tarmac, as if a section of the Montvernier hairpins had been imported. The top of the climb comes with the road cut into the hillside and immediately plunges into a fast descent with a smooth and grippy surface.
The Race: the Japan Cup has made this climb famous. The world championships took place on this circuit in 1990 – the car park where the climb proper has a monument – and the Japan Cup road race started in 1992. Ever since the event has grown and attracts large, enthusiastic crowds. Having suggested a similarity to Alpe d’Huez or Mont Ventoux at the top the closest likeness is probably the the Alto de Arrate above Eibar in the Basque Country as it’s full of fans who have made their way to see the race as opposed to hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers hoping for a show. In the Kogashi forest it’s applause and cheers rather than selfie-sticks and jeers.
The Japan Cup attracts several World Tour teams. Their presence is telling, those with prominent manufacturers are there with Cannondale-Drapac, Trek-Segafredo, BMC Racing and Lampre-Merida are there and if title sponsors Sky or Orica-BikeExchange have no interest in the Japanese market, their bike sponsors Pinarello and Scott surely do. The fans are legion and many have high-end bikes and here is a good way for the bike companies to connect with customers.
Ride more: you can lap the same 10km circuit as the Japan Cup road race as much as you want but there’s plenty more to explore. Japan has coastal plans and a spine of mountains running along its length. Head west or north from here for more climbing with woodland, river gorges, terraced rice fields and traditional architecture. Aim for Nikko is one tip but via some smaller roads. All the roads are smooth, drivers courteous and there are regular places to buy food, and out of hours the silent army of vending machines supply drinks. Return to the city of Utsunomiya to refuel with gyoza, these dumplings are a local speciality.
Travel and access: Utsunomiya sits on the high speed Shinkansen (bullet train) line north of Tokyo and is less than an hour’s ride from the capital. Bikes are accepted on the trains but under conditions, the bike needs to be wrapped in a light pouch rather than a bulky case. The Tohoku Expressway offers fast access from Tokyo too. It’s roughly a 20-30 minute ride from the city to the Kogashi forest.
Main photo by Flickr’s Kenichiro Matahara
More roads to ride at inrng.com/roads