This year, the Japanese team Novotel Geelong-Japan showed up as the mystery squad in the elite mens and womens, with little known about the team or its riders. Their manager, Koji Yoshi, talked to Cycling Central after the first day of racing.
“We have not so much criterium racing in Japan, today technique was very important, so it was not so good for Japanese riders. The riders need more of an open course to do well, but it is important for them to learn this style.”
If you had to equate Koji to an Australian cycling personality, he does the duties of Brad McGee, James Victor and Shayne Bannan, if all of them worked with the women cyclists as well. Koji, in addition to managing Geelong Novotel-Japan, also controls the Japanese representative teams on the road and works closely with the national track riders as well. He was upbeat about the future of Japanese cycling.
“We have a lot of talented riders, Yumi Kajihara (2015 dual Asian road race and Time trial champion in junior women) came fourth at the world championships in the junior category and Uwano Minami was second in world championships points race. So we have lots of talent, but in Japan there isn’t much racing, so we come to Australia to get experience for the riders.”
The star of the Bay Crits squad is unquestionably Kazushige Kobuki, the male Japanese National Road Race champion, who races with a very attacking style, always looking to jump in moves off the front and initiate the action. Despite not being a pure sprinter and expending a lot of energy getting in those moves, he finished off in each bunch sprint respectably, finishing sixth and eight through the first two days of competition.
The 26-year-old will be joining Italian squad Nippo-Vini Fantini for the season this year, and will be one to watch as he grows in experience in Europe.
For Koji, this season is all about getting points for Japan in the UCI races, so they can qualify riders for Rio. Key to that will be doing well at the Asian Road Championships, which Koji identified as the biggest race for his riders in the lead-up to the Olympics.
“Yes, for the moment the Asian Championships are the focus, and the Track World Cup in Hong Kong also. We need to qualify for the omnium, we have no chance at the team pursuit. Of course the team pursuit is important for the Tokyo Olympics, but for now we concentrate on the omnium and the road racing.
"The most important (goal) is the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, so we’ve brought a lot of young riders to get experience and a lot of knowledge of how to ride in races. In four years I think they will be very good.”